As tens of thousands of rabid football fans flocked to Phoenix for Super Bowl LVII, they saw TSA protecting the public in many ways – at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX) checkpoints, canine patrols at the airport and throughout the metro area and Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response teams monitoring transportation hubs in partnership with law enforcement.
However, what they didn’t see was TSA’s work behind the scenes at what you might call the agency’s nerve center – the Phoenix Coordination Center.
Away from the watchful eye of the public, the TSA Phoenix Coordination Center was busy gathering, analyzing and evaluating data for possible threats and supporting security operations at PHX as well as eight other Arizona airports.
“We coordinate with all the airports in Arizona to make sure that if they have any equipment issues, we’re putting in work orders,” said Coordination Center Officer Alexia Camacho. “If there are any issues on the checkpoint, we’re coordinating with law enforcement and the city of Phoenix, making sure those issues are addressed properly.”
Camacho, who’s been with TSA for four years, just joined the PHX Coordination Center in September 2022, but quickly learned the importance of being flexible and multitasking.
“We changed and arranged our schedules to properly meet the needs of the Super Bowl and the (Phoenix Open) golf tournament,” Camacho said. “So, it was all hands on deck.”
Coordination Center leadership spent the last year preparing for the big event.
Brad Sterling is one of the Supervisory Coordination Center Officers in Phoenix. He kept a close eye on incoming emails, monitoring live video footage at the state’s nine airports and being a crucial point of contact, if needed.
“Working in the Coordination Center is different from working on the floors (of the airport), because we are behind the scenes,” Sterling emphasized. “We aren’t seen or known, but we get things done. We keep things on track and get things fixed.”
His team was super busy, but Sterling, who’s been with TSA for 15 years, said having the Super Bowl in Phoenix was very exciting for his crew.
“We get to be at a heightened sense of security,” he said. “We were already a 24-hour operation, but with the Super Bowl, we adjusted days off to have everyone present on Sunday and Monday, the day of and day after the Super Bowl.”
During the many months of preparation leading up to the big game, Coordination Center Officer Joseph Gastelum said the team underwent communications training and training sessions that included the DHS Blue Campaign to better understand the indicators of human trafficking.
Gastelum welcomed the extra work brought on by the Super Bowl and the Phoenix Open.
“I enjoyed the busyness of it, getting to answer the calls and figuring out what’s going on,” he said.
Gastelum didn’t only work at the TSA Coordination Center Super Bowl weekend. He was called to duty at the city of Phoenix Coordination Center the day after the game.
“There’s a secondary spot for us to work closely with the city – their Coordination Center,” explained Gastelum. “I was the guy working over there, getting to see what they were doing compared to us. It’s a better communication process for us to talk to them directly and not over the phone. That way they can communicate to me, and I can communicate to (the TSA) Coordination Center.”
He compared the TSA Coordination Center in Phoenix to “a gigantic 911 dispatch.”
“We’re always communicating with the city and other airports, not just Phoenix Sky Harbor,” Gastelum added. “It’s eight other airports we’re dealing with. When they have information for us, we’ll take it in and send it to whoever needs to have it. It’s on a need-to-know basis.”
Like the rest of her team, Camacho relished the opportunity to serve on what was the busiest day of her career.
“Working the day after the Super Bowl, I was excited to see the influx of passengers traveling,” she said, “and seeing all the checkpoints busy and just staying busy the entire day.”
By Don Wagner, TSA Strategic Communications & Public Affairs