One of the largest sporting events in the world took center stage in America’s heartland Memorial Day weekend, and TSA operated on all cylinders in the thick of the action.
Over 330,000 race fans attended the 107th running of the Indianapolis 500.
Such a large crowd raises the potential risk and threat of terrorism or significant criminal activity. So, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) declared the Indy 500 a national special security event.
TSA and 28 other federal agencies joined forces with more than 300 individuals and teams on hand to work alongside the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, city of Indianapolis and Speedway Police Departments to make sure race car fans and the area’s public transportation system were safe during the busy weekend.
“This is an event that is one of such significance that we want to provide as much support as we can,” said TSA Administrator David Pekoske. “Every time we do one of these operations, we learn something. This event contributes to the further strengthening of our processes for preparing for and responding to major events in the country.”
Approximately 50 TSA personnel worked with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Speedway Police to secure the event, the most of any federal agency. Pekoske said TSA’s mission success directly depends on the cooperation between the agency and its many partners.
“We have an expanded mission on the ground at events like the Super Bowl and the Indianapolis 500,” Pekoske noted. “Partnerships take work. We cannot accomplish our important national security mission without the close relationships we have established across the transportation and national security law enforcement domains.”
For the second straight year, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas appointed Indiana TSA Federal Security Director (FSD) Aaron Batt as the federal coordinator for security in support of the Indy 500. Batt has played a key role in security planning for this large-scale event the past seven years.
“I coordinated federal response and security assistance to aid federal, state and local agencies executing security and other operations, working closely with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) and Speedway Police Department, speaking with one voice,” Batt said. “I perform this function as a member of the unified command team established by Speedway Chief of Police Chuck Upchurch and the IMS, and I am honored to have that privilege.”
Batt said TSA support included intelligence monitoring and sharing, putting explosive detection canines and Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) teams into action, aviation security, weather forecasting and coordinating emergency communication between agencies. TSA explosive detection canine teams assisted by screening vehicles while VIPR operations supported security efforts with unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) and weapons detection.
On Sunday, the day of the big race, TSA deployed 12 canine teams and 15 screening officers to the speedway.
“To no one’s surprise, the canine teams did awesome,” declared Batt.
Heading into race day, Batt was concerned about the general public’s possible use of drones, prompting organizers to generate a specific plan to address UAS.
“There was a temporary flight restriction (TFR) in place on race day,” he explained. “We monitored and mitigated any UAS violating the TFR. The TFR consisted of a circle with a radius of three nautical miles from the surface to 3,000 feet above ground level.”
Law Enforcement/Federal Air Marshal Service (LE/FAMS) personnel from the Chicago field office supported that effort, working hand-in-hand with federal partners, including the FBI and Customs and Border Protection.
“LE/FAMS is proud to partner with law enforcement organizations as part of the federal response led by FSD Batt, ensuring a robust presence and safe event for hundreds of thousands of people,” said Supervisory Air Marshal in Charge Robert Duerr.
In conjunction with the agency’s lead on aviation security, TSA officers at Indianapolis International Airport (IND) screened 68,383 passengers over the four-day Memorial Day weekend, including a whopping 21,492 on getaway day Monday. Monday’s passenger loads were the second most in a single day at IND since 2010 and 20% higher than last year.
Security planning for an event like this doesn’t happen overnight.
“Planning for this event takes place every year months in advance with Chief Upchurch and IMS Senior Director of Safety and Security Mike Bates leading a law enforcement committee specific to the Indy 500,” said Batt.
Pekoske offered his appreciation to Batt and TSA’s key partners from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“Thank you, Aaron, for your service in this event and as federal security director for the Indianapolis International Airport,” the Administrator said. “And thank you to (IMS President) Doug Boles and Chuck Upchurch for being great partners with TSA in helping secure this event.”
With this year’s Indy 500 now in the rearview mirror, it won’t be long until TSA and other organizers start to rev their engines to plan for the 108th running of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” on May 26, 2024.
By Don Wagner, TSA Strategic Communications & Public Affairs