Tens of thousands of football fans flocked to Los Angeles this weekend for the most-watched sporting event of the year, and TSA was right in the middle, protecting the traveling public.
Not only were TSA’s security operations in full view for the public to see this Super Bowl LVI weekend, but much of the agency’s work was behind the scenes. The Los Angeles Coordination Center was busy keeping a close eye on Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), gathering, analyzing and evaluating data for possible threats.
It took a lot of planning to make sure travelers were safe around LA.
“We obtained information and disseminated that information to the various stakeholders as it related not only to the Super Bowl, but LAX and the transit around us,” said Christopher Kelley, LAX Coordination Center manager. “[For example,] if something were to happen on Century Boulevard, one of our main entries to LAX, it would have a huge impact and cause us to work with our stakeholders to identify alternative routes to get in and out.”
Coordination Center Stakeholder Manager Tung Huynh said they partnered with airport operations and police as well as local and federal agencies.
“They were critical in assisting with setting up plans for the operation,” said Huynh. “Our leadership teams coordinated with them to ensure we were all in sync for the operations we needed to complete here at the airport.”
LAX Lead TSA Manager Brandy Richards said preparation for the Super Bowl was in effect over the last six months, if not longer.
“Our department [regularly] met with stakeholders to make sure we built up our continuity of operations and our communication, so dissemination of information was accurate and leadership could make effective decisions if anything impacted operations,” Richards said. “We conducted role-playing through tabletop exercises and emergency management and response exercises. We collaborated with other [agencies] on different scenarios.”
Coordination Center Officer Jessica Cucufate said teamwork is essential, not only with TSA’s partners, but within the coordination center.
“One person cannot run the entire operation,” Cucufate noted. “We contribute individually with our own personal knowledge. The person who just came in to the coordination center can bring a lot of input from the checkpoint, while someone who has been in the coordination center for a long time can contribute through their years of experience.”
It was Coordination Center Officer Tony Carrick’s second Super Bowl operation. He was a TSA officer in checked baggage in his hometown of Houston when the big game was held there.
“It’s a lot of responsibility,” Carrick said. “It’s a challenge to make sure all entities involved are onboard with what’s going on. I take pride in it. It’s a good feeling.”
TSA teams with FBI
Another TSA team worked behind-the-scenes to keep Super Bowl fans safe, partnering with the FBI.
Leading up to the big game, Los Angeles area TSA Intelligence and Analysis Field Intelligence Officers (FIOs) worked around-the-clock in the FBI’s Intelligence Operations Center to identify and prevent any possible threats to the Super Bowl. This operation culminated after months of preparation and engagement with multiple government and private sector partners.
Prior to the event, FIOs Rich Perry, Jenn Rangel and Mandy Thornton set the threat picture for local TSA leadership. They reviewed known or suspected terrorist travel data and intelligence reporting and visited SoFi Stadium, the site of Super Bowl LVI, to meet with stakeholders.
“It’s an awesome experience to be integrated into the security of such an important and massive event,” Perry remarked. “The countless moving parts needed to ensure its safety can seem overwhelming; however, the level of professionalism and skill exhibited by all parties involved was as reassuring as it was impressive.”
As Super Bowl LVI approached, the FIO team pivoted to focus on real-time threats and continuous engagement with partners including the NFL’s Global Security Operations Center.
“The extensive interagency coordination we help carry out in real time mitigates threats to attendees, players, officials and surrounding communities,” said Acting Field Intelligence and Integration Division Director Eric Blackburn. “Events like this are the epitome of teamwork.”
By Don Wagner, TSA Strategic Communications & Public Affairs