TSA canines, VIPR offer ‘extra layer of security’ for the Super Bowl

Tuesday, February 15, 2022
Zorro photo

Two teams fought on the gridiron to claim NFL’s top prize – the Lombardi Trophy – with the Los Angeles Rams coming from behind to edge the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl LVI. However, TSA had 80 teams on the ground across Los Angeles to make sure everyone was safe this past weekend.

Areck photo
Areck and his handler, Joel Casingal, flew all the way from Puerto Rico’s Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport to Los Angeles to support transportation security operations in Super Bowl venues. (Photo by Lorie Dankers)

“Out of those 80 teams, over 30 were TSA canine teams that supported not only Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) operations, but also were at SoFi Stadium and the LA Convention Center for the NFL’s Super Bowl experience,” said Brian Real, deputy assistant federal security director for Threat Assessment Programs at LAX. “We had teams from all around the country.”

Real said security effectiveness is priority number one at TSA, and the dogs added an extra layer of security for everyone at the various venues. Not only can they pick up on internal threats, such as explosives, Real said the canine presence is just as important.

“The canines act as a visual deterrent to a terrorist or somebody who may have nefarious plans,” he noted.

It took widespread teamwork to protect the traveling public in LA during Super Bowl weekend.

“The TSA canine program [in LA] has a strong partnership with various local law enforcement teams, including our airport police, the Los Angeles Police Department, Inglewood Police Department, all teams that assisted with the Super Bowl venues,” said Real.

Joe Zappala and his canine partner Zorro traveled from Philadelphia International Airport to support the Super Bowl security efforts. Zappala called it a “fantastic experience.”

Hunter photo
Hunter, a TSA explosives detection canine, regularly works at Los Angeles International Airport and supported Super Bowl security operations in his hometown of LA. (Photo by Lorie Dankers)

“You not only get to work with your fellow TSA handlers, but police, the [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives] and the FBI,” said Zappala. We get to learn so much.”

He and Zorro worked inside and outside SoFi Stadium.

“We [partnered] with Customs and Border Protection who screened vehicles with a giant X-ray machine, and we came in behind them and cleared the cars,” Zappala explained. “It was a really cool experience.”

Adrian Chavez is a canine training instructor at LAX and said it was great working with all the canine teams and felt it was a good learning experience for all.

“We like to make sure, as a nationwide program, that everybody is doing the same [procedures] across the board,” said Chavez. “The same way they shared their operational procedures with us, we ensured they received training from us to take home with them. As TSA canine, we want to make sure it’s family.”

With everyone’s support, Chavez believes the entire Super Bowl LVI security process went off without a hitch.

“Thank you to all the airports that provided people to help us out,” Chavez said. “Without them, we wouldn’t have been able to run so smoothly. It’s one team, one fight.”

TSA VIPR teams deployed around LA

TSA also provided a law enforcement presence by putting Visible Intermodal Prevention & Response (VIPR) teams into action.

Puk photo
In support of Super Bowl LVI, TSA deployed this dedicated canine, Puk, who traveled from Boston Logan International Airport. (Photo by Lorie Dankers)

“Our VIPR teams were deployed throughout Los Angeles at different transportation venues – at Union Station, some of the Metro stations, at LAX and even surrounding airports – Burbank, Long Beach and in Van Nuys,” said Supervisory Federal Air Marshal Charles Frye. “We partnered with federal, state and local agencies, specifically downtown with our Metro transit bureaus.”

TSA regularly deploys VIPR teams to supplement existing law enforcement security resources. They provide a full range of law enforcement and security capabilities, including preventative radiological/nuclear detection screening technology. TSA can tailor VIPR teams to meet the specific goals of any law enforcement or security operation throughout all modes of transportation, including mass transit, rail, air and maritime.

Frye said Federal Air Marshals from San Francisco and Las Vegas field offices also traveled to LA to provide support.

VIPR team member photo
A TSA VIPR team member keeps watch at a Los Angeles Metro station during Super Bowl weekend. (Photo by Max Weitzner)

DHS classified the Super Bowl as a Special Event Assessment Rating (SEAR) Level 1, meaning the event was significant, with national and international importance, requiring extensive federal support. Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas appointed TSA Supervisory Air Marshal in Charge Daniel Babor as deputy federal coordinator for the department’s Super Bowl security operations.

“The most critical elements of any SEAR 1 security plan are partnerships and collaboration,” Babor said. “The level of cooperation and mutual respect between DHS/TSA and our local and state partners is second to none. Our relationship with key stakeholders was cultivated well before the Super Bowl, and I have no doubt will be stronger as a result of our collective efforts to ensure the event was safe and secure.”

Babor said he was grateful for the opportunity to serve on the DHS federal coordination team and to support the DHS mission, its people and the public.

For Frye, participating in Super Bowl security operations in his hometown was especially special.

“It was very exciting,” Frye said. “It’s not too often when you get a home team, but we’ve been supporting Rams and Chargers games throughout the season, and now having the Super Bowl in our backyard, it was great.”

By Don Wagner, TSA Strategic Communications & Public Affairs