TSA joins Las Vegas Super Bowl party to protect football fans, travelers

Tuesday, February 13, 2024
VIPR team members protect the traveling public in Las Vegas. (FAMS photo)

The glitz and lights were on full display as the NFL took the Super Bowl to Las Vegas for the first time in the game’s 58-year run, and TSA was in the middle of all the action.

TSA had a big job to do – keeping the public safe. In addition to the agency’s strong security at Harry Reid International Airport (LAS) as football fans left Vegas to fly back home after the Super Bowl, TSA had a significant presence around the city during the week leading up to the big game.

TSA’s canines in full sniff mode

Giancarlo Colapret and his partner, Csoki, traveled from DFW. (Austin Deryck-Linstruth photo)
Giancarlo Colapret and his partner, Csoki, traveled from DFW. (Austin Deryck-Linstruth photo)

Over 60 TSA explosives detection canine teams were in town to support security operations at key venues throughout the Vegas metro area. Some of the teams regularly work at LAS while others came from more than 20 airports across the country.

Giancarlo Colapret and his furry partner, Csoki, traveled from Dallas Fort Worth International Airport, although Colapret used to work in Vegas and felt right at home.

In addition to LAS, Colapret and Csoki worked at key NFL Super Bowl venues such as the Lake Las Vegas Hilton and Westin and Mandalay Bay. There, football fans and locals got the chance to see NFL history and memorabilia and experience as much of the Super Bowl as they could, even if they didn’t go to the big game.

“We made sure they were as secure as they could possibly be, and it was fun for everyone,” said Colapret. “It takes a lot of coordination with Las Vegas Metro (police) and multiple agencies, and it was a really neat experience. It was amazing to know the type of work we did was appreciated. Everyone from the NFL, local law enforcement, passengers, guests, hotel staff, everyone – they all said, ‘thank you.’”

Christine Schroth and her partner, Elton, really felt right at home since they work at LAS full-time. Schroth was excited to see Colapret for the first time in four years.

“We went out and saw all of the sites set up,” Schroth said. “It gave us an opportunity to feel the impact of what we did. It’s amazing how much time and planning go into these events.”

LAS Canine Handler Christine Schroth and partner Elton. (Austin Deryck-Linstruth photo)
LAS Canine Handler Christine Schroth and partner Elton. (Austin Deryck-Linstruth photo)

Schroth added, “It’s a great family to work with and a great partner I have.”

Planning didn’t happen overnight

TSA leadership in Las Vegas began planning its Super Bowl support in their city well before Super Bowl LVII was played in Phoenix on February 12, 2023.

“TSA’s Super Bowl LVIII planning has been ongoing for more than a year,” said Karen Burke, TSA’s federal security director for Nevada. “Las Vegas is a premiere destination with world-class offerings that has attracted tens of thousands of additional people to town for all the festivities.”

The Department of Homeland Security classified Super Bowl LVIII as a Special Event Assessment Rating Level 1, which qualified it for extensive federal support with direct involvement in dedicated security operations in and around the Las Vegas area.

TSA, including Burke’s team, partnered with the NFL, local, state and other federal agencies to make sure everything was in place to protect the traveling public.

“TSA remained focused on our security mission, ensuring we were ready for all of the

additional travelers who came to the airport. Our pledge to everyone is to provide the best security in the most efficient manner.”

Corey Perkins, deputy assistant federal security director for Threat Assessment Programs, played a crucial role in ensuring TSA’s smooth security support. Perkins noted the 2023 Las Vegas Grand Prix helped organizers prepare for the Super Bowl.

Nevada TSA Federal Security Director Karen Burke addresses news reporters at a press conference. (Austin Deryck-Linstruth photo)
Nevada TSA Federal Security Director Karen Burke addresses news reporters at a press conference. (Austin Deryck-Linstruth photo)

“We were able to work out the kinks we had in Formula One, so this was a little bit more seamless,” assessed Perkins. “Coming into the Super Bowl, we knew exactly what we needed and when we needed it. We knew how (canine) teams were flying in and the gear they had, so we were able to accommodate them.”

Perkins called it an honor supporting Vegas’ first Super Bowl in city history. He said the planning is already underway for Super Bowl LIX in New Orleans.

“Everyone has been so accommodating on the NFL side, and we’re looking forward to next year in New Orleans,” Perkins said. “They (already) requested some of our staff to come down and assist them.”

Nevada TSA Coordination Center monitors threats behind the scenes

Out of the public eye were the employees manning the TSA Coordination Center in Las Vegas. Their job was to gather, analyze and evaluate data for possible threats and support security operations at LAS as well as Nevada’s other airports.

“We communicate with all parties and stakeholders about anything that’s happening around the area, any events and any news they need to have firsthand,” said LAS Coordination Center Manager Arian Cojoe, who joined TSA more than 20 years ago. “Also, making sure we have enough staffing and getting them prepared for any anomalies and new programs implemented for the Super Bowl.”

TSA Coordination Center in Las Vegas. (Regina Boateng photo)
TSA Coordination Center in Las Vegas. (Regina Boateng photo)

Cojoe said her team’s key role is communication.

“Throughout the year we partnered with TSA Compliance and Screening Operations to make sure the additional communications we sent to them enabled them to manage the crowd flow if they have to make changes for screening support. Just making sure we are available for any new and upcoming information to assist in monitoring, making sure the traveling public is safe and secure.”

Cojoe said on a regular day, the LAS Coordination Center handles approximately 100 phone calls, but that load significantly increased over Super Bowl weekend. She had full trust that her team would get the job done.

“I’m here for guidance,” she said. “My job is to make sure I hear and see the action happening. They understand when we have to report up to headquarters. We are responsive. We can do things on the fly. That’s what we do here.”

Acting Coordination Center Supervisor Charlie Wotherspoon, who will celebrate 20 years with TSA in July, reported for duty early Monday to organize everything just in time for the huge rush of football fans flying out of Vegas.

“Getting ready for the crowd who came in, making sure all the paperwork was prepped, everybody had their assignments, just ready to go,” Wotherspoon explained.

Coordination Center Officer Romona Montgomery joined TSA in 2008 and was part of the planning team who ensured everything was prepared for getaway day.

“We know what to do here,” Montgomery said. “We’re a pretty good team. We work well together, so it actually runs smoothly together.”

VIPR teams keep watch

TSA’s Law Enforcement/Federal Air Marshal Service (FAMS) was also out in full force. Travelers and locals saw Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) teams in the airport and throughout the city.

VIPR teamed up with several law enforcement agencies including the U.S. Secret Service, FBI, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), state, county and city law enforcement to provide a highly visible police presence around Vegas.

“We were here to serve our country and protect the people who were here to enjoy some good football,” said VIPR FAM Walker.

VIPR teams helped protect the various modes of transportation to and from Super Bowl venues to heighten security. They offered especially high visibility at Las Vegas Monorail stations.

“We really love having the VIPR teams here on the monorail,” said a representative from the Las Vegas Monorail Security team. “It made our riders feel safe.”

“There were a lot of visitors this week, including a lot of my own family and friends,” VIPR Supervisory FAM (SFAM) Kaopuiki-Nestrick said. “I was here so they could enjoy the Super Bowl experience without any interruptions or concerns for their safety.”

FAMS protect the Las Vegas area from the threat of drones. (FAMS photo)
FAMS protect the Las Vegas area from the threat of drones. (FAMS photo)

TSA on drone watch

If all that wasn’t enough, TSA kept a close eye on another threat facing big events like the Super Bowl. That’s the growing presence of drones, also known as unmanned aerial systems (UAS).

Assistant Supervisory Air Marshal in Charge Ty Fletcher said for large national events, like the Super Bowl, FAMS is concerned about the threat UAS pose to large crowds, the traveling public and our aviation system.

“Over the last several years, we’ve seen a dramatic increase in commercial flights deviating from their flight paths or taking other measures to avoid collisions with UAS during approach or departure,” said Fletcher. “FAMS, as part of our multi-pronged Counter-UAS program, implemented an education and outreach plan aimed to contact UAS operators, who may not know or understand the laws governing the use of UAS in the national air space, to educate them on the laws.”

FAMS and the FAA Law Enforcement Assistance Program have teamed up on numerous occasions to support the enforcement of temporary flight restrictions during special events like the Super Bowl.

“We have seen the damage that occurs when UAS incur into flight paths of commercial aircraft, and globally, we have seen an increase in using drones as weapons of war,” said SFAM Luke Gamez. “Large events are a natural draw for not only the hobbyist flyer but are also prime targets for those with nefarious intent.”

Fletcher and Gamez emphasized, “Working in support with TSA’s federal and local partners to ensure the safety and security of large events like the Super Bowl is a great example of TSA contributing to the greater national security landscape.”

Garrett Donaldson, Supervisory Air Marshal in Charge of the FAMS Las Vegas Field Office, added, “The partnership and collaboration among DHS and other federal, state and local components made for a great security playbook for Super Bowl LVIII.”

By Don Wagner, TSA Strategic Communications & Public Affairs