TSA races into action for Indy 500

Friday, June 11, 2021
Handler Bova and partner photo

The event known as “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” was back with the largest crowd for a single event since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and TSA was there!

With COVID-19 restrictions slightly loosened, 135,000 fans attended this year’s Indianapolis 500, which the Department of Homeland Security declared a national special security event, posing a potential threat for terrorism or significant criminal activity.

Handler Storc and partner photo
Cleveland Hopkins International Airport Canine Handler Richard Storc and partner Jimmer in front of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum. (TSA photo)

As a result, TSA deployed screening officers, explosives detection canine teams, Federal Air Marshals (FAMs) and TSA inspectors from across the country as well as a field intelligence officer. They all partnered with the Indianapolis Metropolitan and Airport Authority Police Departments to make sure race car fans and the area’s public transportation system were safe during the Memorial Day/Indy 500 weekend.

With TSA officers’ help, six canine teams from Atlanta, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland and Washington, D.C., provided traffic sweeps by screening vehicles entering the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to enhance security.

“A couple of years ago, we had our [TSA officers] assist in the operation to work ahead of the canines to advise drivers to shut off their engines and remain in their vehicles so canine teams could conduct the traffic sweep,” said Indianapolis Canine Supervisor Jon Erwin. “Indianapolis police liked this so much, they asked us to provide them every year and requested they assist when their teams are working.”

Normal Indy 500 capacity is around 300,000, so the crowds were a little lighter than normal due to safety precautions taken because of the pandemic.

Handler Roby and partner photo
Washington Dulles International Airport Canine Handler Mark Roby and partner Rocky conduct a traffic sweep just outside the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Race Day. (TSA photo)

Chicago FAMs provided a law enforcement presence from TSA, enhancing security for commercial aviation, general aviation and air cargo facilities around Indy.

“Our [visible intermodal prevention and response] teams worked closely with the Indianapolis International Airport (IND) Police Department to provide a visible presence to prevent, mitigate and/or resolve any threat or act of terrorism directed at the transportation domain during the event,” Supervisory FAM Connie Frost described.

Several IND TSA inspectors worked closely with local general aviation partners and aircraft operators to make sure planes and helicopters complied with air space restrictions during race weekend.

“This is to ensure we don’t have any bad actors trying to sabotage the event and that there are no suspicious items within the aircraft,” said Inspector Charles Ochoa.

Ochoa and his team’s duties didn’t stop there.

“As an inspector with TSA IND surface operations, I am part of a team responsible for regulatory compliance in the surface sector,” Ochoa explained. “The surface sector in Indiana encompasses railroads/rail yards, mass transit systems, over-the-road bus companies such as Greyhound, the Ports of Indiana, trucking operators, and school bus companies who carry the most precious cargo of all.

“With this event, we were able to get buy-in from our stakeholders to agree to participate in our security assessments, training and exercises. Our activities consisted of vulnerability assessments, inspections and outreach.”

So as you can see, it takes a massive partnership between TSA, police and transportation systems to protect the traveling public. Thanks to this year’s effort, they’ll all be ready to welcome race car fans back to Indy in 2022 when all 300,000 seats are expected to be filled for the next running of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”