Super Undertaking: Security for Bay Area's Super Bowl 50

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Law enforcement officers like these two at Levi's Stadium last Sunday will be highly visible at all Super Bowl 50 events. (Beth Willon/KQED)

Tim Chandler is an avid San Francisco 49ers fan, which is why he could be found at his usual tailgate party before the game against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday.

He's also a huge football fan, period. So, even though he knows his Niners won't be in February's Super Bowl 50, he's going to the big game at Levi's Stadium. Nothing -- including the specter of recent terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino -- will deter him.

"This is a lifelong dream of mine ever since I was a little kid," says the 28-year-old San Jose native. "I get to cross the street and come to the Super Bowl, so the terrorist attacks lately aren't something I'm concerned about."

Making sure those attending Super Bowl 50 on Feb. 7 don't have anything to worry about has been the top priority for dozens of federal, state and local agencies in charge of security for the event. They've been working on plans and preparations since Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara won the bid for Super Bowl 2016 more than two years ago.

Few Super Bowl security details are being discussed by a coalition of agencies, including Homeland Security, the FBI, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and local law enforcement, headed by the Santa Clara Police Department. But it's a huge undertaking, made more complicated by the fact that pregame events aren't confined to one city and terrorist attacks have been grabbing headlines lately.


"There's no question the recent attacks have heightened security and certainly made us make sure we're as buttoned up as we possibly can be," says Al Guido, chief operating officer for the 49ers and Levi's Stadium.

Guido says training drills have already been going on inside Levi's Stadium during regular 49ers games for more than a year, although it's not necessarily something the public sees.

"We've had Homeland Security, the FBI, the military do best/worst-case scenario planning, evacuation training," he says. "So this is a major event and we know it."

Tim Chandler and his mother Jackie Petrucci tailgate at Levi's Stadium. They will both go to the Super Bowl and say they have no worries about security.
Tim Chandler and his mother, Jackie Petrucci, tailgate at Levi's Stadium. They will both go to the Super Bowl and say they have no worries about security. (Beth Willon/KQED)

The National Football League says the Super Bowl is assigned one of the nation's highest-level security ratings each year, ever since the 2002 game in New Orleans, which took place just a few months after the 9/11 attacks. The rating is called Special Event Assessment Rating 1 (SEAR 1) and is mostly paid for by the federal government and staffed by federal, state and local law enforcement. The only event to get higher security preparations is the Presidential Inauguration, the NFL says.

That will be clear to anyone with a ticket to the Super Bowl, says Jim Mercurio, general manager of the 49ers and Levi's Stadium. Law enforcement will be visible in a big way.

"As you arrive in the parking lot you'll see security. As you walk to the entry gates of the facility you'll see them," says Mercurio. "You'll see them on the concourses and you'll see them on the field. You'll see them in the tunnels and you'll see them in the streets."

This kind of high-level security preparation extends to activities leading up to the game and taking place in different locations. Keith Bruce, president and CEO of the San Francisco Bay Area Super Bowl 50 Host Committee, says there will be bag checks and secure entrances at Super Bowl City in San Francisco's Justin Herman Plaza and the NFL Experience at Moscone Center; at Super Bowl Opening Night at San Jose's SAP Center; a possible Super Bowl concert in Oakland; and at the Stanford University and San Jose State University Super Bowl teams' practice fields.

"The real estate -- just the sheer scale of the Bay Area -- does make it more challenging in terms of making sure the security resources are in place," says Bruce.

The NFL expects a total of 1 million people to attend the events from San Francisco to Santa Clara.

The Bay Area is no stranger to security issues, especially Silicon Valley. The concentration of tech companies has long made the region a target. Many companies do surveillance and security work for the federal government and military. Asked if this makes Super Bowl 50 an even greater terrorist target, Guido says these companies actually are a positive because they have the experts and technology to detect problems.

"I think having those companies here is helpful," says Guido, noting the "infrastructure they provide, the experience they provide, the knowledge they provide."