There is no bigger game in U.S. sports than the Super Bowl -- and no bigger challenge for law enforcement.
Officials know of no credible threat as Sunday’s kickoff of Super Bowl XLIX in Glendale, Arizona nears, but they want to make sure no one tries to carry out a Boston Marathon-style bombing or a Charlie Hebdo-scale shooting as more than 71,000 fans gather in the University of Phoenix Stadium.
"We expect it to be a safe event," said Glendale Asst. Police Chief Matt Lively, who as incident and special operations commander for the game is coordinating the efforts of more than 40 different agencies. “But we are prepared for anything that could go wrong natural or manmade, accidental or intentional, criminal motive or not. We've tried to game-play all of the scenarios and how we would respond to them."
As the Seahawks and Patriots play, F-16 fighter jets and Blackhawk helicopters will patrol a 30-mile no-fly zone above the stadium, while thousands of uniformed and undercover personnel from local, state and federal agencies, including SWAT teams, bomb techs, bomb-sniffing dogs and snipers, will watch the stadium. Officers will be scanning social media and more than 500 security cameras, and using technology that includes armored Bearcat vehicles, license plate readers, thermal imaging devices and radiation detectors. Earlier in the week U.S. Customs and Border Protection used truck-sized X-ray machines to check hundreds of vendor trucks. They’re even searching the stages and costumes used by performers like Katy Perry.
In addition to lone wolves and Twitter trolls, police have also been prepped to deal with everyday mishaps -- traffic jams, ticket scalpers and gate crashers, lost kids, heavy drinkers and even sudden weather events, though temperatures are supposed to be in the upper 60s around kick-off.
A week before the big game, police and federal agents also got the rare chance to conduct the security equivalent of a full-pads scrimmage.
The Pro Bowl was played last Saturday, Jan. 25, in the same stadium. Since the 9-11 terrorist attacks, there’s been only been one other year -- in Miami in 2010 -- when the NFL's annual all-star game was played the week before the Super Bowl in the same stadium.
During the Pro Bowl, officers responded to a number of potentially threatening developments: a vehicle left running unattended with the keys inside in close proximity to the stadium; the cameraman who dropped a battery in a stairwell, prompting a bomb squad response; and the employee of an unnamed corporate sponsor who launched a drone for aerial party shots, which is not permitted unless cleared beforehand.
None of the incidents turned out to be noteworthy, but law enforcement remains vigilant.
“You can never relax your guard,” Gil Kerlikowske, commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, told NBC News, “and we know that especially in light of what happened in Paris.”