Security high as Phoenix prepares for Super Bowl

Reuters News
|
Posted: Jan 23, 2015 4:08 PM

By Mark Hosenball

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Elaborate security measures are being prepared for next month's Super Bowl, the biggest annual U.S. sports event, and for two other upcoming major events in the Phoenix area, federal officials said on Friday.

But they said the designated threat level for the Feb. 1 Super Bowl between the Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots was the same as in previous years, except for the year after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, when a higher level was declared.

Deadly shootings in Paris and arrest of suspects in Belgium, Greece and Germany in the last two weeks heightened fears of more attacks around the world and social media accounts linked to Middle East militant groups have carried a number of threats to attack high-profile U.S. events.

But federal security officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said U.S. agencies were unaware of any specific or credible terrorist threat against the Super Bowl, the NFL Pro Bowl or the Waste Management Phoenix Open golf tournament.

Marsha Catron, a spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), said her department had given the Super Bowl, which is being played in the University of Phoenix stadium in Glendale, Arizona, a "Special Event Assessment Rating (SEAR) 1."

A Justice Department document defines a SEAR-1 event as one of "significant national and/or international importance that may require extensive federal interagency security and incident management preparedness."

Catron said that there is only one higher security category for public events -- "National Special Security Event." That rating was given to the Super Bowl in 2002.

She said Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson had appointed a "federal coordination team" to work with local, state and federal agencies to ensure safety of fans, players and other workers associated with the Super Bowl.

A U.S. official said the Transportation Security Administration, which is responsible for screening airline passengers, will add screeners and checkpoint lanes at airports.

Other DHS officers, including federal air marshals, "behavior detection officers" and dog teams will help to secure transportation systems in the Phoenix area.

Homeland Security agencies will also conduct operations "specifically targeting counterfeit vendors and local merchants of game-related sportswear," the official added.

The NFL Pro Bowl will be played on Sunday in the same stadium hosting the Super Bowl. During the week the Waste Management Phoenix Open, a PGA event, will be held in nearby Scottsdale.

Big crowds are expected at that event where Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are due to play.

(Reporting By Mark Hosenball; Editing by David Storey/Gene Cherry)