How technology keeps people safe at the Super Bowl


Whether they’re gathering by the tens or the tens of thousands, people seem to like to make trouble when they’re in a group. In America, that means even the one-and-only 54th Super Bowl can be a magnet for misbehavior. Then again, some kinds of safety problems — like worries about communicable diseases — don’t even have to involve malice.

Thankfully, technology is on the case. Here are some of the ways local and federal law enforcement are looking to tech to keep Super Bowl goers safe and ready to watch their team either crush it or fold under the pressure like a cheap tent.

DHS involvement prevents technology under-investment

According to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), members of the private sector — including the owners of football stadiums — were hesitant to invest in high technology solutions following the 9/11 attacks. This was when DHS’ Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) stepped in and cooperated with Congress to pass the SAFETY Act.

The SAFETY Act — “Support Anti-Terrorism by Fostering Effective Technologies” — created incentives for investing in the latest security technologies. Among other things, the Act implemented liability protections for stadium owners who make such an investment. Between the S&T’s own technology and the assistance it provided in vetting tech vendors for stadiums, sports enthusiasts are in a better position than ever to enjoy the Big Game worry-free.

So what technologies are involved here, exactly?

Counter Small-UAS Advisory and Review Toolkit

Aerial drones are well-regulated for a reason. Any open and public space, like a stadium, might be susceptible to flyovers by illicit aircraft. This poses a risk to safety and privacy alike.

To answer the challenge, S&T developed the Counter Small-UAS Advisory and Review Toolkit (PEO UAS). This is a set of analytical models and mapping technologies used in law enforcement. They can identify authorized and unauthorized drones and find any weaknesses in the perimeter or airspace that might allow an aggrieved aeronaut to sneak in and do some damage.

Android Team Awareness Kit

The Science and Technology Directorate is also responsible for developing the Android Team Awareness Kit (ATAK). The technology in the platform represents a potent combination of human senses and intuition plus technological augmentation. It doesn’t quite turn humans into cyborgs as the name suggests — it runs on the Android platform. But it does augment human responsiveness considerably.

ATAK is a good fit for a variety of situations where proactively detecting or quickly responding to threats means the difference between life and death. DHS deployed ATAK in the wake of Hurricane Harvey in 2017. Now, it’s an integral part of Super Bowl security. It brings together the following technologies:

  • Mobile and airborne sensors to study traffic flow and identify potential security incidents
  • Advanced tactical radios and integrated video and voice communications
  • The use of cameras and other “situational awareness” technology to keep teams in contact with home base and with each other

The ATAK system gives security personnel the ability to gather more data from their surroundings than they could unassisted. The sophisticated cameras, heads-up displays, and geolocation tech even let individuals or teams see through each other’s eyes so they can better focus, organize, and prioritize their responses to emerging threats.

Super Bowl technology
To cap it off, the cameras on-site at the stadium will be linked with the Miami-Dade police department’s headquarters.

Infrared cameras

The Super Bowl fans pouring into Miami and Hard Rock Stadium receive most of the focus from a safety standpoint. But that doesn’t mean technology can’t play a role in the safety of the players themselves.

A couple of years ago, Fox Sports became one of the first networks to broadcast footage from on-field infrared cameras. This technology provides insight into the blood flow in athletes’ bodies and helps determines how well they’re recovering from past injuries. The former is useful in the event of cold weather (less of a concern in Miami this year) and the latter is important for avoiding additional injuries.

Super Bowl 54 will also play host to a flock of Blackhawk helicopters equipped with similar imaging equipment. According to law enforcement, these cameras will make it easier to spot trouble in the stands, on the grounds, and on the water (Port Miami is one of the busiest waterways in the country).

To cap it off, the cameras on-site at the stadium will be linked with the Miami-Dade police department’s headquarters. The result is a complete mosaic for real-time security, with thousands of camera feeds available at once from the stadium proper and throughout the county.

Thermal imaging and intelligent analytics

Thermal imaging is another useful tool that’s been part of the Super Bowl security apparatus for several years running. Thermal imaging cameras can pick out single faces from among a crowd. It’s also a good tool for spotting unauthorized individuals attempting to move around under the cover of darkness — or smaller items like a bag left behind by a suspicious character.

The only problem with bringing this much imaging equipment to bear on a crowd of this size is that human eyes aren’t good enough to process all the visual information streaming in. For that, there’s computer analytics. Cameras and analytics are great for spotting and interdicting active shooter situations or physical altercations that humans could miss until it’s too late.

According to security officials, they’re also an ally in spotting health problems and directing personnel to wherever aid is required. In a time of pandemic worries, including coronavirus, it’s a comfort to know there’s an extra layer of intelligence in play.

At the Super Bowl, low-tech meets high-tech

Sometimes the lowest-tech solutions can be the most effective. None of the technologies above can do their job without human vigilance and attention to detail. There’s nothing more low-tech than a good set of eyes and ears, and yet that’s sometimes all that stands between a crowd and somebody who wants to do harm.

Other low-tech security solutions include bollards and other security barriers. Collisions between vehicles and buildings inflict hundreds of injuries and as many as 500 deaths per year in the U.S. We’ve also seen a regrettable uptick over the last few years in vehicle-related attacks attributed to terrorism. Physical barriers are an essential addition to these other digital-first solutions and will make sure no dangerous vehicles can get close to the stadium. Threats can come from anywhere and malcontents only seem to grow more creative by the day. Thankfully, technology and good preparation can answer the call and keep events like these memorable for only the right reasons.

What do you think about some of the technology being used at the Super Bowl to keep fans safe during the big game? Let us know in the comments below or on Twitter, Facebook, or MeWe.

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Last Updated on February 3, 2021.


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