Comprehensive plan in place for Super Bowl security

ATLANTA -- Federal, state, and local law enforcement officials are confident the security plan in place for Atlanta's Super Bowl LIII will not only keep the area safe from bomb threats and other acts of violence but will also prevent fans from being robbed or falling victim to counterfeit merchandise.

More than 5,000 law enforcement employees -- and about 180 canines -- will be in place to increase security inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium and the other venues that will cater to the Super Bowl audience.

``We are working with approximately 40 other agencies from both the local, state, and federal level, and our goal is to keep the folks safe. It's very simple,'' Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields said Wednesday. ``But in addition to what the human talent afforded us, we also are relying heavily on technology.

``You will see, over the next upcoming days, far greater police visibility. Our officers have been and will continue to be on 12-hour shifts. We've canceled off days. We began our unified area of command and our joint-operation center several days ago.''

Officials said there have been no security threats as of Wednesday. Law enforcement said 33 arrests for human trafficking related to the Super Bowl crowd have been made this week and four trafficking victims were rescued. Officers also have confiscated more than 2,000 counterfeit items related to NFL team merchandise.

Nick Annan, special agent in charge of homeland security investigations in Atlanta, expressed confidence in the security measures in place.

``We've been at this for two years and we've done so much, coming from me and all the things that we've looked at, I feel like we've looked at every possibility,'' Annan said. ``I feel like we have a plan in place for anything that could happen.

``It's game time. From a sporting perspective, you prepare for a game. Once the ball goes in play, you're not really concerned anymore. Now you're just playing ball. So for us right now, we're playing ball.''

Annan said law enforcement officials are, of course, aware of what happened in Atlanta during the 1996 Olympics, when a bomb exploded at Centennial Olympic Park, killing two and injuring more than 100.

``There are tons of lesson learned from the Olympic bombing,'' Annan said. ``There are folks involved in this year's Super Bowl preparation that were around for the Olympic bombing. They have, of course, brought their expertise. Folks ask, `Did the Olympic bombing change what you've done in Atlanta.' Yes. I think 9/11 changed it more. But post-9/11, it's just a different world.''

Annan said his suggestion to fans to make the environment even safer is to leave guns and knives at home, bring as little as you can and abide by the clear-bag policy which states what you can bring into the stadium.

``Leave your weapons at home,'' Annan said. ``Georgia is an interesting state. There's a carry policy, open carry. So there are folks in the state of Georgia who have their weapons and love their weapons. You can't bring your weapon to the game, so leave it at home.''

Officials also emphasized that the area around the stadium is drone-free and will be until after Sunday's Super Bowl LIII matchup between the Los Angeles Rams and New England Patriots.

``With the drone technological advances, drones carry the capability of carrying a payload,'' Annan explained. ``If you go to some of the Southwest border states, you've got cartel members that have used drones to lift and carry small of quantities -- but still 10 pounds of cocaine or heroin -- fly it across the border and drop it off. If you change that payload to something truly nefarious, and you worry about somebody trying to fly something like that into a crowded stadium or a crowd, then you know what the concern is.''

Falcons owner Arthur Blank believes the $1.5 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium will be extremely secure on Super Bowl Sunday, with at least 75,000 fans expected to attend. He noted that the NFL rated the stadium No. 1 in security after it opened in 2017.

``I think the Super Bowl will be a very safe place to be, comfortable place to be -- place of warmth, place of hospitality,'' Blank said.