The Super Bowl’s a safe bet, right?

The crowds at Super Bowl Boulevard were joined by a major police presence, part of the NYPD's effort to keep football fans safe for Super Bowl Sunday.
The crowds at Super Bowl Boulevard were joined by a major police presence, part of the NYPD’s effort to keep football fans safe for Super Bowl Sunday. In Sochi, fear of terrorist attacks stole the athletes’ spotlight. Photo by Jacob Passy.

While meteorologists and fans look to the weather forecast for this weekend’s big game, the bigger worry behind the scenes is security. Today’s reality is that big events attract the potential for terrorist attacks.

Last April, the Boston Marathon became the target of the first terrorist attack on U.S. soil since September 11,2001. And in the lead up to next month’s Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russian intelligence has warned of terrorist threats.

According to Gordon Hahn, a senior researcher for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, sporting events like these attract terrorists because of the large numbers of attendees – but also because of the major media focus paid to these happenings.

“Terrorists like to kill large numbers of people to send the message that the government can’t protect you from us,” Hahn said. “And therefore, you better tell your government to back off and do what we say. Also helps attract funding and followers.”

So with a high likelihood for terrorist action, and recent suicide bombings attacking mass transit in the Russian city of Volgograd, the team organizing the Super Bowl’s security had major challenges.

“This is a mass transit Super Bowl,” said Colonel Rick Fuentes, superintendent of New Jersey State Police. “We rely on [the Department of Homeland Security] and FBI to keep an eye out on the international community and brief us on those events. I would have to say that this is a concern with mass transit, but we’re prepared for it.”

About half of the 80 thousand fans flocking to MetLife Stadium are expected to come via public transit – either by bus or train.

To make sure New York didn’t see a repeat of Russian attacks, Fuentes said that all vehicles entering the stadium and coming into Secaucus Junction would be swept to make sure they are clean of weapons such as bombs or guns.

Beyond New Jersey, New York City has its share of Super Bowl-related security concerns. Festivities like the much-heralded Super Bowl Boulevard are much more difficult to keep safe. For instance, unlike MetLife Stadium, Super Bowl Boulevard has no security checks along Broadway to stop would-be criminals.

“These are considered soft targets and there’s no screening process,” said Aaron Ford, a special agent from the FBI coordinating game day security. “When you deal with soft targets, they are more vulnerable to home-grown violent extremists coming in to do something that we don’t expect.”

But again, Ford said, “With the preparations that have taken place, it will be fine.”

So it seems that there’s not much to worry about for Super Bowl aficionados. And for many enjoying the fun and games at Super Bowl Boulevard, that’s just the case.

“I’m a New Yorker, so I don’t think anything fazes me,” said Shari Peaceman, 58. “No one pays attention to security like we do here.”

But for some, the threats in Sochi equated to an even greater feeling of safety as millions converge on New York City this weekend. “Sochi’s going to get blown to pieces,” said Ben Corrado, a police dispatcher and resident of Newburg, NY. “So there’s [sic] no terrorists here right now.”

What Corrado said might not be far from the truth, Hahn said, citing Russian intelligence reports about four possible suicide bombers who may attack during the Sochi Games.

“It’s almost certain that there’s going to be something big during the Olympics.” Hahn said, adding that the complexities of the Chechen extremist cells and their connections to Syrian rebels could aid the planning of a major attack.

And Hahn’s not just worried about suicide bombers. He said that some reports indicate that Chechens returning from Syria may possess chemical weapons, including sarin gas. Still, he said that the Russian intelligence branch appears to be aware of the many current risks and working to address them, adding that they have the technical capability to stop them. Still, these precautions didn’t stop a series of terrorist attacks on Russian soil in the past few months.

But should we trust these assurances from law enforcement officials – be they from New Jersey or from Moscow. In the case of the Super Bowl, New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton says yes.

“Certainly, we’re keeping an eye on activities around the world,” Bratton said. “At the same time, one of the benefits of hosting this event here in this region is that we have some of the most extensive counter-terrorism capabilities in the world.”

As for Sochi, it seems the jury’s out.

“I might go there by myself,” Hahn said. “But I wouldn’t take my family, let’s put it that way.”

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