Super security: Preparing for the big game takes months of effort.
Super security: Preparing for the big game takes months of effort.

Mar 1, 2000 12:00 PM
Carey Adams

On Jan. 30, the eyes of millions of football fans were focused on the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. In the first major event of the Millennium, the Tennessee Titans and St. Louis Rams battled for football supremacy in Super Bowl XXXIV. More than 121 million television viewers in the U.S. and more than one billion people worldwide watched the seven-hour event unfold. In what is being called one of the greatest Super Bowls ever, the Rams pulled off the victory in the final moments of the game with a tie-breaking touchdown.

Though the public's eyes were focused on the game, security officials at the Georgia Dome had a more pressing concern, namely making sure that the more than 71,500 fans who purchased tickets were able to watch the game in a safe environment and leave the facility without incident.

"This was the first true big event of the Millennium, so the potential for something chaotic to happen was a very real possibility," says Curt Reed Washington, manager of security for the Georgia Dome.

Washington, who has a degree in administrative justice, knows the layout of the Georgia Dome well: Before becoming security director, he spent some time as a security officer walking around nearly every inch of the Dome.

To prepare for the Super Bowl, security professionals began meeting months prior to the game. In March 1999, Georgia Dome security met with officials from the Secret Service, FBI, GBI (Georgia Bureau of Investigations), NFL, Atlanta Police Department, and Georgia World Congress Center to discuss how the organizations could work together to provide security not only in the dome, but in areas surrounding the facility.

A book of planning Before discussing what security measures should be put in place, the security officials compiled a book that detailed catastrophic but plausible security breaches that could occur.

"The book is at least four inches thick and covers all of the 'what ifs.' We had to prepare for anything because it is a world event that takes on special significance because it is the first major event of the Millennium," says Washington.

Biological and chemical attacks, terrorist bombings, sniper fire, and other types of potential violence were listed in the book. Following each entry, officials discussed ways to handle the situation.

Placing security personnel in areas around the facility, such as entrances and gates, was one priority. Securing areas just outside the dome, such as parking lots, was another one. SWAT teams from the city of Atlanta, FBI and GBI became a part of the manned security force. Overall, more than 500 law enforcement and security officers converged around the Georgia Dome, which is part of one of the largest sports, entertainment and convention centers in the world. Adjacent to the Georgia Dome lies the 2.5-million-square-foot Georgia World Congress Center. Philips Arena, home of the NBA Atlanta Hawks and NHL Thrashers, and the CNN Center are across the street.

CCTV plays a vital role Along with manned security, the Georgia Dome's security surveillance equipment played a key role in the security effort.

The Georgia Dome uses 36 Philips pan/tilt/zoom color surveillance cameras which feed images to Philips multiplexers in the main control room on the lower level of the facility. According to Washington, the color cameras give picture-perfect clarity and can zoom in on any target. The cameras are located in various points in and around the dome.

The system was enhanced during the Super Bowl as fiber optic lines were used to feed images to an Atlanta Police Department command post outside the dome. "Using fiber optics made it possible for (Atlanta police) to see what we saw. If our system went down, we still had things covered because Atlanta police could see the same things we were looking at," Washington says.

Another plus was the use of an iPIX imaging camera, which produces panoramic views inside the dome. The iPIX is monitored and controlled via a dialup to the Internet from a PC or laptop computer. iPIX, Internet Pictures Corp., uses a camera that rotates 360 degrees and tilts 180 degrees to monitor any area in a facility. The iPIX imaging system gave security officers a much greater view of activities in the center of the dome.

"This was the first time that iPIX was put in use at a Super Bowl," Washington says. "It was quite incredible since it can see from the ceiling to floor. It gave us an extra angle."

Another plus was the use of a badging system to separate the more than 2,000 volunteers who helped staff the Super Bowl and other major events at the Georgia Dome. The badges help determine which volunteers are vendors, hospitality officers and other staffers.

Despite the presence of extra security equipment brought in by the NFL, the Georgia Dome, which hosted Super Bowl XXVIII in 1994, is well equipped to handle large events. The dome is routinely used to host concerts, conventions as well as its primary use as the home of the Atlanta Falcons.

The Georgia Dome is the largest cable-supported domed stadium in the world. Beneath the Teflon-coated fiberglass roof, it features a 102,000-square-foot concrete floor.

The Georgia Dome is the home of the annual Southeastern Conference Football Championship game, which brings more than 71,000 enthusiastic college football fans to Atlanta, and the dome still holds the record for hosting the largest number of people (more than 60,000) to see a NBA game. The Georgia Dome was a host venue for basketball and gymnastics during the 1996 Summer Olympics.

"This is one of the largest venues in the Southeast. We are used to hosting big events and my staff is always prepared," says Washington.

The Georgia Dome has a staff of 28 officers. During events, two of the officers watch the bank of surveillance monitors in the main control room.

Surveillance of the dome is also enhanced by the use of alarm points located throughout the facility. Simplex alarm point panels, located in the control room, have a map of the facility's layout. When a point is triggered, the system automatically sends out an alarm to security operators in the control room.

Operators in the control room can also monitor access to elevators through an access control system. The system can restrict access to certain floors by overriding an individual who, while on the elevator, attempts to stop at restricted areas.

The dome is equipped with fire and medical equipment in case of disaster. Seven powerful water spouts are strategically placed in the dome to douse any fire that could occur. The dome is also supplied with defibrillators to help those who might suffer from a heart ailment.

Moving VIPs in and out Despite the presence of high-tech video surveillance and access control equipment, Washington knows equipment won't get people in and out of the facility in a safe and efficient manner. Security officers are always on hand monitoring ticketing entrances for the public.

VIPs using the Georgia Dome are given a special walk-through before the event takes place.

"Usually the VIP's advance team comes to me and we talk about how things will work. They usually leave the movement up to me," Washington says. His confidence in knowing every nook and cranny of the dome allows Washington to devise routes that move VIPs in and out without incident.

During the Super Bowl, VIPs were ushered in through a security detail, with Washington working closely with those who provide security to the VIPs.

Washington gives credit to all the security units that worked with dome security to make Super Bowl XXXIV a success.

"Without them we wouldn't have had such a successful event. We didn't have any problems and that's a credit to their professionalism," he says.

He also credits his team of officers for continuing to do a top-notch job. The Georgia Dome has never had a violent incident take place or a security breach in its eight-year history.

"I know that in the end my staff and I have done all that we can to ensure the safety of the people who use this facility. We know that we have to stay proactive and try to stay one step ahead," says Washington.

Confidence in the Georgia Dome's ability to host big events continues to grow. In 2002, the dome will be the host of the NCAA Final Four Basketball Tournament, one of the largest sporting events in the world.

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