INDIANAPOLIS -- From pickpockets and prostitutes to dirty bombs and exploding manhole covers, authorities are bracing for whatever threat the first Super Bowl in downtown Indianapolis might bring.
Though Indianapolis has ample experience hosting large sporting events -- the Indianapolis 500 attracts more than 200,000 fans each year, and the NCAA's Final Four basketball tournament has been held here six times since 1980 -- the city's first Super Bowl poses some unique challenges.
Unlike the Final Four, which is compressed into a weekend, the Super Bowl offers crowd, travel and other logistical challenges over 10 days leading up to the Feb. 5 game. And unlike the 500, where events are largely concentrated at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway about seven miles from Lucas Oil Stadium, the NFL's showcase event will consume 44 blocks -- about a mile square -- in the heart of the city, closing off streets and forcing an anticipated 150,000 or more NFL fans to jockey with downtown workers for space much of the week.
Under a security risk rating system used by the federal government, the Super Bowl ranks just below national security events involving the president and the Secret Service, said Indianapolis Chief of Homeland Security Gary Coons. The ratings are based on factors including international attention, media coverage, number of people the event attracts and visits by celebrities and foreign dignitaries, he said.
The city has invested millions of dollars and worked with local, state and federal agencies to try to keep all those people safe. Up to 1,000 city police officers will be in the stadium and on the street, carrying smartphones and other electronic hand-held devices that will enable them to feed photos and video to a new state-of-the-art operations center on the city's east side or to cruisers driven by officers providing backup, Straub said. Hundreds of officers from other agencies, including the state police and the FBI, will be scanning the crowd for signs of pickpocketing, prostitution or other trouble.
One concern has been a series of explosions in Indianapolis Power & Light's underground network of utility cables. A dozen underground explosions have occurred since 2005, sending manhole covers flying.
Special teams from the Department of Energy will sweep Lucas Oil Stadium and the surrounding area for nuclear terror threats, and a new $18 million high-tech communications center that opened in time for the lead-up to the game will tie it all together.
"We're using more technology, and state of the art technology, than has been used in any Super Bowl before this one," city public safety director Frank Straub said.
Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press