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Left shows first responder with gear backpack and radio at the ready. Right shows the Super Bowl logo in front of blue skies

Getting Ahead of the Game: Pre-planning for the Super Bowl

March 15, 2023

Legions of fans descended on Glendale, Arizona, to watch the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles face off during the 2023 Super Bowl. While football’s biggest event brought the nation together on a Sunday night in February, the public safety community had been hard at work for over a year to ensure a safe and successful event.

Complex and coordinated planning

An event the size of the Super Bowl requires complex and coordinated planning. For the game in Glendale, a communication planning group convened 100 representatives from 66 organizations to prepare for the game and surrounding events.

Participants included any public safety agency that was involved in the response to Super Bowl, as well as military partners, utility companies, health organizations, communication providers, and others. Besides being represented in the Multiagency Coordination Center (MACC), some of these jurisdictions opened their own Emergency Operations Centers (EOCs).  The MACC, EOCs, and Command Posts were all coordinated during the planning efforts throughout the year.

Interoperability key to success

This year posed additional challenges because a major golf tournament, the Waste Management Phoenix Open, was held simultaneously in the area. Along with the Super Bowl and the golf tournament, the NFL and the PGA sponsored events in nearby cities or jurisdictions, requiring coordination among public safety officials.

Interoperability was key. “The strength of our interoperability planning helped us be very successful,” explained Deputy Chief Jeff Schripsema from the Phoenix Fire Department, who served as the regional communications coordinator on the planning committee for Super Bowl LVII.

“Interoperability and communication pathways are a critical link between either the success or failure of any planned event,” he said.

FirstNet Authority’s unique program for pre-planning support

The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet Authority) participated in communications planning for the game in Glendale as part of our unique Network Experience and Engagement Program that helps public safety agencies operationalize broadband for events. The planning committee worked for 14 months leading up to the game.

Through pre-planning support, the FirstNet Authority worked with the planning committee to determine locations where responders would be operating, identify broadband capabilities, and determine the technologies needed.

“The FirstNet Authority brings in a team of individuals that look at all aspects, not just from the planning side, but from the operational side too,” said Chief Schripsema. “The system worked flawlessly and that took a huge burden off my plate.”

The right solutions for the event

AT&T and the FirstNet Authority team worked with local stakeholders to determine the right solutions to support the event. “On the administrative side, an entire army of folks integrated into the planning process and built functional plans for our goals and objectives,” Chief Schripsema explained.

The FirstNet Authority’s pre-planning program considered broadband capabilities, such as location-based services, streaming video, and situational awareness apps. It also examined technology needs, such as streaming video cameras, hot spot devices, or in-building coverage solutions.

“On the operational side, technically savvy folks looked at the critical infrastructure, venue sizes, and the challenges that we might face, and came up with solutions that had a positive impact on public safety and our response,” he continued.

FirstNet resources make a difference

FirstNet was especially critical to public safety communications because the huge influx of people could strain commercial networks. With FirstNet, planning and response teams had priority and preemption, never having to worry about losing network resources.

To further boost coverage for responders, FirstNet deployables were stationed throughout the city and surrounding areas.

“What an amazing resource to be able to reach out for SatCOLTs [Satellite Cell on Light Trucks] and COWs [Cells on Wheels] and some of the smaller deployables and pre-stage them where we were going to have hundreds of thousands of people,” said Chief Schripsema.

A tradition of support for the Big Game

The FirstNet Authority team first provided pre-planning support to Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta in 2019, where FirstNet provided backup connectivity for the offsite 9-1-1 center. Since then, the FirstNet Authority has helped plan for the Big Game every year, including in 2022 in Los Angeles where we identified coverage needs and AT&T expanded FirstNet’s 5G capabilities in the stadium and greater L.A. area.

The FirstNet Authority will continue to offer communications support to future Super Bowl planning committees, with the pre-planning team already looking forward to next year’s game in Las Vegas.

Chief Schripsema has advice for future host city officials. “If you know you're going to have a large event like the Super Bowl, my recommendation is to contact the FirstNet Authority early,” he suggested. “They can help you not just within your day-to-day, but your planning cycles as well.”

“A huge amount of them have public safety experience in their background, so they speak the language that we speak in public safety, police, fire, and EMS,” he continued. “They provide a huge value in supporting public safety.” 


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