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Heavy Security Planned for Super Bowl

Since the terrorist attacks against the United States in 2001, security has become the largest priority and expense for the National Football League's Super Bowl. The championship game annually tops U.S. television ratings and is seen in more than 220 countries around the world. That unique visibility makes the American sports event a very tempting target.

Security officials have a difficult task this week in Jacksonville, Florida. They have created layers of fortress-like barriers to protect the Super Bowl, an estimated 100,000 visiting fans and numerous activities being held in the days leading to the game. Amid the precautions, officials are trying to maintain a festive atmosphere as people move about the city through a myriad of checkpoints.

New fences surround Alltel Stadium. Traffic is being rerouted through downtown. Coast Guard crews patrol around cruise ships serving as floating hotels. Manhole covers and water meters have been locked to prevent deliberate contamination of the city's water supply.

Jacksonville Undersheriff Frank Mackesy is at the center of a joint effort involving local, state and federal agencies.

"We are coordinating along with approximately 50 to 60 other law enforcement agencies to provide a security plan," he explained. "It is going remarkably well."

It is a security plan that has significantly expanded since Jacksonville won the Super Bowl bid in 2000. This Super Bowl is the fourth following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

A nearly 50-kilometer circular no-fly zone around the area will be enforced on game day Sunday. Background checks have been performed on an estimated 9,000 volunteers. Trains hauling chemicals through the city are running on a limited schedule, and added security levels are in place at Jacksonville International Airport.

At the game, fans will be searched and scanned with X-ray machines before being allowed into the stadium - methods unheard of years ago, but now common for high profile events. Fans have been asked to arrive five hours before kickoff to ensure they have time to get through security.

The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office also has a new mobile command center, which Undersheriff Mackesy says includes an expanded traffic camera network.

"We have enhanced that ability by adding additional cameras that allow us to monitor the crowds for safety and security," he explained.

Behind the very visible precautions, many of the security plans are staying a secret. The North American Air Defense Command, based in Colorado Springs, Colorado, is working closely with the Florida Air National Guard to protect airspace using undisclosed measures.

In addition, Undersheriff Mackesy says unprecedented protection is in place on the St. Johns River.

"We are going to have a presence of over 100 law enforcement officers on the water," he said. "And a lot of that is because of the cruise ship presence. It created a unique security concern for us."

But he says the toughest task in the week leading to the Super Bowl is a common problem for law enforcement during large events.

"Traffic is primarily going to be the biggest deal [problem]," he said. "Anytime you bring an event into a city where 90 percent of the people participating are going to be from out of town, they all have to have transportation."

Millions of dollars have been spent to keep the Super Bowl safe this year. While the total cost may be difficult to add up, the Florida state legislature has earmarked $2.1 million for security.

In May, Florida Governor Jeb Bush, brother of President Bush, vetoed $7.6 million requested by Jacksonville officials to help pay officers during the week of the game. The governor said he did not want to set a precedent for excessive security spending since Florida frequently hosts Super Bowls.

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    Jim Stevenson

    For over 35 years, Jim Stevenson has been sharing stories with the world on the radio and internet. From both the field and the studio, Jim enjoys telling about specific events and uncovering the interesting periphery every story possesses. His broadcast career has been balanced between music, news, and sports, always blending the serious with the lighter side.