It's one of the biggest logistical challenges imaginable—how to secure a major urban area hosting one of the world's biggest sports events and expecting a blitz of tourists and fans. San Francisco is expecting almost 2 million visitors to the Bay Area for this Sunday's Super Bowl, and all of the city's hotel rooms are booked and dozens of local police departments are coordinating their procedures.
Communications is key to this mammoth security operation and the quarterback of this effort is Jaime Ellertson, the CEO of security firm Everbridge, who is facing a unique challenge during this year's game. One of the complications for this Super Bowl is that the game will be played in Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, a suburb of San Jose nestled deep in Silicon Valley that's more than 50 miles south of San Francisco, where most of the major events and celebrations will happen. Santa Clara is a sea of mid-range hotels and chain restaurants anchored around the arena, a large amusement park, and a convention center—but let’s face it, San Francisco is just way more fun. This means more traffic and more visitors going back and forth than during a typical Super Bowl.
The reason why the 49ers play in Santa Clara is a tangled tale of municipal politics that I won’t even try to get into, but the end result is easy to grasp: Coordinating security, traffic, and logistics for an event that straddles a city and its distant suburb will require some real teamwork from Ellertson's Everbridge, other security companies, and police departments.
For local law enforcement, that means talking to tourists. Lots and lots of tourists. Captain Jeffrey Hunter of the Sunnyvale Department of Public Safety told Fast Company that because the city of Santa Clara is on the smaller side for a host city (with a population of 120,245 in 2013), Santa Clara is working with law enforcement from the Bay Area and beyond to handle the Super Bowl influx.
Hunter is head of operations for the Super Bowl’s Joint Information Center—a consortium of local and national law enforcement and public service agencies tasked with communications with the millions of visitors to the Super Bowl (a separate center attached to the big game handles intelligence and surveillance). One of the key goals of the Joint Information Center is to push out text message and email-based safety alerts to visitors and residents. Over 7,000 people have signed up for this service as of press time, he added.
One of the major security headaches that visitors will endure, beyond omnipresent surveillance, is the fact that mobile phone service is likely to be disrupted around the Super Bowl due to overuse. Visitors to Levi’s during 49ers games routinely complain of poor phone service; the crowds around the Super Bowl—an estimated 2 million visitors to the San Francisco Bay Area and approximately 70,000 game attendees—will only make things worse.
Everbridge, which provides the infrastructure for law enforcement to send text message alerts to visitors and residents for events like the Pope visiting the United States and the Boston Marathon bombings, is one of the more public-facing companies in a vast ecosystem of firms supplying law enforcement, government, Levi’s Stadium, local businesses, and others with surveillance equipment.
According to a recent report in Wired, both Bay Area residents and visitors to the Super Bowl can expect unprecedented amounts of security and surveillance in play in the week leading up to the game. Although Everbridge is on the communications end—and isn’t involved in surveillance—they’re part of a continuum of companies that includes suppliers of mobile phone surveillance devices, facial-recognition software attached to security cameras, and license plate scanners deployed on local highways and in event venues.
Ellertson, who said his service has had thousands of sign-ups in the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl before most tourists arrived, told Fast Company that they let law enforcement "send information like safety alerts, weather traffic, alternate parking, anything going on the day of the game really. If there’s something like a major accident, it allows the police and joint information center to quickly communicate to residents."
Essentially, Everbridge’s product—a messaging system called Nixle—lets law enforcement mass-text visitors to the Super Bowl in order to ensure smooth traffic flow, avoid accidents, and manage crowds in case any incidents occur. Although their Super Bowl product is strictly opt-in, other tools that Everbridge markets to law enforcement use Reverse 911 data to beam emergency text messages to the general public. These are typically used in situations such as hurricanes, earthquakes, and Amber Alerts.
The company says one of the reasons they were chosen for the Super Bowl is the fact that the city of San Francisco, San Francisco International Airport, and many local police departments participating in the Joint Information Center already have a working relationship with them.