Law enforcement officials, college football championship organizers on alert following Paris attacks

FBI, local law enforcement personnel and game organizers are confident in the strict security protocols they have in place for the College Football Playoff National Championship. (Photo by Jacob Stanek/Cronkite News)

A security guard’s decision to frisk one man at a gate outside the Stade de France, deny him entry and uncover his explosives undoubtedly saved thousands of additional lives in the recent Paris attacks that killed 130 people and left 368 wounded. Only one bystander died at the stadium.

Following the Nov. 13 attacks, fans can expect strict security protocols for the College Football Playoff National Championship Game and its surrounding events in the Valley. The game is scheduled to be played at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale on Jan. 11 and local security officials and game organizers are on alert.

Federal authorities are working in conjunction with local law enforcement personnel to implement security procedures, although there is no known threat to the United States currently.

“The Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are closely monitoring the unfolding events in Paris and we remain in contact with our counterparts in the region,” the FBI said in a statement provided to Cronkite News last week. “At this time, there is no specific or credible threat to the United States. We will not hesitate to adjust our security posture, as appropriate, to protect the American people.

“DHS and the FBI routinely share information with our state, local, federal and international law enforcement, intelligence and homeland security partners, and continually evaluate the level of protection we provide at federal facilities.”

Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority (AZSTA) implements University of Phoenix Stadium’s security policies and provides electronic security equipment as well as trained security personnel. The protocols are part of the NFL Best Practices for Stadium Security designed to alleviate potential acts of terrorism. They were issued following 9/11 and have been gradually modified every season to enhance safety and make security checkpoints across NFL stadiums faster.

Fans attending Arizona Cardinals games at University of Phoenix Stadium this season have had to pass through several security stations before entering the stadium.

The venue added airport-style metal detectors this season as part of the NFL’s required security upgrade. All fans must pass through the metal detectors before proceeding to get their ticket scanned for entry. Even before fans approach the metal detectors, personnel stationed around the stadium’s perimeter check for bags that do not meet strict security standards.

Per University of Phoenix Stadium’s public safety bag policy implemented in 2013 as part of an NFL-wide security overhaul, fans attending a Cardinals game may bring one bag inside the stadium, either a 12 inch x 6 inch x 12 inch clear plastic bag, a one-gallon plastic freezer bag or a small clutch bag no larger than 4.5 inches x 6.5 inches in size. The same standards will be enforced for the College Football Playoff National Championship Game.

“Security and safety are always top priorities at University of Phoenix Stadium,” Tom Sadler, president and CEO of AZSTA, said in a statement to Cronkite News. “We have worked diligently over the years to exceed safety standards and have worked closely with local, state and federal authorities to adhere to best practices in the field.

“We are constantly evaluating our security protocols, and following the Paris attacks we will have continued discussions with the College Football Playoff as it relates to security protocols for the National Championship Game in January.”

Local officials and game organizers declined to comment on other specific security protocols but said fan safety has been at the forefront since it was announced in December 2013 that Glendale would host the game.

“Almost as long as we’ve been working to raise money for this event, we’ve been working on the planning, logistics and safety concerns for this event,” said Brad Wright, Arizona Organizing Committee co-chair. “We’re very aware that these big events could be targets. We are taking that very seriously and are going to do everything we can to ensure the safety of this event and the people that attend.”

Wright said proper security measures will be in place in January when the college football world descends upon the Valley.

“I’m sure every precaution is going to be taken to make sure that we protect the fans and the people attending,” he said.

University of Phoenix Stadium seats about 63,400, but is expandable to 72,200 seats for large events. An estimated 70,288 fans attended Super Bowl XLIX in February with many more traveling to the area for the game’s entertainment options.

More than 1 million fans flocked to the Valley for Super Bowl Central, a 12-block football haven nestled in downtown Phoenix that featured a plethora of football activities and street merchants during the week leading up to Super Bowl XLIX earlier this year.

The Department of Homeland Security provided security training to state and local law enforcement, local hotels and others to help them identify potential risks during Super Bowl XLIX and its surrounding events around the Valley.

The Transportation Security Administration sent additional officers and increased the number of checkpoint lanes at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport as part of the enhanced security measures for Super Bowl XLIX. The U.S. Secret Service also monitored social media for unusual activity and potential cyber security vulnerability while also providing magnetometer training for University of Phoenix Stadium security personnel.

College Football National Championship Game organizers last week announced details for entertainment options beyond the game itself similar to Super Bowl Central, including musical performances, games, exhibits, tailgates and other activities that will be held in downtown Phoenix.

“We’re still looking at having large crowds in the downtown area and that’s not anything new for us,” said Sgt. Trent Crump, a Phoenix police spokesman. “Our goal is to welcome people while trying to make it easy to navigate something, but making sure it is secure as well. Like Super Bowl (XLIX), we will take security measures downtown with state-of-the-art technology and we’ll partner in this with federal and local law enforcement agencies.”

Crump said police will be ever present at the events during the week leading up to the championship game.

“We’ll have a large visual presence of police officers at events like this that are watching for things, but we’ll utilize undercover officers as well at these types of events,” he said. “We’ll also have intelligence gathered in the weeks prior to the event where we’re monitoring and looking for specific activity that we think may be at the event.”

Crump also said some security measures will be similar to those implemented during Super Bowl XLIX festivities, including a monitoring center.

“We’re going to run a multi-agency coordination center, so one location where all (law enforcement) groups are represented with decision makers on the event days so that we can manage this event with all of these strategic partners and key stakeholders,” he said. “We’ve already had these people together in tabletop exercises as we plan for the event.”

Crump added he was “ecstatic” with security measures during Super Bowl Central, saying, “we were absolutely thrilled with the end result.”

Despite the security protocols, Crump said fans should still be aware of their surroundings.

“We can’t convey enough that safety is everybody’s responsibility,” Crump said. “We ask our visitors and our residents to be vigilant and report suspicious activity.”

The U.S. State Department on Monday issued a global travel alert for Americans amid concerns that terrorist groups and individuals may plan more attacks.

The alert, which will be in place until Feb. 24, said Americans “should exercise vigilance when in public places or using transportation” and “be aware of immediate surroundings and avoid large crowds or crowded places.”