Security Tight All Around for Jacksonville and Super Bowl

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) -- New fences surround Alltel Stadium. Traffic is being rerouted through downtown. Coast Guard crews patrol where cruise ships serving as floating hotels will dock, and manhole covers and water meters are being locked.

Security will be tight on land, along the St. Johns River and in the air for the Super Bowl, which comes to Jacksonville on Feb. 6. More than three dozen local, state and federal agencies are taking thousands of precautions to ensure the safety of the expected 100,000 visitors coming for the game.

When the city won the bid to host football's biggest game in 2000, local officials expected to spend $500,000 on security. Then came the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, resulting in a need for enhanced security measures - and increasing the budget to secure this game, according to some estimates, to more than 10 times the original figure.

Residents know the added security will at times be inconvenient, but they say the money is well spent.

"This is the hot spot in the United States," said Michael Scarola, 26, a University of North Florida student majoring in international studies. "It's a concern, but we're still happy the game is happening here."

During game week, jet skis will be banned in the St. Johns River - largely because of the cruise ships that will hold thousands of visitors. Coast Guard divers will regularly inspect the bottom of the ships, plus keep other boats a safe distance away.

"We are going to have a substantial force," Coast Guard Petty Officer Dana Warr said. "We'll be ready. We'll have ample resources, whatever challenges come up."

A 30-mile circular no-fly zone around the area will be enforced on Super Sunday. Background checks have been performed on an estimated 9,000 volunteers, trains hauling chemicals through the city will run on a limited schedule, and added security levels are planned at Jacksonville International Airport.

While the hubbub is new to Jacksonville - a first-time Super Bowl host - the NFL is now well-versed in tight security. This is the fourth Super Bowl since 9-11.

"The security effort will be comparable to what it has been the past several years," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said.

Security plans began about 18 months ago, said Jacksonville Undersheriff Frank Mackesy, who heads the game's security detail. He'll be relieved when the game finally kicks off.

"It's not the game itself that creates the challenges for us," Mackesy said. "It's all the stuff leading up to the game - all the festivals, running backgrounds...making sure all the vendors are who they say they are, bomb sweeps, securing perimeters, making sure cruise ships are secure."

Five cruise ships are being docked in the St. Johns River during game week, adding some 3,500 hotel rooms. The ships were pressed into service because of the lack of first-class hotel rooms in Jacksonville.

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 fairly common for high-profile events.

The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office also has a new $500,000 mobile command center, which can use its cameras to zoom in on activity from blocks away or receive feeds from one of the department's helicopters. The new unit also has a high-tech communication system.

While some measures will be visible, many of the security plans will stay under wraps.

The North American Air Defense Command, based in Colorado Springs, Colo., will not discuss how it will protect the skies over Jacksonville, other than acknowledging it'll work closely with the Florida Air National Guard.

"NORAD has an interest in any large gathering," said Canadian Army Maj. Douglas Martin, a NORAD spokesman. "What we do or where we do it, we are pretty guarded."

While the security plans may be comforting to fans attending Super Bowl events, some business owners are concerned. They want to make sure traffic isn't routed away from their storefronts.

"Merchants are concerned about how they will get merchandise and employees into work," said Rachel Kaltenbach, a spokeswoman for The Jacksonville Landing, a downtown riverfront shopping area.

Security even extends to Jacksonville's water lines.

To keep terrorists from contaminating the city's water supply, the JEA - which runs Jacksonville's power and water system - is locking 200 water meters on abandoned property downtown, another unprecedented measure.

Jacksonville resident Joe Hart, 51, a roofing contractor and Army veteran, said he's concerned about something happening - but also believes security will be adequate.

"Anything can happen," Hart said, between cigarette puffs, "but it's not likely."

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