MIAMI_Gavin moved quickly around the spacious convention center, searching for a hidden bomb. Near a glass box containing a fire extinguisher, he sniffed the air and abruptly sat down. Inside was a pound of live high explosives, wrapped in black plastic.
For successfully finding the "bomb," Gavin got a treat from his handler, Special Agent L.A. Bykowsky of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. His training exercise over, the 7-year-old golden Labrador retriever is ready for duty conducting bomb-sniffing sweeps for the Super Bowl and its related events and hotels.
Gavin will be among 66 specialized canine bomb teams working as part of a massive local, state and federal security effort to protect one of the world's highest-profile public events from terrorists, foreign and domestic. The dog teams are one element of a 6-inch-thick security plan, which includes jet fighters and helicopters, tactical weapons teams, mobile bomb labs and robots, high-tech X-ray machines and sensors, intelligence databases and hundreds of uniformed police officers.
"We don't have any specific threat to this event," said Julie Torres, chief of the ATF's Miami office and the designated federal coordinator for Super Bowl security. "It is the biggest event in the nation as far as a sporting event. It is vulnerable as far as any terrorist activity. We have to plan excessively so we can provide proper security."
Those plans began to take shape two weeks after last year's Super Bowl in Detroit. This year's game is the sixth since the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, which forever changed the security landscape for any major U.S. public event. The Super Bowl is a Level One national security event, right behind a presidential inauguration in importance.
The trick for planners is to keep the game an enjoyable sporting event while still projecting a secure atmosphere. That means fans will see a significant police presence, but much more will be going on behind the scenes.
"What you want to do is give the appearance of preparedness and security, and give the fans a safe environment, but you don't want to look oppressive," said Maj. Lou Battle, Super Bowl coordinator for the Miami-Dade Police Department. "You're not going to feel like you're in an armed camp."
More than two dozen federal, state and local agencies are involved in security along with the NFL's own personnel. Milt Ahlerich, the NFL's vice president for security, said Monday that the league has hired 3,000 of its own personnel - part of $6 million budgeted for Super Bowl security - to handle chores ranging from running the magnetometers to screening fans at Dolphin Stadium.
"We have a great deal of confidence that our fans will be safe, that the two teams will be safe," he said.
Fans are prohibited from bringing most items into the game, other than a small bag that is subject to search. Traditional tailgating with cooking fires, tents and the like is banned in the parking lots, Ahlerich said.
The law enforcement agencies will be housed together at a Joint Operations Center, which includes U.S. intelligence agencies, a "bomb management" group and an aviation team to monitor all air traffic. On game day, Federal Aviation Administration flight restrictions for 10 miles around the stadium go into effect two hours before game time and end just before midnight.
"If you've got to fly, you just can't go through that perimeter," Torres said. "And if you do, you're going to have folks who are going to contact you and try to get your attention."