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Sports

All-Star game provided Super Bowl security dry run

| Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2006

DETROIT - Those in charge of keeping Super Bowl fans safe this weekend have the gargantuan task of protecting dozens of venues, including the 65,000-seat Ford Field, site of the game.

But officials from state, federal and local agencies say they're ready, due in part to what they learned while policing last July's baseball All-Star game, a practice run of sorts for the larger Super Bowl. That game was played at Comerica Park, next door to Ford Field.

"We got an opportunity to work with a lot of these partners in advance of this mega event," Detroit Second Deputy Police Chief James Tate said.

About 100 agencies, from the local sheriff to the North American Aerospace Defense Command to the Coast Guard are involved in the Super Bowl security effort.

Authorities say they'll continue to be on guard in light of Monday's videotaped threat of a new attack against the U.S. by al-Qaida's No. 2 leader, Ayman al-Zawahri.

Tate said Tuesday there have been no specific threats against Detroit or any Super Bowl venue.

"We don't plan for just street-level crime or just small incidents. We plan for the worst-case scenario," he said.

July's baseball classic, attended by more than 40,000, was nearly flawless from a security standpoint. Authorities said they got to know each other better and were able to practice deploying officers from multiple agencies.

They also learned that in the event of a major problem, they would have trouble communicating with each other.

During the All-Star game, for instance, Detroit Police had few radio links with Michigan State Police. That was solved when Detroit's police, fire and emergency medical units joined the state's new radio network.

"We have to do better with communication," State Police First Lt. Monica Yesh said.

Just as they did for the All-Star game, state police have brought in a team that can set up instant electronic communication between command centers. There are several command posts in place, including a bomb management center to handle calls dealing with explosives and unattended packages.

Security measures already are being tightened. Detroit police have set up a no parking zone in much of the downtown area for traffic and security reasons. Undercover officers are out looking for street crime and counterfeit Super Bowl goods.

The Coast Guard has docked the 225-foot-long cutter Hollyhock in the Detroit River downtown and has brought in a 30-person team from Georgia to keep boats out of a mile-long zone that extends 300 feet from shore.

On Tuesday, two small boats armed with machine guns guarded the zone, which was marked by yellow buoys. Other Coast Guard boats and a helicopter zipped above the river.

NORAD, which is coordinating air defense, has set up training missions over downtown involving F-16 fighter jets, helicopters, refueling tankers and an E-3 Airborne Early Warning aircraft from the Air National Guard and Canadian agencies.

On the day of the game, the Federal Aviation Administration has restricted nearly all flights lower than 18,000 feet within 10 nautical miles of Ford Field, and it will limit flights within a 30 mile radius of the game.

Authorities say aircraft will patrol the skies on Sunday, although they won't say how many. "We can say that we will be making sure that the skies are protected," said Air Force Master Sgt. Laura L. Bosco, spokeswoman for NORAD's Continental United States Region.

Inside the Renaissance Center, which houses the General Motors Corp. world headquarters and many Super Bowl activities, including the media center, noticeable number of security guards, police and bomb dogs make their way with the crowds beneath red-and-blue Super Bowl banners.

Dogs will be on duty continually wherever there are large gatherings, authorities said.

On Monday, officials began checking all trucks entering Ford Field with a U.S. Customs and Border Protection gamma ray machine. The machine, normally stationed at the Detroit-Windsor border, produces pictures similar to X-rays.

Tate said Detroit police have had a great deal of experience guarding high-profile events from the recent North American International Auto Show to championship parades for the NBA's Detroit Pistons and the NHL's Red Wings.

The Detroit-area agencies have held tabletop war games and practice drills to mimic possible terrorist attacks. Before the All-Star game, Tate said, the agencies held a drill to judge their security and preparedness for a big event, judged by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"They gave us one of the highest grades possible," said Tate. "We got an A-plus."

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