This time last year, I was caught up in midst of Super Bowl frenzy. Not because my team was playing but because the Super Bowl was being held in New Jersey. I was very fortunate to be part of the team that planned for the traffic management around the stadium and other venues. With the right TSM&O strategies, amazing teamwork, cooperation and collaboration between several state agencies, we were very successful in managing the highway system for this multifaceted special event.
As we turn on our televisions for Super Bowl XLIX this Sunday, a few “lessons learned” might be of interest.
Why is the Super Bowl so different from all the other special events like rock concerts, Papal visits, WrestleMania, Ironman and regular season football games every year for the Giants and the Jets (8 home games for the Giants and 8 home games for the Jets)?
First of all – it isn’t just a one-day event. The activities span a week, leading up to the “big day.” Then there is the national and international attention, huge media coverage, special security details, and the high expectations from NFL and fans.
Last year the game was played at MetLife Stadium in February in New Jersey, in an open-air, cold climate venue. (Just this week we witnessed what a nor’easter can do, imagine if that happened a day before or on the game day.) Additionally it was a bi-state event between New York and New Jersey, which added another layer of collaboration not only between transportation officials but also with security, hospitality and other areas. Not to mention the traffic, which even on a normal work day can be pretty intense.
Luckily we already had strong relationships within the state transportation agencies and the bi-state agencies such as the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. However, this event took it to the next level. Numerous high-level and working group meetings were held between all stakeholders. Incident Command Structure (ICS) was created and followed. NFL representatives and the host committee were well-informed through regularly scheduled executive meetings with representation from numerous working groups.
The transportation working group was provided with the following mission:
Build on successful regional transportation agency coordination and operations to provide safe and efficient access to major Super Bowl XLVIII venues and events, while ensuring effective and timely detection of any traffic incidents, emergency response, and system recovery.
- Blizzard-like conditions before or on media and game day.
- Major incidents on roads leading to the stadium.
- The location is not very conducive to pedestrian traffic so some of the concerns were:
- People dropped off on feeder roads either by relatives or local restaurants/entrepreneurs.
- Pedestrian traffic after tailgating behind or around the stadium.
- Pedestrians being dropped off at unauthorized and unsafe locations by private parking lots or local commercial business offering parking on Super Bowl Sunday.
- Egress concerns.
- Access for Very Very Imortant People
- Managing traffic around other sanctioned and non-sanctioned events.
- Maintaining daily response while getting ready for Super Bowl.
- Need for a travel ban on Hazmat cargo on Super Bowl Sunday near the Stadium.
Planning for the Super Bowl started more than a year in advance for some agencies and even earlier for others. Proper planning was key in achieving the desired results. Two table-top exercises were conducted to discuss scenarios and risks with varying levels of severity and probability associated with them. Members of several involved agencies took part in these table tops and discussed their response plans. Some of the scenarios considered were:
- Inclement weather- snow, ice, heavy rain, flooding.
- Highway Incidents- motor-vehicle crash, pedestrian involved, involving Hazmat spill, utility pole knockdown, emergency roadway repairs.
- Personnel staffing issues.
- Transportation mode shift different than what was predicted.
- Terrorism/Large-scale public safety threat.
- Telecommunication issues/failure.
- Power failure.
For each of the above risks, the group discussed the likeliness of it taking place and its severity if it were to happen.
Deploying TSM&O Strategies:
- The Statewide Traffic Management Center became the nerve center for transportation, while a multi-agency, multifaceted temporary yet state-of-art facility served as the command center.
- A “Traffic Operations Playbook” was created with very fine details and circulated to everyone with a role.
- Deployed technology: Extra CCTVs, portable color VMS to match the color coded parking assignment, and Bluetooth readers.
- Multi-level snow removal plan was created.
- NJDOT and the Stadium procured snow-melters.
- Service Patrol: Added beats around the stadium for rapid response and clearance.
- Developed evacuation plans.
- Lane closures along the highways in the vicinity of MetLife stadium were denied.
- Dedicated Incident Management Response Team members throughout the week for team movements and game day readiness.
- NJ State Police Incident Management unit worked with utility companies to have a standby crew
- Existing permanent DMS were used for travel times and advance traveler information.
- Created a Super Bowl centric widget on New Jersey DOT’s 511 website.
- Standby structural engineers and electricians for rapid response if needed.
- Planning for operations across agencies including identifying and mitigating risks contributed greatly to success.
- Do not attempt to deploy complicated new software on short notice.
- There is value in co-locating key multi- agency decision makers to share situational awareness and therefore making quick important decisions.
- Local experts could have been more firm with the NFL on issues such as passenger drop-off.
- Sharing a common channel on the 800 MHz radio among NJSP and other transportation providers was valuable for coordination and communication back-up.
- Prioritizing ITS devices for repair before and during Super Bowl Week was helpful
- It is important to be flexible and keep some resources in reserve to meet emerging last-minute needs.
- Leverage momentum of major special events to accelerate ITS device deployment, including multi-agency collaboration, utility company responsiveness, and innovative design and procurement options.
The New Jersey Department of Transportation published an executive summary and a detailed report.
Disclaimer: The above article strictly captures my thoughts and experience as they relate to the preparation of Super Bowl XLVIII, and in no way represents the views of the New Jersey Department of Transportation or any other agencies that were involved.