The Super Bowl host committee is confident it can handle traffic and safety impacts in Buckhead, according to its planning chief. The preparations include public safety command centers at the major malls and sending extra traffic control officers as the area prepares to host visitors at hotels, including one of the competing teams.
“There’s going to be traffic. Let’s be honest,” said Amy Patterson, the vice president of operations and logistics for Atlanta’s host committee for Super Bowl LIII, at the Jan. 10 Buckhead Business Association breakfast. “But know we have collaborated with the NFL and their partners… to understand their needs.”
The Super Bowl will be held at Mercedes-Benz Stadium Feb. 3. Official events begin Jan. 26, and although none will be held in Buckhead, the host committee, which serves as the liaison between the NFL and the city, is preparing for over 150 private events across the city and for Buckhead to be busy with hotel guests.
One of the teams will be staying at the JW Marriott Buckhead Atlanta, which will protected by security 24 hours a day, said Patterson, whose duties include overseeing public safety, transportation and crowd management, among other functions. The other team will be staying at a hotel downtown.
Twenty officers are expected to be sent to Buckhead to help direct traffic, and lights have been timed to maximize efficiency, she said. The Buckhead Community Improvement District has previously said it expects its typical traffic officers to not be available during the Super Bowl, causing traffic problems.
Patterson expects many hotel guests to take shuttle buses down to the Super Bowl and its events, but the committee is “pushing MARTA as hard as we can.” MARTA will have ramped-up security and will operate 24 hours a day from Feb. 1 at 4 a.m. to Feb. 5 at 2 a.m., according to the system’s website. The committee is also encouraging residents to telework or ride public transit.
“Come down and enjoy the festivities, but pack your patience. There’s going to be traffic,” Patterson said.
Although no sanctioned Super Bowl events will be held in Buckhead, the committee is preparing for private events citywide that will bring traffic and security concerns. The Shops Buckhead Atlanta are among the local sites hosting Super Bowl events, including a Feb. 1 fashion show by the Off the Field Players’ Wives Association.
“What we’ve learned from other cities, is that those are not going to be the ones that are going to trip us up,” Patterson said of the sanctioned events, which are concentrated in Downtown and Midtown. “It’s going to be all the other stuff in the city that we don’t know about; all the private parties, all the celebrities.”
The committee is encouraging hosts of those private events to register with the committee so it can send traffic or crowd management officers.
“It’s great when we can be prepared and we’re not reacting to where these events are happening,” Patterson said.
The committee is preparing for people to be out later since, starting Jan. 28 until after the game, alcohol sales will be extended until 4 a.m., Patterson said.
A team of officers and fire marshals will be dedicated to Phipps Plaza and Lenox Square mall. Patterson said the committee plans to prevent a repeat of the 2003 NBA All-Star game, when visitors shut down the Lenox Square mall after it reached capacity because the city was “overwhelmed” and didn’t have a coordinated effort.
“All it’s going to take is one athlete to tweet that he’s at the Nike store for everyone to go to that location,” she said. “Know that our police department and our partners are ready for that.”
The Super Bowl is considered by the FBI and Department of Homeland Security at the top of the security threat rankings, Patterson said. This means “a lot of extra boots on the ground will be coming in from across the country, a lot of extra toys.” The Department of Energy will also be flying helicopters 150 feet over downtown to test for radiation, she said.
Despite the continuing government shutdown, the agencies have already budgeted for the Super Bowl and have the funds they need for the operation, Patterson said in response to an audience question.
“We will have all the resources we need regardless of the shutdown, thankfully,” she said.
Although federal agencies are providing assistance, the Atlanta Police Department is still in charge, with Chief Erika Shields at “the top of the helm,” Patterson said.
Thirty-seven public safety groups have been meeting for two years to prepare for the event, involving over 40 state, local and federal partners, she said.
The groups have tested each public safety scenario and has a plan, she said.
“We can’t plan for ‘if’ anymore. We have to assume something might go wrong,” she said. “I share that with you to know that these guys are ready.”