January 24, 2020

Authorities have bolstered security in South Florida in anticipation of the Super Bowl LIV, hailed as the largest sporting event of the year. Law enforcement from multiple agencies will provide safety measures for the event. Geopolitical threats, exacerbated by recently increased tensions between Iran and the US, have led authorities to bolster security in the city further. While the threat of a terrorist-related incident remains small, travelers and businesses operating in the Miami metropolitan area will almost certainly experience major disruptions, including possible large protest actions and severe traffic conditions.


Security Environment

Officials in Miami anticipate that over 150,000 travelers will visit the city for the Super Bowl in 2020. Over 40 law enforcement agencies from the federal, state, and local levels, alongside thousands of private security deployments, will provide security for event-related activities at Hard Rock Stadium and other landmarks throughout South Florida. Despite the heightened security measures, threats to personal safety and related disruptions to travelers and businesses operating in the city remain significant. Authorities have designated the weekends of Jan. 25-26 and Feb. 1-2 as high impact days and will impose a series of additional measures during those dates to mitigate disturbances and disruptions.

Due to the current heightened tensions between Iran and the US following the killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani Jan. 3, authorities have further increased security measures. Authorities from major cities throughout the US, including in the Greater Miami Area, declared they had boosted security measures, including greater protections at ports of entry, since early January, following the geopolitical escalation. Airport officials will bolster security considerably at Miami International Airport (MIA) and Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL).

The Department of Homeland Security grants events such as the Super Bowl a Level One Special Events Assessment Rating (SEAR) due to the potential for such events becoming the target of a large-scale criminal act. It is unlikely that a direct attack from Iran will occur on US soil, and no credible threat exists at this time. In the unlikely event that a related action does occur, the instigator will more likely be a lone actor inspired by the current tensions in the Middle East, rather than an Iranian proxy group or Iran itself.


Threat Level of Terrorism in Florida

The threat of terrorist activity or an active shooter situation occurring during the Super Bowl remains low, particularly due to the increased security imposed at Hard Rock Stadium and around the city in general. Several mass shootings have occurred in Florida in recent years, highlighting an existing low threat. While highly unlikely, heightened political tensions between the US and Iran could inspire targeted attacks by radicalized individuals at high-profile events such as the Super Bowl.

Authorities have foiled several terrorism-related plots in recent years; a notable example in late 2019 involved an US citizen’s attempt to contact the Islamic State terrorist group in an effort to attack faculty members in a Miami college. While this example points to the effectiveness of US security forces in thwarting such attacks, incidents of domestic terrorism in Florida have increased in recent years. As recently as December 2019, in Pensacola, a Saudi flight officer shot and killed three individuals and was subsequently shot dead by authorities; several other Saudi officers were allegedly involved in the incident. Other recent major occurrences in Florida include an attack in 2018 at a high school in Parkland, in which 17 people died, a shooting at FLL airport in 2017 that left five people dead and resulted in major transport disruptions, and the infamous attack at a nightclub in Orlando in 2016, where a shooter killed 49 individuals and injured 53 others.

While sporadic in nature, this recent history of domestic terrorism is of serious concern for high-profile events such as the Super Bowl. While the related threat is low, geopolitical issues such as the hike in tensions in Iraq and Iran could also inspire attacks by radicalized individuals.


Protests and Transportation Disruptions

Protests in Miami are relatively common. Activists are likely to take advantage of the Super Bowl’s high profile to stage demonstrations advocating their respective causes. A major concern surrounding a protest action during the Super Bowl is the potential for transportation disruptions. If protesters block major roads, particularly near Hard Rock Stadium, traffic conditions could become severe. Violent clashes during such actions, while unlikely, remain a possibility.

While authorities have planned a series of road closures to mitigate traffic disruptions during associated Super Bowl events, disruptions are likely to be severe. Officials have closed Convention Center Drive between 18 Street to Dade Boulevard since Jan. 18. Officials will close several other stretches of road surrounding Miami Beach Convention Center and the Faena Forum closer to the Feb. 2 event. Authorities will also impose closures and lane diversions surrounding Hard Rock Stadium.


Final Considerations

Businesses operating in South Florida, as well as travelers to the area during the Super Bowl, can expect a series of prevailing concerns. Traffic conditions in the run-up to the event are likely to be severe, while any related protest action will exacerbate disruptions. Security measures at Hard Rock Stadium and other city landmarks have been strengthened substantially, particularly due to recent geopolitical challenges in the Middle East; these security measures could aggravate disruptions, particularly at ports of entry. Nonetheless, the possibility of an incident of domestic terrorism, such as an active shooter situation, remains low.