Security Blows the Call Outside Super Bowl XXXVII

A recent Time/Life ad I ran across in Money magazine sums up how I felt after experiencing firsthand the security fiasco at Super Bowl XXXVII in San Diego. The ad shows a young boy with his arms stretched out as a hulking airport security screener waves a wand over him. The copy reads, “At what point do national security and common sense collide?”

That’s the same question I pondered after my less-than-super experience outside Qualcomm Stadium, where I happened to be fortunate enough to obtain tickets to witness the Tampa Bay Buccaneers win in a rout. The pregame treatment I received left me feeling as abused as the Oakland Raiders!

A couple of days before the big game, I researched several Web sites to gain insight on traffic patterns, parking and other general things. As you would expect, security was a big concern. Parking at the stadium was prohibited; you could either be bused in from a remote lot a few miles away or take the trolley from various points throughout San Diego.

Having parked a distance away, I exited the elevated train station. When I gazed down at the stadium grounds, I saw row upon row of walk-through metal detectors set up in the vacant parking lot. High above the magnetometers, there were portable speakers blaring out garbled, deafening recorded messages at the maze-like lines of people.

As I waited 45 minutes in line, the scene conjured up memories of the 1973 science fiction classic “Soylent Green,” with Charlton Heston. For those of you too young to remember, that movie depicted a grim future where the government dealt with overpopulation by scooping people up with bulldozers from overcrowded streets.

When I finally reached the security checkpoint, I emptied the contents of my pockets and placed my binoculars and small digital camera into another tray. As I successfully walked though the metal detector without a beep, I heard a security guard say, “Sorry, you cannot take those items into the stadium.”

My first reaction was, “I can’t take binoculars or the digital camera into the stadium?” “No,” the guard said, “You can’t take the cases of those items in.” “You’re telling me I can’t take the small foam protective case hooked on my belt loop in?” I responded incredulously.

The guard then showed me a piece of paper that was given to him by the security office. It specifically listed that no camera or binocular cases be allowed into the stadium. I promptly demanded to speak to his superior.

Two policemen then approached me, one was a sergeant with the San Diego Police Department and the other was a lieutenant with the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department. I asked them to please hand-check the items again since I had nothing to hide. I also pointed out that other people were being let in with gym bags, fanny packs, backpacks, etc.

The sergeant reached into his pocket and unraveled a piece of paper noting that no camera or binocular cases were allowed. I asked him, “Does this make sense to you; not allowing small foam cases, but allowing other larger cases not specifically listed on the document?” Both officers answered that they had to follow the written rules and could not make exceptions.

The police ended up throwing my cases into the trash. As I finally went through the checkpoint into the “clean” area, I noticed many other people walking around with camera and binocular cases just like mine. I couldn’t believe it!

It was quite obvious the security procedures weren’t consistent, and I decided to take my complaint to the security office.

After meeting the NFL-contracted security manager, I showed him photos I had taken of people walking around the stadium with camera cases like mine, and shared my philosophy that security procedures should be consistently followed 100 percent of the time. He agreed, and I was finally permitted to retrieve my cases and enter the stadium.

This debacle underscores a key fundamental of security – no matter how elaborate electronic security is, it’s only as sophisticated as the people using it.

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