Over the past decade, America’s Playground has only gotten busier.
Las Vegas was already known across the globe for its bustling nightlife and entertainment scene. Now, the city continues to expand with motor racing, basketball, football, and baseball.
In just a few days, they will host the Super Bowl, one of the highest-profile events in the nation. With more and more special events, the challenges to keep attendees safe become more nuanced and require greater coordination. For the FBI Las Vegas Field Office, the key to achieving this goal lies at what is known as the Las Vegas Fusion Center.
A fusion center an environment where representatives from a variety of law enforcement agencies, as well as federal, state, and local organizations, have a shared space to collaborate when managing major events within the center’s area of operations. There are more than 80 fusion centers across the country. The Las Vegas Fusion Center was started in 2007 and moved in 2010 to be hosted by the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department.
"Our primary focus is to prevent acts of terrorism, mass casualty incidents, and any significant criminal or transnational criminal activity," said Cary Underwood, fusion center director. "We have numerous federal, state, and local agencies all working together toward that common goal.”
When you walk into the fusion center, it can feel like you're in a scene from a movie.
The lights are often down, and a wall of screens is clued in to everything from traffic cameras to the local weather report. For the foreseeable future, several screens will be dedicated to many angles of Allegiant Stadium, site of Super Bowl LVIII.
"Our primary focus is to prevent acts of terrorism, mass casualty incidents, and any significant criminal or transnational criminal activity."
Fusion Center Director Cary Underwood
Las Vegas is a city that never slows down or turns off. Personnel from the Las Vegas police and fire departments, FBI, DHS, TSA, FAA, Homeland Security, and the National Weather Service, among others, operate this fusion center 24/7. All parties are focused on keeping attendees safe at the Super Bowl.
Planning for the Super Bowl "started over a year ago," said Assistant Special Agent in Charge Jeremy Schwartz of FBI Las Vegas. The FBI provides bomb technicians, WMD experts, additional agents, and other operational resources to the city during the Super Bowl.
But what is most vauable, says Schwartz, is "having a full-time footprint at the fusion center in the Valley."
Adam Seely, section lieutenant, Southern Nevada Counterterrorism Center, adds, "Having the FBI as part of the Southern Nevada Counterterrorism Center has helped us greatly. It’s enhanced our communications with our FBI partners, and we're able to jointly work investigations with them. It's a great working relationship ... and it’s critical, especially, that we work with the fusion center to protect the city."
Being an active participant at the fusion center means that the FBI already has many processes, procedures, and, most importantly, partnerships pre-established. In the event of an incident, the FBI loses no time in responding.
Supervisory Special Agent Mari Panovich leads the FBI’s full-time presence at the fusion center. She oversees two special agents and two staff operations specialists.
"The team of four investigators works together on whatever is needed on a daily basis," she said, "The situations are always changing and ever-evolving. We do our best to make sure that we've checked every federal database or FBI database that we can to ensure that they, our local partners, have all the information that they need for a specific incident."
And when there is a special event, such as the Grand Prix or the Super Bowl, Mari leads on behalf of the FBI. In these events, additional support personnel report for duty. But Mari’s constant presence keeps this surge from becoming overwhelming or chaotic.
After each event, fusion center employees conduct an extensive debrief to share what worked, what didn’t, and what to improve upon in the future.
And on Monday, February 12, Panovich and Schwartz will share what they learned with the New Orleans Fusion Center as that city begins preparing for the next Super Bowl.