With an estimated 2 million visitors expected to arrive in Bay Area cities during the week leading up to Super Bowl 50, Palo Alto and Santa Clara County agencies are in the last push of their preparations for the influx. At the top of their list: traffic and public safety, in all of their myriad manifestations.
Palo Alto and surrounding cities are sure to feel the impact, even though the Feb. 7 event will be held at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara. Stanford University will also host practice sessions by the American Football Conference (AFC) championship team from Feb. 2-6.
Stanford's Department of Public Safety Special Events Unit said in a statement to the Weekly that it is collaborating with local and federal agencies on security for the week.
"We anticipate an increase in pedestrian and vehicle traffic and are coordinating with local agencies to assist with this potential increase," the department said, without further elaboration.
Palo Alto's Office of Emergency Services will figure big in those operations monitoring activities and in coordinating responses to disasters, accidents and medical emergencies. The OES's renovated command center at Palo Alto's police headquarters will be the nerve center, and the department will also deploy its Mobile Emergency Operations Center, OES Director Ken Dueker said.
Of the possible 2 million visitors, only 70,000 will be attending the Super Bowl. That leaves a considerable number of people who will be otherwise amusing themselves, Dueker said. And although traffic and medical emergencies top the list of concerns, Dueker said that Mother Nature could be a complicating factor.
"Our planning is as much about El Nino as anything else. We are looking at Murphy's Law. We could have major storms," he said, which typically occur in early February in El Nino years, he said.
In addition to flooding from storms, increased accidents and power outages, Dueker said that communications might also be compromised.
"Your cell phone might not work as well," he said, noting that the area has insufficient cellular network coverage. Even during regular 49ers games at the stadium, people sometimes can't get through, he added.
Federal authorities are also concerned about terrorist acts that could shut down communications. A memo between the Federal Bureau of Investigation and U.S. Department of Homeland Security was recently leaked to NBC News4 I-Team in Washington, D.C. expressing concern about potential sabotage to fiber-optic cables in the Bay Area during the Super Bowl, NBC reported. Michele Ernst, a spokeswoman for the FBI's San Francisco field office, told NBC that there have been 15 attacks against fiber-optic lines in the Bay Area since 2014.
Dueker said his office is working with the FBI and other agencies through the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center to monitor potential terrorist threats. But there is no specific threat right now in the Bay Area and none to Palo Alto.
"But the caveat is there were no specific threats in San Bernardino or Paris," he said.
Agencies throughout the Bay Area are working together to ensure coordinated communication through the Joint Information Center (JIC) for Super Bowl 50, which is being operated by the City of Santa Clara Police Department, Sunnyvale police Captain Jeffrey Hunter, JIC Operations Manager, said in a statement. Residents and visitors can receive safety, weather, traffic and emergency alerts through a new text-notification system from Nixle.com by texting the word SB50 to the number 888777. Current subscribers will still receive their regular local alerts from Nixle but can opt-in to SB50 for Super Bowl-specific information, he said.
Palo Alto Police Department is also strategizing its local and regional presence. The department is moving all field personnel to 12-hour shifts for the week prior to and including the Super Bowl, as opposed to their normal 11-hour shifts, spokesman Lt. Zach Perron said.
"They'll be supplemented by our SWAT team personnel and downtown officers. Other personnel will be on standby if needed, but at this point, we don't anticipate any problems. We'll have plenty of officers on hand to safely respond to handle whatever may come up. We also have mutual aid procedures in place should we need additional personnel from surrounding agencies to supplement our staffing," he said. At this point, there are no expected traffic or road closures.
Additional traffic could cause problems for the fire department in trying to get to the emergency, Palo Alto Fire Chief Eric Nickel said. The fire department is preparing for a 20 percent increase in calls for service, ranging from accidents to medical problems, based on past Super Bowl data, he added.
"We are planning for an additional five to eight calls per shift," he said.
During Super Bowl week, the department will add two additional ambulances during the day. One will be assigned to the football team practicing at Stanford for four hours per day; then it will be available for 10 hours for other calls.
"Our goal is to be as self-sufficient as possible and not rely on the county ambulance," he said.
Each day there will be many parties and events, so Nickel expects University Avenue to be busy.
"I'm a bit nervous about pop-up parties. For example, if Kim Kardashian tweets that she's coming to Stanford Shopping Center and a couple thousand people show up," he said.
The fire department has been collaborating regionally with other fire agencies and emergency medical teams. Palo Alto fire Operations Chief Geo Blackshire heads up the multiple-agency hazardous materials team, which is preparing for every scenario from the release of an unknown white powder to a catastrophe, Nickel said.
Santa Clara County Public Health Department will also be on the lookout for another kind of threat: communicable diseases, department spokeswoman Allison Thrash said. Super Bowl season is the peak time for influenza and norovirus, and the department will work to identify and contain sources of outbreaks, she said.
Norovirus, which causes gastrointestinal infections that can be quite severe, especially for the elderly.
"There has been quite a bit in the state in the last month. We've been sending out preventative messages to remind people to wash their hands and get medical care if they are sick or report to the communicable diseases line," she said.
The department does expect to see a rise in illness accompanying the greater numbers of people in the area. A new software program will help track the kinds of illnesses being seen in emergency rooms, she said.
At medical facilities such as Stanford Hospital, Dueker said, staff have been gearing up for additional patients, including preparing to treat people in tents if necessary. Erin Weinstein, Stanford Health Care's director of media relations, said that both Stanford Hospital and Lucile Packard Children's Hospital are ready for additional patients.
"Our trauma center, emergency department and hospitals at both Stanford Health Care and Stanford Children's Health will be fully staffed and prepared for any additional adult or pediatric cases that may result due to the Super Bowl and its various activities in the coming weeks," she said in an email. "In addition, we will be activating some aspects of our Emergency Operations Plan, including increasing staffing and on-call staffing, in order to ensure total preparedness should a major emergency occur."
Thrash said the county's Department of Environmental Health, which licenses and inspects food establishments, and the Department of Behavioral Health, which handles mental health issues, are also part of the collaboration. Environmental Health has stepped up its inspections of food establishments and is encouraging people with special events to get their licenses early, she said.
Thrash said the area is in good hands.
"It's amazing and reassuring, the thought that's being put into it," she said.