For more than a year they’ve been crafting a detailed security plan for Atlanta’s latest moment in the national spotlight.
But word of President Donald Trump’s plans to attend the College Football Playoff Championship Monday has forced city officials to adjust on the fly. There will be more street closures necessary to accommodate the presidential motorcade and his presence is certain to attract protesters.
And details about when Trump will arrive, and what route he’ll take to get to Mercedes-Benz Stadium, are unlikely to come until game day.
“More than anything where you’re going to feel it is the traffic,” Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields said at a multi-agency press conference Thursday. “It would’ve been more impactful had we not already been in partnership with the Secret Service. But the Secret Service has been at the table since day one. In their words they were already ready for this.”
Still, city officials expressed confidence that the championship, expected to bring roughly 100,000 people into Atlanta over the weekend, will proceed smoothly and safely. It’s a conviction born from experience for a city that has played host to signature events like the 1996 Summer Olympics, the 1988 Democratic Convention and two Super Bowls.
“Our message to the public is simple: Enjoy the game, enjoy the city and let us handle the details,” said Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.
Shields would not divulge specifics about law enforcement’s security plan but said “off days are canceled” through Tuesday for every one of the city’s nearly 1,800 law enforcement officers, who are working 12-hour shifts.
“There will be a pronounced police presence (downtown),” the chief said. Many officers will be working undercover, she said.
David LeValley, special agent in charge of the Atlanta Division for the FBI, said so far there have been no “specific threats to this game.”
“We encourage and ask that everyone be aware of their surroundings and immediately report any suspicious activity, no matter how trivial it seems to be,” LeValley said.
Flying aircraft, including drones, will not be allowed over any of the venues holding events, including outdoor concerts, associated with the championship game.
There will be significant electronic surveillance, Shields said, with roughly 10,000 security cameras, most of them private, feeding into the city’s Video Integration Center.
But some things you can’t plan for, as the mass shooting from a Las Vegas hotel room last summer proved. And major sporting events, such as the bombings in Centennial Park and the Boston Marathon, are inviting targets for terrorists.
Shields addressed those challenges recently during an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s editorial board.
“It’s very hard to anticipate what some of these individuals have proven themselves capable of,” she said, adding that APD has started using garbage trucks at major events to block off avenues in hopes of preventing the weaponization of automobiles.
“Now you’re going to see us taking more of an aerial view,” Shields said, including SWAT teams trained to shoot from helicopters.
Still, the biggest test is likely to come on Atlanta’s roads. Officials urged motorists to avoid downtown if at all possible, suggesting they use MARTA instead. And those who do drive in the city are being urged not to leave valuables inside their vehicles — firearms in particular.
“Please, please execute the highest regard and greatest level of common sense,” Shields said. “We cannot have folks continuing to bring guns and leaving them in their cars.”