Protecting the Tournament of Roses Parade against terrorism has always been a daunting task.
The event draws an estimated 700,000 people who line a 5 1/2-mile route in Pasadena’s bustling shopping district. There are no gates of entry, and those who attend don’t need tickets and often bring coolers, blankets and other items.
After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, official increased security measures, including flight restrictions over the parade, the use of mobile chemical monitors and more surveillance cameras.
But this year, federal, state and local law enforcement authorities are introducing new measures along the parade route and at the Rose Bowl game.
Officials said there is no specific threat against the events. The increased security is due to a change in which federal officials declared the Rose Parade — along with a few other events such as the Super Bowl — as “rating 1” events where extra precautions are required.
That designation was made before the terrorist attacks in San Bernardino, Calif., and Paris. But the effort is taking on added importance as officials focus more on terrorists who attack “soft targets” where they can cause maximum casualties.
Many of the upgrades build on the Rose Parade’s longtime security plan: more cameras, more monitoring devices and more people looking for problems.
Mark Selby, Homeland Security’s deputy special agent in charge in the area, said the agency for the first time will use a big scanner that can examine trucks coming into the area near the Rose Bowl. Homeland Security will also have technology capable of tracking cellphone calls in the Pasadena area. Officials have a plan to immediately seek warrants if they need to monitor phone activity, Selby said.
There will be heavily armed rapid response squads hiding in the wings, undercover agents mingling in the crowd and devices capable of detecting small amounts of radiation.
License plate readers across the area have gathered data in search of suspicious activities. At the Rose Bowl, ticket holders will be given clear bags for their possessions.
To supplement the usual 1,000 or so Pasadena police officers and Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies, two dozen federal agencies will be working on scene.
“This will be the largest security operation in the parade’s and bowl game’s history,” Selby said. “Thanks to a deployment of new technologies, we will have the ability to watch the entire route and if the worst happens respond rapidly with force.”
Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, said the Dec. 2 shootings in that city are likely to prompt security officials to focus more on potential West Coast targets.
“While technically (Homeland Security) uses a multifactored test that looks at everything from available assets to event size, the East Coast, and New York and Washington, D.C., in particular, until now, were regarded as facing a disproportionate threat risk,” he said. “In the past, most of these events had an eastern focus.”
Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik killed 14 people at a holiday party at the Inland Regional Center. They were later killed in a shootout with police. Authorities say both were “self-radicalized,” but that it’s still unclear whether they had ties to Islamic terrorist groups.
Pasadena Police Chief Phillip Sanchez said San Bernardino underscored the need for close communication with federal authorities.
“There (are) lessons to be learned out of any situation …. Let me be clear my biggest concern is a lone wolf, nonstate actor,” he said. This kind of threat, he said, is the most difficult to detect through intelligence.
But Sanchez said that is where the public can help.
“It is crystal clear to me that in every incident we have seen over the last decade, somebody knew something in advance of the situation. We have seen that in San Bernardino,” Sanchez said. “So I would implore our community members … you have the real authority, you have the capacity to detect” terrorist plots.
(Times staff writer Matt Stevens contributed to this report.)
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