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 5.5-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 along coolers, blankets and other items.
After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, official began heightening 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 protections both along the parade route and the Rose Bowl game.
That designation was made before the terrorist attacks in San Bernardino and Paris. But the effort is taking on added importance as officials focus more on terrorists who attack so-called “soft targets” where they can cause maximum casualties.
Many of the upgrades build off the Rose Parade’s longtime security plan: more cameras, more monitoring devices and more personnel looking for problems.
Mark Selby, Homeland Security’s deputy special agent in charge, said the agency for the first time will use a massive 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 court warrants if they need to monitor phone activity, Selby said.
License plate readers across the area have gathered data in search of suspicious activities. At the Rose Bowl, game 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 at the parade.
“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 Cal State San Bernardino, said the Dec. 2 San Bernardino shootings 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.”
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” terror plots.
Times staff writer Matt Stevens contributed to this report.