Unprecedented security at Rose Parade

Posted at 7:00 AM, Jan 01, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-01 10:01:48-05

PASADENA (AP) - Final preparations were underway Thursday for the 127th Rose Parade, with hundreds of people claiming front-row spots for the huge New Year's celebration that authorities said would be held under unprecedented security although there were no known threats.

Despite the prospect of overnight temperatures as low as the mid-30s, enthusiastic fans began planting seats, blankets and even air mattresses to camp out along the 5 1/2-mile route Thursday, with many gathering around heaters and barbecues after nightfall. Their numbers were expected to swell to more than 700,000 by Friday morning when flower-decked floats, marching bands and equestrian units begin moving through Pasadena before the 102nd Rose Bowl football game.

Many gathering for spots along the parade route said they considered security concerns before deciding to attend. Geoffrey Hayton, an attorney from Redlands, near the site of the San Bernardino shooting, said he and his wife talked about the potential dangers of going to the parade for the first time in more than 40 years. Ultimately, they decided fear wouldn't stop them.

On Thursday afternoon, Hayton and his son were enjoying the sun from their chairs at a prime spot along the route.

"Statistically, I feel like we're pretty safe," Hayton said.

The massive influx of people into the city, the length of the parade route, and numerous venues ranging from float decorating pavilions to Tournament of Roses headquarters and the Rose Bowl itself has always required a huge deployment of law enforcement, but officials said the 2016 security effort was bigger than ever.

The plan involved "an unprecedented volume of resources and technologies," Mark Selby, deputy special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations in Los Angeles and the federal coordinator for the Rose Parade and Bowl security, said at a recent news conference.

More than two dozen federal agencies — including the Secret Service, FBI, Department of Homeland Security, Coast Guard and Federal Emergency Management Agency — were coordinating with the Pasadena Police Department, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, Los Angeles Police Department and California Highway Patrol.

Federal personnel planned to use a variety of explosives-detection methods across the city ranging from bomb-sniffing dogs to devices that register even minute amounts of radiation, according to Selby.

Multiple tactical teams were on standby to support local police in the event of an incident.

In addition, Selby said there would be "a surveillance capability unmatched in the city's history."

"While a sophisticated network of cameras has been temporarily set up to track any activities at the venues on the ground, Customs and Border Protection aircraft will also be providing protective surveillance from the sky," he said.

The city also used automated license plate readers to gather information in advance of the parade, according to Police Chief Phillip Sanchez, who said his biggest concern was the "lone-wolf, non-state actor." He urged the public to report any suspicious activity.

Selby noted the Dec. 2 terror attack that killed 14 people in San Bernardino, 60 miles east of Los Angeles, but he emphasized that the Rose Parade's massive security preparations began more than a year ago.

Los Angeles FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said Thursday there were "no known specific or credible threats" to the event.

Also operating under tight security was a New Year's Eve countdown party in downtown Los Angeles' Grand Park, an event that drew thousands of revelers.

In Pasadena, people gathering early for the Rose Parade brought books, camp stoves and portable DVD players to keep themselves occupied as they prepared to wait through the day and night for the parade to begin.

Danny Chan, a pastor with the Eagle Rock Seventh-day Adventist Church, said he expected upward of 150 people, mostly families with children and teens, to attend from his congregation. He said safety concerns came up during the church's organizational meetings but Pasadena officials assured them security would be tight.

Chan said he'd already noticed a number of stepped-up measures Thursday, including extra patrols and more surveillance cameras.

"I think it's going to be New Year's as usual," he said. "Of course, we have a lot of prayers going out as well, for the safety of everyone."