On February 4, 2018, the world watched as Minneapolis turned purple during the Super Bowl LII half-time show and the underdog Philadelphia Eagles defeated the New England Patriots to capture the Lombardi Trophy.
Meanwhile, just a few blocks away, a small group of North Central University employees was on duty, at the ready to serve some very important guests on campus: law enforcement personnel who were dispatched throughout the city to provide a safe Super Bowl experience for Minnesotans and the hundreds of thousands of visitors.
All but about 200 students and a small number of essential personnel had left campus, and the hoped-for outcome became a reality for North Central, law enforcement personnel, and the City of Minneapolis: safety for all visitors and the events related to the Super Bowl.
Converting an active college campus into a law enforcement and security hub did not happen overnight.
While interest in the possibility of using North Central University’s property in some fashion for Super Bowl LII operations was indicated as far back as January 2016, the interest moved to action after NCU’s administration decided to close campus due to the potential disruption due to NCU’s proximity to the stadium.
Chris Fleck, North Central’s director of business relations, met with Commander Scott Gerlicher, Minneapolis Police Department, Public Safety Coordinator and Incident Commander Super Bowl LII, during summer 2016. After seeing NCU’s facilities, Gerlicher expressed interest in moving their plans for law enforcement staging from the Minnesota State Fairgrounds to NCU.
After months of detailed contract negotiations and exploration to ensure that that North Central could adequately provide the facilities and services needed for the complex law enforcement operations, a contract was signed between NCU and the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee in February 2017, giving the university just shy of 11 months to prepare.
At Fleck’s recommendation, NCU’s Executive Council appointed a Super Bowl Task Force, chaired by Aimee Robertson, University relations administrator and director of alumni relations.
Robertson’s charge was to guide a 13-member cross-functional team in the process of thinking through and planning for hundreds of tasks that would need to be executed to provide the right environment to set the Super Bowl law enforcement professionals up for success.
The task force began meeting in March 2017 and met at least once a month to ensure that no details were missed, and goals were met. Examples of logistics to be addressed by the task force included:
- Housekeeping: NCU rented out 100 beds in unoccupied rooms for out-of-town law enforcement personnel. Housekeeping staff secured all the necessary linens and supplies to make this happen. This team also needed to work out a detailed cleaning schedule for all the areas of campus that would be used during the 10-day rental period.
- Student Development: Students were encouraged to be off campus for the break, but accommodations were made for those who could not travel home or had to be nearby for athletics or employment. The Student Development team took the lead to facilitate the application process for students to remain on campus and went above and beyond to make sure all students received timely communication about important deadlines. The team made 500+ individual phone calls to students to make sure everyone who may need to stay on campus had the opportunity to apply to do so by the deadline. Additionally, Student Development staff hosted various activities for the on-campus students during the break, including a game night and a movie night.
- Campus Safety and Security: NCU Security created special credentials for all students and employees who would be on campus during the break, since the area would be secured by National Guard presence to ensure the safety of law enforcement operations.
- Facilities Management: Making sure all needed meeting and residence rooms were set up as requested was the job of “FM.” This team worked in partnership with Housekeeping to move and rearrange furniture in buildings throughout campus. FM also provided temporary keys and locks for rooms used by specialized units working from campus, such as the sex trafficking unit and an undercover group. The rooms needed to be accessible ONLY to law enforcement personnel so the locks were changed.
- Food Services: The Super Bowl is given security rating by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security known as SEAR 1—essentially meaning that the same security protocols used for events such as the U.S. Presidential Inauguration are in place. NCU’s food service partner, Pioneer, served meals for hundreds of law enforcement personnel and had to meet food safety and preparation standards equal to those used in serving food to the President of the United States. They worked with the FDA and Minnesota Department of Health to make sure all systems were in place to meet these standards.
- Facility Events: Check-in procedures for law enforcement personnel staying on campus were coordinated by this team, who also ensured that each room had a welcome packet and information about who to contact for any needs during their stay.
- Information Technology: The IT team ensured that all tech needs were met, including providing Wi-Fi and assisting with the installation of printers brought in by the Minneapolis Police Department.
- Communication: Getting timely messages to students, employees, parents, and others who would need to make plans related to this unusual break.
Knitting a team together
Fleck served as North Central’s main liaison with the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee and the Minneapolis Police Department throughout the length of the planning and for the duration of their stay on campus, and has high praise for how NCU’s Super Bowl Task Force embraced their jobs.
The first few meetings were spent trying to get a sense of the scope of the task. “But by month four [of committee meetings],” Fleck said, “I saw the knitting of this group come together. It was Aimee Robertson’s outstanding leadership and the NCU Super Bowl Task Force members who took ownership and proactive responsibilities to such excellence, that made this entire pre-planning and execution happen.”
This sentiment was echoed by Lt. Todd Gross, Minneapolis Police Department, Homeland Security – Emergency Preparedness Unit, who was in charge of the staging operation at North Central. In an interview with Channel 5 news reporter Farrah Fazal, Gross said, “I’d like to thank North Central University for hosting us. They’ve been gracious hosts. They really had a great plan and a great group of people working with us and our National Guard partners.”
In the planning stages, one of the greatest challenges was that the details of how North Central was going to be used during the Super Bowl could not be shared publicly, in order to protect the campus and those who would be staying there—guests as well as NCU students. Advance knowledge of police operations centralizing at NCU could pose a safety threat, and for this reason NCU agreed to not disclose specifics, even to the internal community.
“This was a hard secret to keep,” said Nancy Zugschwert, North Central’s director of communications. “We were very excited to serve our law enforcement partners for this event, but we also recognized the potential security impact if information was released too early. Our community was incredibly understanding and accepting of the limited information we were able to share leading up to the event.”
Students staying on campus and essential personnel were informed on Jan. 18 who would be utilizing the campus, since they needed to know why certain restrictions would be in place during the break. They were asked to honor a commitment to keep the information confidential for another week.
On Jan.25, when law enforcement operations began to set up shop, a joint press release was issued by the Minneapolis Police Department and North Central, to inform the public that they could expect to see law enforcement and National Guard personnel coming and going from NCU’s campus.
The campus closure and news about law enforcement’s use of the property drew the attention of KSTP Channel 5, who came to campus three times for related stories, including an exclusive story they were able to air after the Super Bowl with more details about law enforcement efforts to keep the Twin Cities safe during Super Bowl week.
Praying for the Super Bowl
One behind-the-scenes aspect of North Central’s Super Bowl involvement was a commitment to prayer. Early on, the task force recognized the need to seek God’s help and protection for the event. The task force prayed regularly, as did the North Central women’s intercessory prayer group and countless other students, faculty, staff, alumni, and others.
Executive Director of Student Development Todd Monger led a special prayer walk the day that law enforcement personnel began arriving on campus. In his invitation to prayer, Monger noted, “Amidst the business, logistics, meetings, and execution of the NCU Super Bowl experience, it is important that we do not forget our strongest resource: prayer!”
The ad-hoc prayer team walked through every room being used by law enforcement, asking for God’s protection and divine interaction to take place in each area.
During law enforcement’s stay on campus, several full-time North Central employees stayed on campus 24/7 to serve any needs that came up for the group. The NCU team impressed law enforcement personnel with their prompt response to any service requests and their attentiveness to make sure all needs were met.
Three staff members, Craig Milani, James Crabtree, and Brent Peters, rotated duty at a command desk set up in the College Life Center. This team also sent daily updates to the Executive Council and task force members, providing an interesting picture of the activities happening during this less-than-normal time at NCU.
The Housekeeping staff was noticed several times for their service, with one of the guests commenting in particular about Director of Housekeeping Lauren Milani: “I swear it’s just the one gal in housekeeping. She’s amazing! I’ve never seen anyone move so fast. Zip zip zip. Cleaning up after us. She’s amazing!”
Director of Food Services Greg Andrews and his team worked tirelessly to make sure law enforcement staff were well fed, serving nearly 12,000 meals during the 10-day stay.
Relief and celebration
While the Eagles’ fans were elated and the Patriots’ fans were deflated after the game last Sunday, North Central staff members involved in planning for and serving during Super Bowl week were relieved and grateful. Many months of planning had led to a successful experience for law enforcement, and there was pride in knowing that NCU was able to play a role in serving the city in this way.
On Feb. 8, President Scott and Mrs. Karen Hagan hosted a luncheon for members of the Super Bowl Task Force to express appreciation for their work.
President Hagan credits Chris Fleck for seeing the possibility of serving Minneapolis for the event. “Fundamental to leadership is becoming aware of the possibility,” Hagan said, “and somebody had to become aware and notice it, which led to this great moment.”
Hagan believes that what North Central did for the Super Bowl will have lasting impact. “The goodwill of our city toward the university, and the university toward the city, is going to bring over the next decade more open doors, and more collaboration for North Central and Minneapolis. It went off perfectly. To have something with that many variables go off so well, tells you that pros were behind the scenes planning on behalf of the university.”
The success for NCU’s Super Bowl involvement came not just from the task force, but from the entire North Central community—including students who had to make special arrangements for this unusual break. Hagan expressed appreciation for students and their response to the situation.
“They took the inconvenience and turned it into energy—they turned the inconvenience into meaning,” Hagan said. North Central served as a hub that not only kept those attending events safe but also served as the home for the sex trafficking unit working to protect and rescue trafficking victims. Hagan noted that he’s heard from students and alumni alike who are proud of NCU’s role in that.
“That our students were willing to be inconvenienced for the greater good is just powerful,” Hagan said. “And I believe it will show them in their future leadership settings the value of the bigger picture.”
MPD’s Gross agrees that the establishment of a staging area at North Central was a successful operation. “It’s been over a year that we started this process. You don’t realize how much goes into something like this—it’s been very fun to do.”
Gross, Gerlicher, and the hundreds of law enforcement personnel who were on North Central’s campus for Super Bowl LII operations, have expressed deep appreciation for the partnership that made this happen. Commander Gerlicher will be coming to thank students in person at a chapel service later this month.