Pope Francis will arrive in Philadelphia on Saturday, September 26 and speak at Independence Hall before celebrating at the Festival of Families — a massive free party held on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway on Sunday, September 27.
The Pope’s scheduled events in Philadelphia have been designated by the Secretary of Homeland Security as a National Special Security Event. (NSSE)
This means that the Secret Service assumes responsibility as the lead agency for the design and implementation of the operational security plan. Their goal is to provide a safe and secure environment for not just the Pope but for all event participants and the general public at large. This requires a tremendous amount of advance planning and coordination in preparation for a safe and successful event.
“…while there are very specific safeguards implemented to protect the Pope, there are twice as many considerations in place to protect the public.”
As many as 1.5 million people are expected to visit to Philadelphia to see the Pope speak and attend his celebration. By comparison, an estimated 1.8 million people attended the National Mall in 2008 to watch President Obama get sworn in for his first term.
Some residents of Philadelphia have already begun to express concern over the seemingly excessive security measures being implemented as part of the Pope’s arrival. What many may not realize is that while there are very specific safeguards implemented to protect the Pope, there are twice as many considerations in place to protect the public.
This Is A Massive Undertaking For Philadelphia:
Cities like New York and Washington, DC are used to hosting high-profile public dignitary events on a massive scale. They have well-documented plans on the books and can revise them as necessary. They also have the benefit of trial and error — that is — they know what hasn’t worked so well in the past.
When Pope Benedict came to NYC in 2008 he celebrated mass at Yankee Stadium. This venue provided planners with the advantage of limiting the audience in attendance to the number of seats available — about 50,000.
Philadelphia doesn’t have this luxury of containment. One of the more significant challenges that stems from an event on the Ben Franklin Parkway is that there are no seating limits — which means members of the public can’t be turned away just because they don’t have an assigned seat.
New York and Washington, DC also enjoy a relative geographic isolation. By contrast, Philadelphia sits smack dab in the middle of the Northeast Corridor. With easy access via plane, train, or automobile from Boston, Delaware, New York, and Washington D.C., Philadelphia is a geographic open-invite for anyone who might want to come see the pope.
One key take away from previous NSSE events is that the most realistic risk to public safety stems not from violent offenders, but rather from unintended consequence of personal choice.
Surveys and reservations show that many of those planning to attend the Papal visit are older adults. This could result in an above average impact on geriatric healthcare services.
“With so many people traveling, there are many who could already be coming here sick, hoping for a blessing from the pope,” says Fred Henretig, director of the toxicology unit at CHOP who attended emergency drills in preparation for the Pope’s arrival. “They may be coming with medications and have problems stemming from that – Grandpa takes two of his pills instead of one,” he suggested.
Road & Bridge Closures:
Some Philadelphia residents have also voiced concern over having to clear their cars from city streets. While this is an admitted inconvenience, the surface area of a parked car is equivalent to the standing space of of ten people — a crucial figure to factor into the pedestrian traffic model of any evacuation plan. By the same logic, having the Ben Franklin Bridge already closed-off to traffic facilitates a mass-evacuation plan allowing for both sides of the bridge to be used without causing a traffic jam on the New Jersey side of the river. Simply stated, people disperse more rapidly than vehicles. Then there’s the more than 5,000 tour buses expected to travel into Philadelphia. Free and clear access to I-95 would allow for nearby-yet-out-of-the-way staging of vehicles while also providing a significant transportation artery for emergency support and mass-evacuation requirements.
The Public Has To Play Their Part:
All of this planning on behalf of public safety does not take away from the critical necessity of individual responsibility. It is important to keep in mind that the security considerations put in place for the Pope’s visit are for the assurance public safety — not your personal security. It is ill advised to simply hope that nothing will happen and then solely rely on the first responders to save you if something does. Personal safety is an individual responsibility. It requires an understanding of the precautions that the authorities will have in place, and then a willingness to enhance those precautions with your own individual needs.
“Personal safety is an individual responsibility.”
This may include, but should not be limited to where you can easily find bathrooms, medical attention, and safety support at your specific location. It means having the appropriate amounts of water, sunscreen, and patience to abide by the requisite security restrictions. It also means remaining vigilant, aware, and prepared with a plan so that you know what to do, know where to go, and know how to get there should something unfavorable happen.
At the end of the day, the men and women of the United States Secret Service are professionals who take their work very seriously. They and their Philadelphia counterparts are working tirelessly to ensure that every possible eventuality has been taken into account. Their goal is to ensure that both the Pope and the public enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime experience. No plan will ever be perfect, but with just a little faith in the system, we’ll all see this through to a successful end.
Spencer Coursen is the President of Coursen Security Group. He is an expert security advisor, threat assessment consultant, and protective strategist who is dedicated to reducing risk and preventing violence. His systems and strategies help corporations, non-profit organizations, schools, and at-risk public figures ensure the certainty of safety for all involved.
@SpencerCoursen / @CoursenSecurity