By Erin Delmore
High mass transit. That’s the travel forecast for Pope Francis’s first East Coast visit. The crush of people expected by foot, car and rail has officials concerned about security. They’re test-running emergency scenarios.
“We have been in constant contact with our counterparts in Philadelphia and in New York, the State Police, Office of Emergency Management, the Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness with the Department of Transportation, NJ Transit. We’re all planning for an influx of many visitors to the World Meeting of Families, so the key for us is coordination and keeping our lines of communication open with our partners across the rivers,” said NJ Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness Director Chris Rodriguez.
This is command central for New Jersey’s Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Cell. From here the state Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness monitors chatter and shares information with partners.
“So we’ve done internal tabletops to look at how New Jersey will respond to the papal visit,” said Rodriguez.
All of this so he can work the crowds.
“The Holy Father has a very outgoing personality, he’s people-oriented and even when he gives interviews, he really is trying to address people directly where they live,” said Archbishop of Newark, The Most Reverend John J. Myers.
The Pope rides in an open-air Popemobile whenever possible. The Vatican introduced the first one nearly 40 years ago.
In 1981, they added bulletproof glass and armored sides and base to some models, after a gunman fired four shots at Pope John Paul II at home in St. Peter’s Square — leaving the 60-year-old Pontiff in stable but critical condition.
The U.S. Secret Service is taking the lead on Pope Francis’ security, with full support from government, state and local agencies and police. And it’s not the only thing on their agenda. The U.N. General Assembly convenes at the same time, flooding Midtown Manhattan with leaders from around 170 countries. That includes President Obama and the frozen zones and convoys that come with him. Add to it a Central Park concert headlined by Beyonce on Saturday and you’ve got a recipe for massive gridlock.
“So we do have obviously K9s, we have technology and we have the, you know, good old cop on the street, and traffic control posts, traffic control equipment and just a lot of different equipment, personnel, resources all going into the event,” said Camden County Police Captain Albert Handy.
Pope Francis arrives in D.C. on Tuesday and New York on Thursday. He’ll address the U.N. and visit the 9/11 memorial, a Harlem School and Central Park. He’ll celebrate mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, in Madison Square Garden, at the Archdiocese of Pennsylvania and outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It’s a route that’s sure to clog our state’s arteries, from tip to tail.
State officials expect two million people to travel through the state while Pope Francis is in town — that’s an extra 250,000 cars and 10,000 buses. So if you’re hitting the road, prepare for the worst and pray for the best.