PHILADELPHIA (WXTF)—When Pope Francis arrives in Philadelphia he will be surrounded by the biggest security net the city has ever seen. There will be traffic boxes to control the flow of vehicles in and out, huge areas surrounded by fencing to control the 1.5 million people gathered to see the Pope and thousands of law enforcement officials watching over the city.
Former FBI agent and former supervisor of the Joint Terrorism Task Force, Jeffrey Tomlinson, spoke to FOX 29 about the increased security and what we can expect to see for the Pope’s visit.
Tomlinson discussed the security perimeters around the parkway where the Pope will say mass and around Independence Mall where he will address large crowds. “There’s always that balance, freedom, accessibility and security. That’s why you see such a large zone locked down. The idea of who’s entering, who’s coming to it. What is that risk and vulnerability assessment with a Pope who likes to get out and meet and greet,” he said.
Tomlinson also stated the significance of the magnetometers and security check points where the crowds will enter these venues because they are a key observation point for authorities as they strive to keep the pope and the crowds that come to see him safe. “If you have access points you can strategically watch and assess who’s coming through and first you’re doing the hands on screening.”
Sources tell FOX 29, several hundred Philadelphia detectives will also be working alongside secret service agents in plain clothes details inside the massive crowds. “The idea is if there is a threat to get them out of the danger zone. Local Police, detectives know the area. Know where to go, where not to,” Tomlinson said.
Among other security measures discussed, Tomlinson mentioned that authorities will also have sharp security officials will also be monitoring social media in the days leading up to the Pope's visit. “What’s on social media, what are the current issues that would bring people that otherwise wouldn’t come to this event and then do we have the right ability to assess those risks and vulnerabilities,” Tomlinson said.
To date, sources say there has been no credible threat uncovered against the Pope or his visit to Philadelphia. Tomlinson says top counter terrorism experts are not only monitoring and tracking radical groups, they’re watching individuals both here and abroad.
Among other changes in Philadelphia upon the arrival of the Pope is the SEPTA schedule. They are faced with the massive job of moving tens of thousands of people into the city from surrounding areas. SEPTA's Deputy General Manager, Jeffrey Knueppel, sat down exclusively with FOX 29 to address the task ahead.
“It’s an extraordinary opportunity for the region to put its best foot forward to show we can do things on an international scene. That’s a great opportunity,” Knueppel said.
SEPTA has been working tirelessly with authorities in suburban towns for months now about parking and security at outlying stations where big crowds will board trains into the city. “We worked to separate and create two time slots, one early and one late on the tickets and we have for the first time ever a reservation system. That’s really important because it allows us to define ourselves and the municipalities how many people are coming.”
SEPTA and local police will provide security at those stations. With its vast network of 18,000 surveillance cameras SEPTA will be able to keep a close eye on riders as they make their way into the city and secured areas where the Pope appears. “Those cameras and the communication network they’ve set up can handle things so quickly. It’s really amazing and immediately people know watching on the camera feeds where to send the officers” Knueppel assured us.
Protecting the Pope and the people who journey to see him will be no small task and will require precise coordination amount the myriad of law enforcement authorities that have been meeting for months on the Pope's protection plan. “As long as everybody stays within their roles, their responsibilities, it will be successful,” says Knueppel.
Both sources feel reassured that the Holy Father's visit here will be a safe and beneficial experience for everyone involved.
The following list pertains to events held during Papal Visit Weekend. The following items will not be permitted past the security entry points. The Secret Service also may prohibit any item determined to be a potential safety hazard.
• Animals, except for service animals
• Backpacks and bags exceeding 18″ x 13″ x 7″
• Explosives, firearms, or weapons
• Glass, thermal, or metal containers
• Hard-sided coolers (soft-sided thermal coolers are allowed)
• Laser pointers
• Mace or pepper spray
• Selfie sticks
• Signs exceeding 5′ x 3′ x 1/4″ made of any material except cardboard, poster board, or cloth
• Supports for signs and placards
• Toy guns
For more information on the World Meeting of Families, please click here.