Penn helps campus, city prepare for papal visit

Text by Greg Johnson

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter has called Pope Francis’ forthcoming trip “the largest event in the city’s modern history” and possibly “the second or third largest event in the history of the United States.” An estimated 2 million people are expected to travel to Philadelphia for the visit, mo

Pope Francis
Pope Francis will visit Philadelphia as part of his first U.S. trip on Saturday, Sept. 26, and Sunday, Sept. 27. Photo by Jeffrey Bruno

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter has called Pope Francis’ forthcoming trip “the largest event in the city’s modern history” and possibly “the second or third largest event in the history of the United States.” An estimated 2 million people are expected to travel to Philadelphia for the visit, more than doubling the city’s population.

Pope Francis
Pope Francis will visit Philadelphia as part of his first U.S. trip on Saturday, Sept. 26, and Sunday, Sept. 27. Photo by Jeffrey Bruno

To accommodate travel and logistical challenges that will exist in the Philadelphia region during the visit by Pope Francis, Penn is suspending normal operations on Friday, Sept. 25. All classes and University-sponsored events are cancelled.

Penn will play an important role in helping the city safely carry out an event of such a massive scale throughout the pope’s two-day visit.

The Philadelphia Police Department has entrusted the Penn Police Department to serve as the primary law enforcement agency of the University City section of the Pope Francis Festival Grounds, what some have referred to as the “security box.”

Penn Police officers, supplemented by the Philadelphia Police, the Drexel Police, AlliedBarton Security, Amtrak Police, SEPTA Police, and 500 National Guard troops, will secure the University City no-drive zone, which will extend from 30th to 38th Street, Powelton Avenue to University Avenue. No cars will be allowed, except for emergency vehicles. The South Street Bridge will be closed except for emergency vehicles, pedestrians, and bicycles.

Maureen Rush, vice president of the Division of Public Safety (DPS) and superintendent of the Penn Police Department, says DPS became involved in the security planning for the papal visit during the late winter months, collaborating with the U.S. Secret Service, the Philadelphia Police Department, and other security entities.

“Penn has been the site of numerous sitting presidents so we’re very, very familiar with the needs of the Secret Service around the protection of dignitaries,” Rush says.

The Penn Police has been one of the agencies working with the city-wide planning committee. Michael Fink, deputy chief of tactical and emergency readiness, has been meeting regularly with city officials and University City partners. DPS has also met with the highest levels of the Philadelphia Police and the special agent in charge of the Philadelphia Secret Service.

“This event has been designated as a National Security Special Event by the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security,” Fink says. “That designation brings additional security.”

As part of their security responsibilities, DPS will ensure that patients can get to Presbyterian Hospital, the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Presbyterian has been chosen as one of the key primary trauma centers for the pope in case of an emergency.

The Penn Police will also help direct the waves of people exiting the University City Regional Rail Station. The PennComm Communications Center will utilize 140 closed-circuit TV cameras to conduct virtual patrols. At the request of the Philadelphia Fire Department, Penn’s student-run Medical Emergency Response Team will help out on the Ben Franklin Parkway.

The Emergency Service at the School of Veterinary Medicine’s Ryan Hospital will be open 24 hours a day from Friday, Sept. 25, to Sunday, Sept. 27, to care for pets in need.

Rush was an officer in the Philadelphia Police Department’s 25th District during the last papal visit to Philadelphia, Pope John Paul II’s visit in 1979, which drew more than 1 million people.

“I was working the district that day,” Rush says. “It was a very different visit. It was pre-terrorism.”

If all goes as planned, Rush says the security restrictions should be lifted by Monday, Sept. 28. She says SEPTA is operating on a Saturday schedule on Monday so riders should anticipate delays.

The University will continue essential operations on Friday while normal operations are ceased.

Francis Obama
President Obama meets with Pope Francis at the Vatican in 2014. Photo by Pete Souza/White House Photo

“Whether it’s a snow day or, in this case, the papal visit, we still have 20,000 students to care for,” Rush says.

Penn's Incident Management Team (IMT) is providing housing and meals for essential personnel who will be working during the papal visit, as is the Division of Facilities and Real Estate Services (FRES).

“Just like all the other units at the University, we’re assessing the impact [of the Pope’s visit],” says Ken Ogawa, executive director of operations and maintenance at FRES. Housekeeping will still be performed and residential and dining halls will still be in use. He says trash will be picked up and emptied, and maintenance staff will be on campus in case of any need.

“Assuming that traffic will be a nightmare, we’ve made arrangement for a number of Facilities staff to be onsite throughout the duration of the event, and some contracted resources at well,” Ogawa says.

For the latest information about Penn’s preparations for the pope’s visit, including a schedule of campus services, go to the Penn Papal Visit website.

Originally published on .