Five things Philly officials learned from Pope Francis’ visitListen
It’s been more than a month since Pope Francis’s visit to Philadelphia, when talk of traffic boxes and fences ruled the local news cycle. On Monday, Mayor Michael Nutter and his “Pope five” team traveled to Washington, D.C. to meet with the U.S. Secret Service and the Department of Homeland Security for a kind of papal post-portem.
That meeting came one week after local agencies and departments gathered inside City Hall to talk about what went well — and what didn’t — when Pope Francis came to town. It’s part of the “after-action review” process that follows any major event from a hurricane to a marathon.
Two members of the “Pope five,” Chief of Staff Everett Gillison and Emergency Management Director Samantha Phillips, sat down with NewsWorks to share some conclusions, lessons and facts they’ve learned from that process:
1. The Secret Service counted 1.1 million people who went through metal detectors during pope weekend, but that may be as close as we get to an official crowd estimate. Gillison said we may never know how many people gave up before they made it through security checkpoints onto the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. On a related note, one of Gillison’s takeaways was that “jumbotrons actually do work for crowd control” and allow people to still take part in the experience, although next time, the city would take care that they aren’t blocking access to SEPTA stations.
2. You can never have too many bottles of water, but you can have too many C-collars — those are the things medics put on a person with a neck injury. The city stocked up on about $2 million worth of medical supplies, but Gillison estimates the city only used about a half-million dollars worth during the papal visit. Some will be returned (see: C-collars), while other supplies like oxygen tanks will be kept for use at future events.
Figuring that all out and accounting for city employees’ time during the weekend is taking a great deal of time. That’s why the city still doesn’t know how much the World Meeting of Families owes for reimbursement.
The WMOF has already paid more than $5 million in security deposits, but according to the contract signed by both parties in September, the Vatican-sponsored organization could owe Philadelphia as much as $12 million for things like overtime. Gillison thinks it’ll be less than that. “We gave our worst-case scenario, so if something blew up,” he said. “It just depends on where we draw the line” between which costs the city should be responsible for and which the WMOF should eat.
The city is also working out some problems with its porta-potty vendor, which apparently was not as responsive when it came time to clean and re-stock facilities for emergency personnel. “We’re having a negotiation right now of how much of that bill do we pay,” said Phillips. “Those are just examples of why that process does take some time.”
The city hopes to get an invoice to the World Meeting of Families and a check in-hand by the end of the month.
Another dollar figure Gillison would love to see? The value of all that free publicity Philadelphia got when thousands of journalists descended on the city for the weekend and millions of people were watching and tweeting around the world. AT&T reported 36 million social media posts with photos that weekend.
“What would it cost the city if we had to buy… that positive image that went out there?” wondered Gillison, who has asked the World Meeting of Families’ communication team to come up with a number so… stay tuned.
3. The city won’t take any responsiblity for Philadelphia’s papal apoplexy. A major criticism from business and residents was that information was rolled out too slowly. Hotels and restaurants didn’t know whether they’d be able to receive food deliveries until just a couple weeks before Pope Francis arrived. When asked about those complaints, Gillison and Phillips essentially said — that’s too bad. It was a National Security Special Event. “That desgination requires that we work together with the Secret Service and there’s certain things that that agency just did not want to put out in the public sphere,” Gillison said.
Did the Secret Service, the Vatican or the World Meeting of Families prevent the city from putting more information out to the public? “We just wouldn’t have done that… If we do our own thing and go rogue we have ruined the partnership,” said Phillips, adding that the event was a “moving target” with details changing all the time.
4. Despite complaints from restaurateur Stephen Starr, not all businesses struggled during the papal visit. Take the brand new Wawa on Broad and Walnut Streets, which sold 11,000 hoagies in one day thanks to refridgerated trucks parked nearby chock full of fresh sandwich-making supplies. “That was a person who understood the market, exploited what they needed to in order to make sure they would be able to meet the need that they anticipated,” said Gillison of Wawa CEO Chris Gheysens.
5. The Democratic National Convention will be a much different event, but there were still some big takeaways. After all, the DNC is another National Security Special Event and more than 60 agenices will be working together again. “We all struggled a little bit in our sharing of information,” said Gillison. “There should be something that exists that cities, counties and the federal government should be able to go to to and both email and message and share data files in real-time.” The Secret Service agrees and Gillison said a new system should be in place sometime next year so the city has a chance to practice before Philadelphia welcomes tens of thousands of delegates, the president and the next Democratic nominee.
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