Top national security officials were in Philadelphia Friday to review plans for the papal visit next weekend.
U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson said there are “no specific, credible threats” against Pope Francis on his first trip to the U.S.
“We’ve worked hard to achieve what we believe will be a safe and successful event and visit by the Holy Father,” Johnson said, “And a safe and successful event for all of those who wish to be here and see him.”
The Multi-Agency Communications Center will be the central point of communications for the agencies involved in security and public safety efforts during Pope Francis’ time in Philadelphia. (Emma Lee/WHYY)
Johnson spoke at a news conference at the Multi-Agency Communications Center, which was set up by the U.S. Secret Service inside an industrial warehouse in Northwest Philadelphia. There, officials from about 50 federal, state and local agencies from the Department of Energy to the Lower Merion Police Department will sit at rows of tables with phones and some laptops to gather information and relay it to other officials at several command centers.
Authorities at the center will also monitor activity around the Benjamin Franklin Parkway — where the pope will appear at two massive, public events — using maps and feeds from surveillance cameras set up at several intersections.
The papal visit has been classified a National Security Special Event, a designation that automatically puts the Secret Service in charge of security. After the papal visit, the U.S. government will have experienced running 50 such events, Johnson said.
Federal officials are aware that the tight security on the Parkway and major road closures around the city have frustrated many residents and businessowners. However, Johnson downplayed “the idea it’s impossible” to get around Philadelphia during the papal visit on Sept. 26 and 27.
“I’m struck by the areas that will not be closed off,” he said, referring to the 3-square-mile “Francis Festival Grounds” that cars will not be able to enter after Friday night.
Secret Service Director Joseph Clancy noted Pope Francis’ trip to Philadelphia is unlike other big events, such as a presidential inauguration or even the pontiff’s other appearances in New York City and Washington, D.C.
“This one is more unique because of the amount of travel the pope will do within the city of Philadelphia and the volume of people who’ll be coming in as well,” said Clancy, a Delaware County native. “But you have to have structure. If you don’t have structure, you have mayem.”