Pennsylvania officials brace for crowds attending papal visit

Reuters News
Posted: Jul 27, 2015 5:29 PM

By David DeKok

HARRISBURG, Pa. (Reuters) - With some 1.5 million people expected to descend on the Philadelphia area for a two-day visit by Pope Francis in September, one local suburban police chief said on Monday he will declare a state of emergency to maintain public safety.

A state of emergency will allow officials in Middletown Township, Pennsylvania, to require police to work overtime and allow the locale to seek federal reimbursement of expenses, said Chief of Police Joe Bartorilla.

Some 10,000 people are expected to converge on the township’s small commuter rail station about 25 miles (40 km) northeast of Philadelphia, he said. About 45,000 people live in Middletown Township.

A number of other area municipalities with commuter rail stations are also expected to declare states of emergency for the pope's visit to Philadelphia on Sept. 26 and 27, according to the Bucks County Courier-Times.

Scott Forster, director of emergency services for Bucks County, said it is too early to say if the county would do the same.

"It’s not so much the number of people that has us concerned. It’s the crowd arrangements and traffic," Bartorilla said.

More than half the visitors are expected to be over age 55, he said.

The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, or SEPTA, has 17 other commuter rail stations around the region.

The emergency declaration also gives local officials added authority to close off streets, designate parking areas or direct traffic to protect public safety, Bartorilla said.

The pope is scheduled to visit at the end of the weeklong World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia and to say an outdoor mass.

(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Mohammad Zargham)