Board Authorizes Local Emergency If Needed

Pope Francis has already visited Washington D.C. and New York; he’s due Saturday in Philadelphia

SANATOGA PA – If there’s an emergency to be declared locally that is related to the impending arrival of Pope Francis in Philadelphia, Lower Pottsgrove officials claim they’re now ready for it. Or, as Emergency Management Coordinator Ray Lopez indicated, as ready as they’re going to be.

The township Board of Commissioners accepted Lopez’s request Thursday (Sept. 24, 2015) to give him and Police Chief Michael Foltz the ability to declare a local state of emergency through Monday (Sept. 28) if they deem it necessary or conditions warrant. Both said they hope it won’t be invoked.

The papal visit, long planned for Sept. 26 and 27 (Friday and Saturday) as part of the Catholic Church World Meeting of Families, has attracted out-of-town travelers to hotels and other lodging across western Montgomery County. Most are expected to use U.S. Route 422 to travel between here and Norristown, then climb aboard SEPTA trains bound for Center City and its activities.

Lopez, Foltz and other commanders of first-responder units county-wide have participated for months in coordinated planning for the Pope’s arrival. The problem, however, is that no one can predict with certainty what troublesome scenarios might arise. Calling a local emergency, according to Foltz, allows the township to:

  • Make quick decisions and take immediate actions that otherwise might be delayed until commissioners grant approval;
  • Bring in additional officers and patrol help if needed; and
  • Position the township to recoup some expenses from the state if it sets up a fund for the purpose.

Foltz said he believes the township police force is prepared for whatever might happen.

As of 10 p.m. Thursday, he directed all patrol units to ensure cars left unattended on the shoulders of 422 within township borders were promptly towed. The chief said he is concerned about traffic backlogs or other problems that could result from projected increases of traffic to and from the city. Drivers whose cars become disabled should “call for your own tow immediately and notify police,” he added.

The township will respond to mutual aid calls from other municipalities when requested, the chief said. He’s budgeted $8,900 for that and other papal-related overtime costs, but added, “I’m hoping to spend far less.”

Sanatoga developer Wil Hallman received the board’s thanks for providing temporary housing for police officers on assignment during the period, so they would not have to travel to homes outside the township.

Beginning today (Friday), the township’s Emergency Management Center will operate around the clock in the Buchert Road municipal building until the pope’s departure, Lopez noted. One of its important functions will be to monitor traffic flow, he said, not only on 422 but other primary travel routes as well.

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