Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Pope Should Consider Security Risk
Crowds Surge Around Pope Francis' Car
Photo: Miami Herald

Yesterday I watched the Popes motorcade traveling through Rio de Janeiro on the first day of his arrival for World Youth Day 2013. What was concerning to me was the images of crowds of people breaking through barriers and crowding around the Pope's car.

At times Pope Francis’ motorcade came to a grinding halt. It was obvious, from the visuals being broadcast from the overhead news helicopter, that the security guards were clearly in a bit of a panic trying to keep control over the people surging around the car. There were scenes of security guards hanging out of the windows of the Pope's car trying to push people away.

I like the idea of the Pope being willing to come closer to the people on occasions such as this instead of being distant. It is good to have a man that feels that his place is amongst his people and it definitely warms people to him. Yet this must be planned and controlled. It cannot be impromptu. His security needs to know when these moments will occur so that they are ready to manage the situation well.

There has to be limits to the Pope’s desire to be amongst the people. It cannot be forgotten that he is the Pope and that people can literally become frantic and behave irrationally in their desire to get close to him. As much as he wants to send a message that he is their Pope, this decision is clearly bigger than that. The decision is definitely not only about the Pope being willing to accept the risks associated with moving closer to and even amongst the people.

Those people responsible for the Popes security are by nature the kind of people who will literally put their lives at risk to keep the Pope safe. The Pope therefore needs to remember that when he accepts higher risk situations, unless this is well planned, the decision that he is making is not only a decision to accept personal added risks. He is also making that decision on behalf of all those who are tasked with keeping him safe.

These security guards who protect the Pope also have families. Their families are expecting their father or mother to return home safely after work, despite the fact that mom or dad may have elected to perform a very risky occupation.

On top of the added risk to the Pope’s security staff, there is of course also the need to consider those individuals in the crowds who could be placed at greater risk because of the Popes decision to have a more relaxed approach. Crowds suddenly being allowed, particularly when this is impromptu, to surge forward to get closer to the Pope can, amongst many other risks, lead to people being crushed by the surging crowds. There are, I am certain, many other scenarios of how individuals in the crowds could be placed at greater risk because of surging out of control crowds.

I think that the Pope should be more reserved in his ‘laid back’ approach. The same objective can be achieved by planning for occasions when he will reach out and be closer to the crowds, without creating increased risks to those attending the event and to his security personnel, not to mention others traveling with the Pope.

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