Syracuse police forces prepare for Dalai Lama event

DPS, SPD and Carrier Dome security are working together to create a secure environment for the Dalai Lama's visit to Syracuse University next week.

While Syracuse University awaits His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s appearance on campus next week, extensive security planning from campus, local, and state police continue to work to make his trip possible.

“There’s an overall security plan,” said Department of Public Safety Associate Chief John Sardino. “And those who are working it know it and there’s continuity there. But there are different aspects that each agency is taking care of.”

The State Department is responsible for the personal protection of the Dalai Lama, even though he does travel with a few members of his security staff, Sardino said. Under the State Department Authorities Act, U.S. State Department special agents are required to protect all representatives of foreign governments or foreign dignitaries on U.S. soil, according to the U.S. Department of State Foreign Affairs’ website.

“These folks make sure that protocols specific to foreign dignitaries are followed,” Sardino said. This process is similar to when the president of Ireland came to the SU campus in 2007, Sardino said.

The rest of the security duties, such as the motorcade, venue security and attendee security are divided between DPS, the Syracuse Police Department and Carrier Dome security officers, Sardino said. The Dalai Lama will participate in the “Common Ground for Peace” Symposium Monday at Goldstein Auditorium in Schine Student Center, as well as the One World Concert in the Carrier Dome Tuesday.

“There is nothing finalized yet as far as security measures for the panels or concert,” said Sargent Tom Connellan of the Syracuse Police Department. “All the plans are still in the works.”

However, Sardino said, the roles of different security personnel have been somewhat defined so everyone is on the same page.

“While the local and city police are taking the lead on the motorcade, public safety is responsible for the venue security, because the Dalai Lama is speaking directly on campus,” Sardino said. “That will be our main focus.”

For the last two months, Sardino has spent 40 to 60 hours working on these security plans, he said. The Dalai Lama event was first announced to the university in an SU press release on the first day of classes last August.

Although security will be present at both the panel discussions and the concert, security will be heavier at the concert given the size and accessibility of the Carrier Dome, Sardino said. He said he expects between 20,000 and 25,000 people to be in attendance at the concert.

Carrier Dome Managing Director Pete Sala said that although the Dome’s security plan is still “a moving document”, security at the concert will be relatively simple in the sense of numbers — university sporting events can draw up to twice the projected concert attendance.

“We do two or three concerts a year that have almost this amount of people in attendance,” Sala said. “This is a typical event for us.”

In reference to the volume of security for an event featuring a government official, this event’s security level will be similar to that of Vice President Joe Biden or former President Bill Clinton when each spoke at SU Commencements in the past, Sala said.

Concert attendees can expect delays getting into the Dome due to security measures, Sardino said.

“There is the likelihood of pat-down checks, check of any backpacks — no beverages, sticks, or big signs,” Sardino said. “In addition, there could also be megatometers that we use at the doors.”

A megatometer is the metal detection device that passengers and bags are screened through when boarding an airplane, Sardino said. If they do in fact decide to use these devices, DPS will issue a public announcement, Sardino said.

People driving the roads around the university during this event can expect more traffic, Sardino said. “It’ll be normal traffic for a sporting event, just much earlier in the day than expected,” Sardino said. “The Syracuse police have a really good traffic plan in place for Dome events.”

Concert goers should give themselves at least two hours to drive to campus, park and go through security, Sardino said. Parking may take longer since “there’s going to be a lot of new people at this event who may never have been to the Dome before, as opposed to games, when almost everyone knows where they’re going,” he said.

There’s never been a major security breech at any large Dome events involving important state officials or celebrities, Sala said. Sardino said this event’s threat level, on a scale of one to 10, is about a five. However, DPS will be prepared for anything when approaching security for this kind of event.

“We’re always going to err on the side of treating this event like a 10,” Sardino said. “That creates some inconvenience for people, but most people understand that ‘hey, all they’re trying to do is make sure that not only the Dalai Lama is safe, but that we’re safe too.’”

Things to know before attending Dalai Lama events

  • All guests will be subject to a security screening. You should expect the same level of screening you would experience at an airport.
  • All purses will be opened and inspected.
  • Electronic devices such as digital cameras, audio/video recording devices, laptops and tablets are not allowed at the panels or the concert. We therefore recommend that you leave these items at home to make your entry as quick/convenient as possible.
  • No food or drink—including water bottles—will be allowed in the auditorium or the Carrier Dome.
  • In addition to these extra requirements, the regular list of items prohibited in the Carrier Dome will be followed for the concert.
  • There is no re-entry to the panels in Goldstein Auditorium. 

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