Mitigating risks posed by the Occupy Wall Street movement: Part 2

Best practices for protecting corporate facilities against demonstrations

Editor's note: This is part 2 of a two-part series examining the security challenges posed by the Occupy Wall Street protests. Part 1, which looked at protecting executives and their families, was published earlier this month.

Over the last several weeks, the Occupy Wall Street movement has garnered a lot of headlines across the country as several demonstrations have turned violent. One of the most widely publicized incidents took place at the University of California - Davis, when demonstrators were pepper sprayed after taking part in a sit-in protest on the campus.

There have also been incidents in Oregon and California where protestors have swarmed local bank branches, disrupting operations and scaring customers and employees. While most Occupy Wall Street protests remain peaceful, it's evident that some are no longer satisfied with simply taking over municipal parks and security managers need to protect against demonstrators that want to "occupy" corporate facilities.

"I would say we have an extremely high probability of violence in large portions that are going to come out of this," said Dr. Paul Viollis, CEO of New York-based Risk Control Strategies. "If the market heals itself today and people start getting a whole bunch of jobs, we get back to spending money and getting fat and rich, maybe this will smooth itself out. But I don't think there is a snowball's chance in hell of that happening. We need to prepare for what's in front of us, recognize that there are some blatant risks and do what's incumbent upon us to make sure people are safe."

First and foremost, Viollis said that organizations need to make sure their surveillance systems are functioning properly and to also have adequate perimeter security and access control measures in place.

"Right now, we should be at an advanced state of readiness... and that goes to being vigilant. We need to be taking it up a level or two right now and making sure our outer perimeter is protected, our inner perimeter is protected and that access control is what it should be. The last thing you want is people coming in through the loading dock and showing up at the CEO's office."

In addition, Viollis emphasized the need to have proper illumination for security cameras.

"I can't tell you how many times we've worked cases that you go in to pull up video and you've just got the worst face shot in the world," he said. "How are you supposed to turn that into evidence? You simply can't."

Chris Swecker, former assistant director of the FBI's Criminal Investigations Division and the former global security director at Bank of America, said that having knowledge about the protestors and their intentions can be paramount in thwarting potential intrusions of company property.

"I think the most important thing is to understand what they're doing, when they intend to do it and how they intend to do it and there are a variety of ways that you do that," Swecker explained. "One is they make it known what they're going to do and you can take a whole lot of mitigating actions when you understand what they're doing. You can brief your facility personnel on what to expect and how to react. You can give (protestors) a good understanding of where the boundaries are of your property and what the thresholds are for escalating a response from law enforcement."

Another key component of mitigating risks from protests is being able to protect a facility and its employees without overreacting.

"That is a function of planning and having a good risk mitigation strategy. It's all about the advance work and avoiding that symbolic moment that the protestors are looking for, the direct confrontation," he said. "The First Amendment is a great thing, but I don't think it gives them the right to step on someone's property or trespass to get that confrontation moment that they want for the television cameras."

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