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

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."

According to Jeff Spivey, a former ASIS president who currently serves as the president of North Carolina-based Security Risk Management, Inc., the three tenants of a good physical security program include having good access control measures, quality surveillance solutions and creating a sense of territoriality.

"You want to identify that this is a place they shouldn't be," Spivey said. "Some of the best tactics and best strategy is to avoid confrontation."

Spivey added that security managers should also be cognizant of what local police are doing in responding to these protests.

"What are the police doing? Is that level (of security) protecting my building, my people appropriately? How do I need to augment that and exactly where do I need to augment depends on what the police are doing," he explained.

Despite all of the building hardening steps an organization has taken at their facilities, Spivey said they could all be for naught if people fail.

"Probably the strongest thing I could say that is the best thing to harden is not the equipment, everybody wants to buy equipment to solve a lot of these issues," he said. "I find that even when equipment is bought, the failure of security is the people and the process. It's the matching up understanding that people and processes in place are going to provide the best solution for any of these risks."

In addition to access control and surveillance, Joseph Sordi, managing director of New York-based Strategic Security Corp., said that organizations really need to focus on badging.

"This way, you can identify who is supposed to be in the building and who's not," he said.

Sordi said that using something as a simple color-coded badging system, for example, that uses a green badge for someone that works in the building every day, yellow for a temporary contractor or vendor and red for someone who is only supposed to be on the premises for a limited time, would provide a good extra layer of security. He also recommends that organizations bring visitors to a greeting area in their lobby where they can be allowed to lock up their valuables by security personnel. This would help protect a company's intellectual property from being captured by someone's phone or camera.

While implementing all of these technologies and procedures help, Swecker said that security managers really have to plan for everything in dealing with these protests.

"With the expected, you've got to expect Murphy's Law to rear its ugly head," he said. "So you plan for everything. If you've got protests taking place around your building, you're not just going to worry about the front door. You've got to worry about the loading dock, you've got to worry about stairwells, you've got to worry about parking areas, and you've got to worry about employees walking to their cars. It's an ecosystem, it isn't just one thing."

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