Editor's note: This is part 1 of a two-part series examining the security challenges posed by the Occupy Wall Street protests. Part 2, which will look more closely at protecting corporate facilities from threats posed by protestors, will be published later this month.
The Occupy Wall Street Movement, which began as a group of people protesting what they perceived to be the excesses of Wall Street banks and corporate America at Zuccotti Park in New York City in September has now spread across the nation and even into other parts of the world. The protests have remained peaceful for the most part, however, violence erupted this week in Oakland, Calif., as police tried to reign in demonstrators who reportedly vandalized several businesses and municipal buildings in the city. Throngs of protestors also marched on the Port of Oakland forcing officials to close the facility at one point.
As these protests continue to grow, the threats they pose to companies that are the targets of their outrage are numerous and many organizations have already enlisted the help of security consulting firms to help them mitigate the threat. Joseph Sordi, managing director of New York-based Strategic Security Corp., said that his firm's client base has grown by 15 to 20 percent since the movement began.
"This has to be one of the most unique security challenges in history. In my opinion, it's easier to protect a high-level executive or a high-level person traveling over in the sandbox in Iraq or Afghanistan where you know you're looking out for insurgents, you're looking out for IEDs, you have heavy weapons with you, you're allowed to use force, and you have armor-plated vehicles," Sordi said. "In this case, the tables are entirely changed. You would be hard-pressed to say you're going to use force against anyone of these people... because they're passive protestors."
Dr. Paul Viollis, CEO of Risk Control Strategies, which is also based in New York, said it's important for those in the executive protection field to understand the people that are taking part in these protest to be better prepared to mitigate the risks they pose.
"What we're faced with right now is kind of like Hoover-esque days and shades of Kent State. You've got people that are just completely fed up with the country, the government, the establishment or the system, whatever you want to call it," Viollis said. "As with any security or law enforcement professional, you've got to understand your opponent and your opponent right now is intelligent, well-funded and supported by the local governments."
One thing that Sordi said he believes is somewhat alarming about the protestors is that many of them seem to lack a coherent message, which allows multiple people with various agendas to piggyback onto the demonstrations.
"You have all these different groups coming together and formulating. You have the people that support a feminist movement, you have people that are part of the anti-furrier movement, you have the PETA protestors, and these are all the like-minded people that are banding together forming this enormous mass and that has posed the biggest problem," Sordi explained.
While there haven't been any reported attacks against executives or their families stemming from the Occupy Wall Street movement yet, security experts warn that there is a danger of potential "splinter groups" breaking out of them. These are people that identify with the movement, but don't necessarily feel the need to adhere to their motto of non-violence.
"One of the biggest things that you have to be careful of as in any movement you have zealots, you have those that don't want to wait for a peaceful resolve and want to accelerate that," Viollis explained. "Clearly we're seeing that. We're seeing more violence, more aggression as the days go by. Clearly from a security perspective, we're going to have our hands full for a while, there's no question about that."