Mitigating risks posed by the Occupy Wall Street movement: Part 1

Security experts share strategies for protecting executives and their families from demonstrators

Former ASIS President Jeff Spivey, who currently serves as president of North Carolina-based Security Risk Management, Inc. says that having an intelligence gathering mechanism to keep up with the protests is paramount in being able to have the situational awareness that is crucial in protecting executives and other employees.

"As these (protests) ramp up, planning becomes more and more important," Spivey said. "Being able to understand, one, what the potential is and then trying to make plans. And that can be done through the monitoring of social media in combination with other law enforcement groups."

Chris Swecker, former assistant director of the FBI's Criminal Investigations Division and the former global security director at Bank of America, agrees that gathering intelligence is a key component to protecting executives and the organizations that they work for.

"I think the most important thing is to understand what they're doing and when they intend to do it and how they intend to do it," he said.

Once that information is known, Swecker said that there are host of things that can be done to mitigate the threats such as briefing security personnel on what to expect and how to react.
Swecker added that another challenge posed by these protests is protecting key executives without over responding or overreacting to what's happening.

"There's two challenges. One, it's all out there and two is crafting a response that is not an over response to what you're presented with and that goes with planning and having a good mitigation strategy. It's all about the advance work," Swecker explained.

Having dealt with a number of different protests in his time at Bank of America, Swecker said that he has even gone as far as personally meeting with demonstrators.

"Most of the time they're very reasonable when you sit down and meet with them ahead of time and establish some ground rules," Swecker said. "They don't always follow the ground rules, but nobody wants an incident where there is a harsh reaction or action on the part of the protestors and I think establishing contact with them is a positive thing. It can help put some order into it. They can get what they need out of it and we can get the protection that we need."

Because many law enforcement agencies have had to walk a thin line between keeping protests under control and allowing demonstrators to exercise their civil rights, Sordi said has been a heavy burden placed upon private executive protection firms to not only ensure that a company's employees are kept safe, but that its brand is also not sullied in any way.

"The challenges in terms of protecting a client of ours, it's a multi-tier process and it begins with knowing that the number one thing is ensuring the brand. Obviously, they need media attention, the Occupy Wall Street protestors, they need attention, they need to be filmed protesting key principal people or key financial people to keep the catalyst effect going," he explained. "From our perspective, how do we minimize that exposure? How do we avoid confrontation? We're looking for conflict resolution, conflict avoidance."

Sordi says that there are three things executive protection firms look at with regards to risk in these situations, which are avoiding the risk, transferring the risk or accepting the risk. In this case, the risk cannot be transferred to law enforcement for the aforementioned reasons, so Sordi said that they've examined how they can help their clients avoid and accept the risk.

In moving an executive into or out of a facility, for example, Sordi said that a company has to accept risk, however, there are some things that can be done to mitigate that risk, such as being on the lookout for key protestors that have been previously identified and using secure parking garages or back entrances to minimize their exposure to demonstrators. He said it's also important to gather intelligence on the company itself by speaking with human resources to see if there have been recently terminated people that could pose a threat or if there is anyone else that is disgruntled in the organization.

Sordi said minimizing an executive's exposure is one his main priorities because while there is a threat for physical confrontation, he said it would be a bigger coup for protestors to provoke them into doing something that potentially embarrasses the company, which is what he believes they are looking for predominantly.