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Whether it’s Occupy Wall Street, union strikers, animal rights activists, an agitated student body, or complications during elections, public demonstrations are bringing emotional hordes to city streets across the nation. Whether unexpected or anticipated, these protesters are a unique security challenge for commercial properties. Learn how to plan for demonstrations before your building is overwhelmed by a crowd.
Eight Measures for Your Emergency Plan
What does your building’s emergency response plan say about protecting tenants and property during demonstrations?
“It should assess the risks for the property,” says Jack Dowling, CPP, PSP, principal and president of JD Security Consultants, LLC in Downingtown, PA, and a member of the ASIS Commercial Real Estate Council. “In addition, the plan should include policies and procedures to guide your response if a nearby demonstration gets out of hand.”
Make sure to tailor any measures to your building’s specific security risks, which a consultant can assist with.
1. Set emergency lockdown procedures.
If a group forms outside your building, how quickly can you lock down and limit access to tenants only? “You can write a program for your access control system that will lock all exterior doors automatically,” says Carlos Villarreal, senior vice president of national commercial real estate services in the Chicago offices of Whelan Security. “Designate a door away from the demonstration for tenants to use,” he continues. “An officer should check IDs manually at the door.”
2. Secure the perimeter.
If you don’t have an access control system, you can secure the perimeter with security officers. “Make sure your video surveillance system is working with cameras trained on all the doors,” says Dowling.
3. Determine the property line.
“Identify the property line and easements exactly,” says Villarreal. “The public may access crossovers and demonstrators can use public property.”
Select a person within building management or ownership who will, if necessary, sign a trespassing or other kind of legal complaint and represent the building in court.
4. Establish communications with the police.
“Talk to your police department’s crime prevention bureau,” says Robert L. Oatman, CPP, principal with R.L. Oatman & Associates, Inc., a Towson, MD-based executive protection firm. “These bureaus provide information to the business community when something happens.”
5. Work with executive protection firms.
“On the executive protection side, we will secure the floor where the C-level executives work,” continues Oatman. “For example, we’ll block the elevator from stopping at a particular floor for everyone except those with certain access cards. We’ll also install a lockdown system on all the doors along with panic alarms.”
Executive protection professionals also focus on moving their clients into and out of buildings safely, adds Villarreal. The best way is an underground garage with exits on different sides of the building. But you can also offer options like the freight elevator or the loading dock in the back.
6. Change the routine.
“You can find schedules for demonstrations on television, radio, and social network sites,” Dowling says. “If something is set for tomorrow at 9 a.m. near your building, you can use your mass notification system to tell tenants that the workday will start at 8 a.m.”
7. Plan for problems.
What happens when things go wrong? “The job is to protect tenants and to keep protesters from coming into the building,” says Villarreal. “I’ve seen situations where protesters come in one at a time or two by two. Suddenly, 50 people begin chanting in the lobby.”
You must have a system for emailing or texting tenants. Warn tenants that demonstrators are in the lobby and you are locking the elevators so they can’t access tenant floors, continues Villarreal. If you’re calling the police, tell the tenants to reassure them.
“Well-planned emergency procedures won’t work if you don’t practice them,” Oatman says. “Make up scenarios and practice with your security team. I don’t like tabletop exercises. You need real, physical practice. When you practice for real, you are teaching yourself to perform under pressure in an emergency.”
Don't Forget the Right to Public Assembly
As for the demonstrators, don’t stir the pot – let them make their point as long as they are peaceful, don’t interfere or provoke. When the police arrive, they will ask what you want to do.
“A crime is the only reason to take a tough position,” says Villarreal. “If demonstrators have assaulted someone, damaged property, or committed another crime, then have them arrested and removed.”