I am in Philadelphia this week scoping out the city before the security industry descends on the City of Brotherly Love (and Sisterly Affection) at ASIS International 2012.

This week, several other industry media professionals and I are going throughout the city to discover various leaders in the area. Today, our stops included the ASIS venue, the Philadelphia Conference Center (newly expanded); the National Constitution Center; and the Comcast Center.

And one common theme that ran throughout all three was the ongoing dilemma of how to respect groups' First Amendment rights while still securing their facilities. 

Center City, the district that is home to the Philly Conference Center, has faced numerous dilemmas over the past 20 years. One of the most recent issues affecting the entire city, according to the Center City District's senior director of crime prevention services Stacy Irving, is youth-centered flash mobs.

These mobs are quickly organized after school, Irving said, and often center around impromptu dance-off competitions. Unfortunately, a few trouble-making youths create problems for the entire group, sometimes starting fights or a mob-mentality that can spill over into local businesses and roadways. 

In order to control the trending disruption without banning student gatherings, Irving partnered with kid-magnet businesses such as Apple, Wendy's and clothing store H&M to try to stem the flow of meet-up information from student to student, as well as issuing wide text alerts informing subscribers of early school dismissals and tips on how to handle sudden influxes of students. 

But how do you combat disorderly conduct without infringing on someone's inherent rights to free speech and assembly? 

The National Constitution Center faces blatant accusations of hypocrisy if they deny access to any particular group, including protesters to the various conventions, speakers, exhibitions and events that they hold on a regular basis. The Center, while toting the inalienable rights of man, also has a responsibility to its patrons and clients to sufficiently secure the facility. Oftentimes, the two goals are on opposing sides. 

Sherman Hopkins, director of security at the Center, has seen his fair share of high-profile visitors since he began work there in 2006, as well as high-profile conflict. He has lived through visits from President Barack Obama, as well as multiple former presidents (in office and out), British Prime Minister Tony Blair, director Stephen Spielberg, Karl Rove and many other dignitaries and celebrities. So while coordinating with the Secret Service, New Scotland Yard, private security details and myriad other programs, Hopkins has to contend with the ever-changing, ever-raging protestors that stomp across the front lawn. 

The protesters are technically marching on federal property, but anyone who applies for a permit generally gets one. And while the protesters are not allowed to bring their message inside, it often falls to Hopkins to negotiate with their leaders to either change the venue or the method of message distribution (revving motorcycle engines during a film screening? Please stop.). 

Defending against disruption is a universally daunting task for CSOs, especially in the age of the Occupy movement. For the Comcast Center, the tallest skyscraper in the city and, thanks to an enormous flatscreen television light show, a popular tourist attraction, keeping tent-pitching protesters off of their front terrace was an especially tricky issue. 

According to Jim Birch, director of security and life safety at the Liberty Property Trust (the Comcast Center property owner), the debate arose between the rights of the tenants to operate their business efficiently and the rights of the protesters to exercise free speech. A compromise was reached between the two. 

Although the plaza outside the Comcast Center is privately owned, a small section of it was assigned to be a protest-allowed zone, a First Amendment zone. To protect the integrity of the workplace, if a protest is staged outside, the main doors are locked to visitors, and only authorized employees with badges are allowed in. This allows the protesters to utilize the front area, within reason and certain restrictions, while officials can still maintain that the grounds are under legal control of Liberty Property Trust. 

I really respect the First Amendment considerations that these CSOs and property managers are granting the protesters, even when they aren't required to do so. Today was "May Day," a nationwide push for more occupation, and 30 or so people laid down in the streets to protest some unknown injustice. While a few were arrested, most of them were confronted by everyday businesspeople and citizens who just wanted to unblock traffic and go about conducting business normally.

So while some security staffs might still feel isolated in dealing with growing issues of unruly meetings, take some comfort in the fact that the general population is getting fed up with it too.


Do you have any best practices to share about balancing First Amendment rights and security requirements in your business? Any stories about battling the Occupy movements? Share them with us at Security! Leave us a comment below, or feel free to email me personally at meyerc@bnpmedia.com.

Want to hear more about Philadelphia security? Tune in tomorrow for the latest news from the Philadelphia Children's Hospital, the Wells Fargo Center and the Federal Reserve Bank!