Pipeline Construction Security's "New Normal"- Jeff Sweetin CPP

Pipeline Construction Security's "New Normal"- Jeff Sweetin CPP


XYZ Energy, a fictitious pipeline company, embarks on a multi-state natural gas pipeline construction project. While planning the project, security is barely discussed and receives no realistic budget. Regulators and elected officials begin to doubt XYZ’s ability to manage a large project when opposition groups disrupt public meetings. Unable to identify sufficient local guard resources, security funds are exhausted when XYZ is forced to hire distant providers who charge a premium for the last-minute request as well as travel expenses for the guards. Unable to stop the project thru legitimate legal means, protestors begin threatening the CEO and his family, and confront them at their home. Protestors at XYZ’s headquarters empty a bucket of what they claim is “fracking fluid” onto the receptionist’s desk and refuse to leave the building. The protestors confront construction crews at the jobsite and lock themselves to equipment using “sleeping dragon” devices. As national media outlets cover the event, a construction contractor assaults the protest leader and is arrested. Area law enforcement agencies have never dealt with sleeping dragons and don’t have sufficient personnel or experience to efficiently deal with the protest. YouTube videos and media coverage bring celebrities and more protestors to the site. Additional guards, sent to the site by XYZ with orders to “end the protest,” use physical force, and pepper spray. National opposition continues to grow and gains support from elected officials until the project is indefinitely suspended.

Many of yesterday’s pipeline construction projects treated security as an afterthought, reactively deployed as events unfolded. Although guards may have been deployed to protect equipment and direct traffic, project managers viewed other threats as unlikely and incorrectly assumed that if they occurred, they would be quickly handled by local law enforcement officials.

Recent, highly publicized protests have created a “new normal” for pipeline construction security. Extended media coverage and rapid spread of inaccurate information via social media and mobile devices dictates a more integrated security response. While the goal of project security hasn’t changed--to protect a company’s assets, personnel, information and brand while maintaining project timelines and financial allocations—the way in which it is delivered has changed dramatically.

Modern, effective pipeline construction security requires different strategies and actions at different points along the multi-year timeline. The security services required over a typical pipeline project lifecycle should include, at minimum: Risk Assessment and Intelligence (combined to inform the Project Plan and budget), Coordination, Liaison, Security Management, Executive Protection, and Training.

Risk Assessment-

Successful projects address security in the planning stage. During this stage, a security professional with relevant experience and expertise assesses threat and vulnerability, and identifies measures to mitigate them. These assessments include analysis of the company’s internal security infrastructure as well as the capacity, sophistication, experience level, and willingness to assist of law enforcement agencies likely to be affected.

Failure to conduct an early and complete assessment caused XYZ to miss valuable information. They did not learn, until it was too late, that their law enforcement counterparts were understaffed, lacked experience in protest events, and were not equipped to deal with more complicated protestor delay tactics. No project-related assessments were conducted at corporate facilities and project field offices where access control would have been identified as insufficient. Without a risk assessment as justification, no reasonable cost forecasting could be conducted, leaving security functions under-funded.


Intelligence is gathered throughout the lifecycle of the project to identify opposition groups, their positions and talking points, or plans to block project construction through direct action. Because opposition groups rely on social media to recruit members and plan activities, they can be effectively and legally monitored. XYZ’s intelligence failure left them unaware of opposition plans to disrupt pre-FERC meetings, target the CEO, disrupt corporate offices, and take action at construction sites. In response to the plan to disrupt the pre-FERC meetings, security providers could have assisted with selecting meeting venues, in hopes of holding the events at facilities, such as local government facilities, hotels, or universities, with in-house security forces and experience with large protest groups. Because speeches at public meetings provide an ideal opportunity for disruption, the meeting format could have been altered to a more open-house model. Finally, appropriate security resources would have been identified, funded, and on-hand to provide security to all in attendance.

Because they didn’t know of the plan to disrupt corporate facilities, no countermeasures were deployed in response. Simple and inexpensive upgrades to reception area access control would have been justified and would likely have prevented the incident.


Corporations are rarely organized to support a controversial project’s security needs, so coordination of internal resources is usually required. Early in the project, the security advisor identifies the internal stakeholders made up of decision-makers from, at least, senior leadership, project management, legal, human resources, corporate communications, and key contractor leads. This group is briefed on the Project Security Plan and will serve as a clearinghouse for security decisions. The group should determine, in advance, how they want protests to be handled, who will make statements to the media, etc. Additionally, information sharing within this group will keep all members apprised of upcoming events or issues that may lead to opposition action so all members of the team are able to proactively prepare.

Had they formed an internal stakeholders group, XYZ would have had a pre-determined response strategy for company representatives dealing with protest activity and trained to that response strategy. Had they decided, for instance, to allow protest activity to continue near the project in a safe zone instead of attempting to stop it, mishandling and confusion could have been avoided. Corporate Communications would have had a spokesperson available with a clear response for the media message to counter any mis-information and accusations from the opposition.


Pipeline security in the “new normal” favors proactive solutions over reactive to equip and prepare company representatives and project partners. Several types of security training are identified in the plan and provided as early in the project as feasible. Front-line employees, or those most likely to face confrontation, such as survey crews, construction workers, and receptionists, receive training in handling protestor actions. Law enforcement partners may require training to familiarize them with project specifics and prepare them to deal with the protest groups expected to attend. Specialized training equips law enforcement officers to defeat the various delay devices used by direct action groups, such as tripods, tree-sits, and sleeping dragons.

Had the construction contractor received proper advanced training, he would have recognized the protestors tactic of aggravating him to generate dramatic video. Had he focused on protestor safety and contacted supervisors for guidance, it is likely that the incident would have been prevented.

Training provided to law enforcement responders would have prepared them to effectively deal with large scale protest activity, consistent with company construction site safety concerns. Had XYZ’s receptionist been trained in what to watch for and how to react if groups try to enter the building, the incident could have been minimized or avoided.


External stakeholders, particularly law enforcement agencies affected by the project, are identified and proactive relationship-building through liaison activities by the security advisor begin early in the project. Regular meetings are scheduled where intelligence is shared, and the company’s preferences are communicated. Liaison activities continue throughout the project lifecycle.

Had XYZ conducted appropriate liaison, they would have had additional opportunities to learn information they missed by not conducting an assessment: that the department responding to the protests had limited resources and no experience with large protest events. Training could have been provided to equip the officers to respond and provisions could have been made to augment staffing levels using paid off-duty officers, sworn personnel from other jurisdictions, etc.

Security Management -

Effective security management is considered early in project planning and efficiently deploys resources to provide security. Using a tiered response, resources are selected based on current threat and vulnerability. When lower value equipment requires protection, remote camera technology, less expensive than guards, may suffice. As value or risk increases, human security providers become necessary. When higher value equipment is vulnerable or higher levels of training and authority are necessary, off-duty police officers provide the appropriate solution. Appropriate and cost effective security resources are selected in accordance with the Project Security Plan.

XYZ waited to address security management until there was an immediate need. By failing to plan the deployment of security to construction locations, the costs were excessive and the inability to find sufficient numbers of qualified guards jeopardized the company’s assets. The only countermeasure selected was guards, and the limited local availability of guards required travel reimbursement, resulting in overspending.

By directing the guards to end the protest, XYZ exhibited flawed security management, and the resulting videos likely cost the company the project and certainly diminished the public perception of their brand. Discussions of a range of responses to protest events should have occurred far in advance and been conducted by the internal stakeholders group.

Executive Protection -

Corporate CEO’s, board members, spokespersons and other key executives are popular targets for groups opposing energy projects. And, although Project Security Plans should consider protection of all company personnel, Executive Protection is unique and should be addressed in separate plans and countermeasures.

XYZ missed the intelligence about targeting the CEO. They had no Project Security Plan, or Executive Protection plan so they were unprepared when the opposition threatened the CEO and targeted his residence. An EP plan would have provided countermeasures and responses based on potential threats, an assessment of residence security and of the family member’s daily activities. Recommendations could include security enhancements to the CEO’s residence, pre-identified alternative temporary housing, transportation security, and training for the family. Once protestors arrived at the residence, the CEO and family could have easily been relocated. With no one to confront and video, the protestors and accompanying media would have lost interest and left.

Key Takeaways -

Protest activity by project opponents has become almost certain. And while it cannot be stopped, it can be appropriately managed using integrated security functions. Pipeline construction security in the “new normal” requires early attention to security needs and the preparation of a comprehensive Project Security Plan combining the results of assessment and intelligence gathering activities. Realistic cost estimates should be generated based on the Plan to create the security budget. Throughout the project process, opposition groups’ plans should be constantly monitored. Security delivery will require coordination of internal resources as well as ongoing liaison with outside partners. Security resources should be deployed in a cost-sensitive, tiered manner consistent with immediate threat and vulnerability as detailed in the Plan. Some contingency for extra security for company executives should be addressed in advance. Corporate employees and contractors, particularly those on the front-line, should be trained to handle confrontation and clearly understand the company’s expectations.

It is unlikely that aggressive protest action will subside anytime soon. And without an integrated security plan, appropriately delivered throughout the project life cycle, companies, their projects, personnel, resources, and brand are in jeopardy.


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