Pipeline Construction: Best Practices for Ensuring Physical Security

Wes Stought

By engaging in best practices companies can help ensure the safety and security of the pipeline personnel, owners & operators

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Constructing a new pipeline to transport oil, natural gas or other commodities often involves managing an active worksite that extends for hundreds of miles across several states, passing through areas that range from suburban neighborhoods to deep forests and swamps. Naturally, severe weather such as cyclones, floods or fires can play havoc with construction equipment and schedules. There is also the increasingly complex challenge of complying with environmental and permitting regulations while avoiding both work interruptions and minimizing fines and other enforcement actions.

Apart from these, one of the greatest risks to pipeline construction involves opposition and occasional protest activities that can result in delays and work stoppages, damaged equipment and injury to those on-site (e.g., construction workers, security guards or responding law enforcement). Over many years, we’ve encountered dozens of these types of incidents – from substances introduced into the fuel tanks of construction machinery or piping components to gunshots fired at site personnel.

By engaging in best practices and adopting a strategic, layered and pragmatic set of security measures based on sound legal, business and ethical practices, companies can help ensure the safety and security of the pipeline personnel, community, assets, and operations – as well as the reputation of the pipeline owners and operators.

Communicate with All Stakeholders Early, Continuously and After Important Events

Pipeline construction activities can be disruptive to many local communities. While the operator has the right to implement approved construction plans, we encourage our clients to be sensitive to local concerns and make changes wherever possible to minimize impacts on the local community. If an annual festival is typically conducted at a certain time of year, for example, we suggest that the construction company actively solicit the concerns of community leaders well in advance of the event. The company should be ready to respond by closing down construction activities at high-impact locations during those times.

Recognize that Opposing Groups Have a Right to Communicate Their Views

Like other businesses, industries and practices in the United States, pipeline construction can elicit many types of responses from various citizen groups and communities. Keeping the peace requires respecting the law. Utilizing a team of personnel who have extensive law enforcement experience and training can help protect the rights of both businesses and individuals.

Individuals or groups opposing the pipeline ultimately have the right to express their opposition and pursue their aims through the judicial system. By implementing risk-mitigating practices and providing opportunities for them to exercise that right — ­such as providing a designated location on site where the opposition can express their views — opposing groups are more likely to feel respected and less likely to intervene in the construction process.

Establish a Secure Construction Site, Avoid an Overly Aggressive Security Posture

It’s essential that you define your perimeter clearly. That’s a core safety and security concept. Beyond this, however, take care not to broadcast a hardened security posture by having guards who are visibly armed, and quick to react to vocal challenges or other measures that suggest or reveal a bias towards the opposition.

Ensure All Security Personnel are Well-Trained in De-Escalation

All security personnel should be adept at engaging in opposition activities in a non-combative manner, leveraging de-escalation tactics and techniques commonly exercised in public safety and the medical profession across the country.

Educate and Train On-Site Pipeline Personnel to Ensure Site-Specific Security

To reduce security risks and help ensure site-specific security, your construction personnel needs to understand and accept that even though they’re experts in building pipelines, the actions they take on-site can significantly impact construction operations. For example, we warn on-site personnel not to engage individuals expressing opposition at the site’s periphery and inadvertently make statements that the local media can feature on the evening’s news.

Plan for Multiple Security Scenarios

If de-escalation does not work, have a plan in place for next steps. Create a guide that outlines everyone’s roles in a subsequent response, establishing the chain of communication as well as who to contact. Also, provide descriptions of everyone’s roles and responsibilities on-site and preemptively conduct open-source monitoring while keeping law enforcement updated. Your plan should leave no stone unturned.

Engage the Appropriate Federal, State and Local Law Enforcement Agencies

Establishing relationships with law enforcement and keeping them updated can be the best way to ensure consistent communication regarding construction activities and community impact as well as response measures. Create open lines of communication and build these relationships as soon as you can.

As with most things, planning and preparation is key. It’s also helpful knowing how many things can go wrong and translating that knowledge into prevention. Our team of experts have decades of experience in law enforcement and security consulting. Learn how we can assist with security training and risk management in your organization.

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