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Chicago NATO Summit could mean trouble for local businesses

Chicago NATO Summit could mean trouble for local businesses

CHICAGO—As they prepare for the risks associated with next week's NATO Summit in Chicago, a common theme of property owners, risk management experts and others working with downtown Chicago businesses is that the necessary preparation largely comes down to basic risk management.

It's the sort of preparation that should be applied anytime a similar high-profile event is close to a business' offices or properties, experts say.

The May 20-21 event headed by President Barack Obama is expected to draw 7,000 delegates from 50 countries and 2,500 international journalists.

The summit also is expected to draw thousands of protesters. Among other things, National Nurses United has a protest event planned for Friday and a major demonstration of several groups is scheduled for Sunday.

In addition, protest groups announced plans for a May 21 demonstration outside The Boeing Co.'s headquarters with the goal of shutting down the office.

Boeing officials reportedly said they were reviewing the situation.

PLUS: Watch our exclusive video coverage of the National Nurses United Protest on May 18, 2012.

While the FBI said it believes a terrorist attack during the summit is unlikely, it indicated that it is a possibility it is addressing.

Among summit-related precautions, the airspace over downtown Chicago will be closed during the event, the harbor near the McCormick Place convention center where the bulk of summit activities will occur will be cleared and various road closures and parking bans will be put in place.

While the FBI allowed Amtrak and commuter rail lines that travel beneath McCormick Place to continue running during the summit, it advised passengers to be prepared for heightened security measures.


Several museums announced they would be closed May 19-21.

Aside from other extensive pre-summit efforts, city officials have focused on making sure their insurance coverage is adequate (see related story).

Experts note that among potential threats facing businesses and property owners as a result of protest activities during the summit are transportation disruptions, building occupations, employee and customer injury, and physical damage to buildings or infrastructure.

“I think businesses or property owners should always be thinking about things like emergency plans,” said Donald R. Zoufal, safety and security executive at System Development Integration L.L.C. in Chicago.

“I think quite frankly the best way to address NATO preparation is to go back to basics and focus on the things you should always be focusing on,” he said. Companies should update emergency plans and continuity-of-operations plans and “make sure your employees understand” the plans.

Speaking of preparations at Zurich North America's downtown Chicago office, Mary Gardner, head of Americas resilience for the Schaumburg, Ill.-based insurer, said the company engages in such risk management activities whenever it has an office in the location of a political convention, major gathering of international leaders or other high-profile event that might draw demonstrators.

“This is something that we've been doing for any number of years,” Ms. Gardner said. “When we know events are going to happen, we want to be proactive.”

A key focus for Zurich is safety of employees, customers, agents, brokers and other visitors to the office. Groups have identified certain buildings as demonstration targets, she said. “If there are adjacent or nearby locations that are targets, we want to make sure we take that into consideration.”


“You can't overcommunicate in these kinds of situations,” Ms. Gardner said. Email, websites and social media tools such Twitter and Facebook can be tools that companies use to stay in touch with employees and others.

Zurich also is looking to ensure its business continuity plans are up to date, making sure call trees are current, work area recovery strategies are reviewed and employee location options such as working from home are considered, if appropriate. Finally, she said, the company is making sure it has arrangements in place for any repairs, board-up services, etc. that might be required.

Zurich's crisis management team will monitor the event through its completion, ready to respond to any changing conditions, Ms. Gardner said. For example, it might be necessary to close the office early and send employees home.

“We had to do that on the recent May Day,” Ms. Gardner said. “We had one particular office where the demonstration stopped in front of the office at a bank.” Realizing there was a risk at the location, Zurich encouraged employees to work from home that day, and, when violence erupted, shut the office.

While most protesters tend to be peaceful, there are subgroups bent on disruption and damaging property, said Mr. Zoufal of System Development Integration. “Businesses should always be mindful of these man-made threats to their organizations.”

Still, most Chicago businesses and property owners seemed to be anticipating little change to their operations.

“For the most part, the operations within our managed properties have not changed and it's going to be business as usual,” said Mark Anderson, director of security and national security liaison at real estate services firm Jones Lang LaSalle Inc. in Chicago.


Most properties in downtown Chicago have stepped up security for the NATO event, however, Mr. Anderson said. “Almost everybody that I can think of has increased their internal staffing.”

Those properties have tested their emergency response plans to make sure they are current and complete, Mr. Anderson said, and established communication lines with organizations such as the Building Owners and Managers Assn. of Chicago and the Chicago Police Department to make sure they have real-time communications in place during the summit.

A “pretty limited” number have engaged in additional security measures at their properties, such as applying protective anti-graffiti film to windows and building facades, Mr. Anderson said.

“I think most important is the communication, working with the city, working with the host committee,” he said “It's having your emergency management plans in place, the business continuity plan.”

“Because we represent so many of the office buildings in Chicago…we've been focused on this since it was first announced,” said Michael Cornicelli, executive vp of BOMA/Chicago. “It's been an ongoing process of getting information and assimilating it and disseminating it to the building owners and their staffs.”

“Essentially, what we're saying to our (members) is just be prepared,” Mr. Cornicelli said. “Be prepared, understand what should be happening on those days.”

“If you're the Boeing building you're going to need to take different precautions than if you're a small business on an upper floor of a building that isn't on a demonstration route,” Mr. Cornicelli said, adding, “A lot of it's common sense. It would be a bad day to do window washing, for example.”

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