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No one wants to talk about APEC’s in-your-face fencing, but it’s the symbol of the summit

A group of police officers stands on a city street as seem through a metal fence.
A group of police officers are seen through security fencing outside the Children’s Creativity Museum in San Francisco on Wednesday. | Source: Michaela Vatcheva for The Standard

Security isn't always a warm blanket and a teddy bear, a uniformed member of law enforcement, or a surveillance camera. Sometimes, it's tall, cold and heavy modular black steel fences, slung from trucks and stacked atop sidewalks to separate the hoi polloi from the higher-ups.

With thousands of dignitaries, diplomats and delegates attending this week's Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation gathering, San Francisco has been transformed by security infrastructure blocking off zones of exclusion like the Moscone Center, parts of Nob Hill and other stretches of city streets.

The federal government has declared the APEC conference a "National Special Security Event,” a designation that underlines the potential for a terrorist attack or major civil disruption. The designation—the first of its kind in Northern California—means the United States Secret Service is heading up security for the event, which is being attended by bigwigs from President Joe Biden to SpaceX boss Elon Musk. 

READ MORE: Here’s Where APEC Will Lock Down San Francisco 

The agency has been tasked with security planning duties, ranging from protection against potential sea and air attacks from drones and manned aircraft to setting up committees to coordinate local, state and federal authorities.

But perhaps no one piece of security infrastructure has been as ubiquitous or surprising as the black security fencing, which was suddenly unloaded from fleets of flatbed trucks over the weekend and installed by scrums of union workers in Day-Glo safety vests. The Standard estimates that at least several miles of modular fencing have been erected around the city since Saturday.

A California Highway Patrol officer holds open a large metal gate for another CHP officer on a motorcycle at the intersection of a city street.
A California Highway Patrol officer holds open a large metal gate for another CHP officer on a motorcycle at Folsom and Fourth streets, close to the Moscone Center in San Francisco. | Source: Michaela Vatcheva for The Standard

ARX Perimeters, the U.S. subsidiary of a British firm, appears to be the provider of at least some of the fencing around APEC sites and at security checkpoints. 

ARX describes its fencing as available in 8-foot and 12-foot-tall versions. The company says the fences are “anti-scalable,” available from multiple storage yards, rentable within 24 to 48 hours by a quick-quote process and "designed to be used in the event of anticipated protests, non-peaceful protests, demonstrations, high profile court cases, music festivals, sporting events, political conventions, construction sites, critical infrastructure locations, and more."

The fence modules lock together and are often secured in place by concrete roadblocks. 

When The Standard reached out to ARX, a spokesperson declined to answer questions, saying they were "unable to provide information specific to this event while it is ongoing" or "share financial details or any information related to the security of the event."

Workers install security fencing along California Street near Powell Street in San Francisco on Sunday for the APEC summit. | Source: Julie Makinen/The Standard

Local 16, a unit of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts of the United States and Canada (IATSE) that installed at least some of the fencing, did not return a request for comment from The Standard.

Similar fencing has gone up in the wake of prior high-profile events elsewhere in the country. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune described several suburban cities' efforts to purchase such fencing in order to stop attacks on buildings like police headquarters. 

It is unclear how much the fencing cost to erect or whether it was being paid for by the federal government or out of San Francisco city government coffers.

Protesters, activists and even political cartoonists have taken note of the fencing.

“In the lead up to APEC we have seen homeless sweeps and perimeter fencing go up,” Joemae Santos of Malaya Movement SF said in a Friday statement from the No to APEC Coalition on heightened policing around APEC. 

“As always, the city is prioritizing the safety of CEO billionaires while threatening the safety of its most vulnerable residents,” Santos added. “Those of us who plan to peacefully protest APEC’s free trade policies are also worried about the heightened militarization and police presence which impedes our first amendment rights.”

The Standard sent specific questions about the fencing, including unit numbers, costs, sourcing and agency procurement and deployment, to the city's Joint Information Center. U.S. Secret Service spokesperson Nathan Herring responded, politely declining to answer in detail.

"Due to operational security, we do not discuss specifics of security infrastructure. The 2023 APEC Leaders’ Summit was designated a National Special Security Event by the Department of Homeland Security in March 2023," Herring told The Standard.

After citing the event's "significance, size, and attendees," Herring said that "designating an event an NSSE allows for significant resources from the federal government, including security infrastructure, to be used to force multiply all available security resources." He added that the infrastructure was "consistent with that used for other NSSEs such as the United Nations General Assembly and the 2022 African Leaders Summit in Washington, D.C."