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National Constitution Center has hosted its share of ‘bold name’ luminaries

Sherman Hopkins

When Sherman Hopkins, the security director at the National Constitution Center, welcomes VIPs and dignitaries to the president’s reception in his sprawling facility during the ASIS annual conference in Philadelphia this September, it won’t be the first time he’s had to focus on safeguarding thousands of guests.

Ever since the Constitution Center, which faces historic Independence Hall across a broad grassy mall, was opened in 2003 – and particularly since Hopkins took over security responsibilities in 2007 – the modern structure has played host to a wide variety of high-visibility speakers, honorees, glass-clinking guests and even protesters, who have enlivened Philadelphia’s social scene and highlighted its political landscape.

Searching his memory, as he briefed a group of visiting journalists on May 1, Hopkins recalled the security details surrounding former Soviet leader, Mikail Gorbachev, President Obama (who delivered his “A More Perfect Union” speech at the Center in March 2008), a pep rally for the Army-Navy football game,  a controversial book signing event featuring author and political strategist Karl Rove (“He brings his own protesters with him, when he comes,” observed Hopkins), and a National Governors Conference that drew VIPs from all 50 states.

Or there was the occasion when original artifacts owned or worn by the late Princess Diana were put on display at the Center (and were closely watched by 17 extra surveillance cameras brought in by the exhibit’s organizers), or a separate exhibit featuring a hugely valuable Honus Wagner baseball card.

Hopkins serves as the one full-time security employee at the National Constitution Center, augmented by a rotating cast of security guards deployed by Allied Barton and two subcontractors, he told the assembled journalists.

For the most part, Hopkins takes in stride the security preparations that precede each major event. The security details that travel with many of the visiting politicians and other VIPs tend to follow a familiar routine of advance work and step-by-step planning. Hopkins said his biggest challenge is often coordinating the actions of different security teams, representing different government organizations, and safeguarding different leaders. But, in the end, this coordination tends to sort itself out with relatively little difficulty, he noted.

“This is federal property and part of the National Park Service,” said Hopkins, so he needs to bend over backwards to protect the first amendment rights of any speaker and virtually any protester.