Preparing for Civil Unrest: 12 Tips for Security Leaders

Chad McGinty

Security leaders should include civil unrest preparation and risk mitigation plans to protect their organizations.

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Security leaders are charged with protecting their organizations’ employees and assets, and this involves acknowledging the potential for civil unrest. The events of this year have made preparing for civil unrest a critical risk management priority.

Words to Know

Protest - Most commonly means a public show of disapproval or opposition to something

Civil disobedience - A nonviolent, sometimes illegal means of protesting or of attempting to achieve goals (e.g., boycotting, picketing, blocking major thoroughfares)

Civil unrest - An activity arising from a mass act of civil disobedience in which actors at the scene become hostile and potentially violent toward others

2020 and now into 2021, has experienced its fair share of protests. Many were on a scale we have not seen since the 1960s. Fortunately, the vast majority of protests are peaceful and protestors engage in nonviolent forms of civil disobedience and demonstration. However, some mass gatherings have the propensity to devolve into civil unrest, often through the work of opportunistic agitators.

With decades of experience balancing the safety and security priorities during such incidents, my colleagues and I have several recommendations that security leaders can incorporate into emergency response plans. Our goal is to ensure that an organization’s employees are kept safe and informed during any adverse incident.

Preparing for an Act of Civil Unrest

Properly managing the risks associated with civil unrest actually requires specific actions before, during and after a mass gathering event that has the potential to devolve into civil unrest.

Before a Potential Act of Civil Unrest

1. Meet with first responders before any emergency arises to share your emergency management resources and plans and understand how public safety entities will respond to emergencies.

2. Regularly monitor public sources, such as social, local news and national press, to capture information about potential protests that may target your specific organization.

3. Establish or revise emergency preparedness plans to codify procedures for responding to civil unrest or incidents of protest

4. Review and reinforce your physical and technical security to ensure your facility and employees are protected from potential vandalism or violence.

5. Centralize your communications and security monitoring within a security operations center (SOC), an internal hub for monitoring the incident, deploying communications and disseminating information among critical parties.

During an Act of Civil Unrest

6. Secure the facility and determine if its safe to release employees

7. Capture lessons learned by following the after-action protocol in your emergency response plan.

8. Release non-essential employees from the site if they can safely leave the area. If not, employees should be sheltered in place.

9. If unauthorized individuals gain entry, remain sheltered and do not confront them.

10. Conduct ongoing monitoring of social media and news reports because it is often where the first reports of situation volatility will emerge.

After an Act of Civil Unrest

11. Implement your recovery plan to restore the facility and business line to full operational status.

12. Maintain communication transparency with employees to update them on recovery efforts or changes in policy resulting from the after-action reporting.

Where to Begin

The above steps may seem daunting, especially for security functions that may be considering civil unrest a risk for the first time or those that are limited in resources. This is why our Security Risk Management and emergency preparedness experts are here – to help you develop the programs and protocols necessary to keep employees safe.

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