Security planning and considerations amid civil unrest

Oct. 27, 2020
Examining the key actions employees, businesses can take to mitigate the threats posed by violent demonstrations

The killing of George Floyd during an arrest in Minneapolis earlier this year sparked months of demonstrations in 140 cities across the United States to protest incidents of police brutality. In addition to peaceful protests, several cities also experienced civil unrest in the form of sporadic violence, vandalism, looting, and arson that shut down businesses in areas and reportedly caused an estimated $1 billion to $2 billion in damages.

 While understanding that global security program strategies and the tactical security game plans prepared in response will be unique to every organization due to factors such as different threat landscapes, locations, size, culture, etc., there are key actions all organizations can take to protect employees, sites, and assets during times of civil unrest. 

Typically, an organization’s security department will define the framework to protect its physical spaces, sites and employees. Driven by established priorities and an intelligence program, a firm will develop a global security program and security game plans to ensure specific goals and objectives are accomplished. The specific plans are tailored according to direct and indirect threat vectors that apply to the firm, its industry, employees/executives, sites, or data. 

More recently, civil unrest has been one of the threat vectors which firms and their global security, risk, human resources and legal departments have had to manage over the course of the past weeks and months — and will continue to demand vigilance for the foreseeable future.  

Aligned with the firm’s duty to care for its employees, the following list of best practices aims to aid in the protection of employees who might find themselves unexpectedly in an area of civil unrest. All actions below should be considered, if safe to do so.  

Security Considerations for Employees  

Employees can practice one important behavior that might make a significant difference in keeping themselves, their colleagues, and their organizations safe — and that’s situational awareness. Simply put, that means being vigilant and increasing awareness of one’s surroundings: Pay attention to your surroundings, make observations, and draw appropriate conclusions. Learn to key in on the unusual or on someone or something that seems out of place. Beyond that, here are a few safety practices to keep in mind: 

  • Avoid protest areas or large gatherings, if possible;
  • Stay calm;
  • Maintain a low profile. Avoid discussions of the issues at hand;
  • Actions that enhance your personal safety and security should be your sole focus;
  • Remove all articles from your person which display wealth, to include rings, watches, jewelry, etc.;
  • Identify the location of emergency exits and paths of egress from the area which has posed the most risk to your safety;
  • Remember the five-step process for an active shooter type situation: awareness, assess the situation, consider your options (run, hide, fight) and risks, take an action;
  • Quickly and safely remove yourself from the area where an incident may/is/has occurred;
  • If you cannot safely remove yourself, seek shelter;
  • Once your safety is secured, contact authorities;
  • Comply with the commands of authorities; 
  • Do not in any way appear or engage in a threatening manner to authorities;
  • Avoid targeted areas of civil unrest, protest or riot, such as, government buildings, police stations (unless seeking assistance), public places, restaurants, etc.;
  • Anticipate cell phone/landline disruption;
  • Monitor local media, and/or other trusted sources for updates;
  • Follow your company’s communications plan and/or evacuation process;
  • Consider establishing a communication plan for family members. 

Additionally, as we have seen, the results of civil unrest have certainly stressed businesses security infrastructure, from their workspace and environs to the protection of their employees and business locations. Provided below are best practices for consideration to enhance both the preparation of and response to possible riots and/or protests that may affect company assets, broadly defined: 

Security Considerations for Firms  

  • Business Contingency Plans: Ensure plans are updated and tested routinely.
  • Crisis Management: Ensure crisis management objectives and crisis response plans are updated and appropriate staff are tested, via tabletop or GSOC exercises, in their roles and responsibilities, focused particularly on command post operations and communication plans.
  • Security Staff: Ensure both proprietary and contract security staff are refreshed on the policies and procedures related to the protocols the firm has established to respond to protests and riots which affect assets.
  • Global Security Operations Center/Security Command Center: Ensure staff has received appropriate retraining on GSOC/SCC policies and procedures related to operations in the handling of protests and riots. Keen focus on GSOC operations to include monitoring CCTV coverage, access alarms, duress alarms, intercom usage, and employee safety, to include executive protection, should be emphasized.
  • Ad Hoc Contract Security: Conduct internal analyses based upon intelligence received on the need to hire outside armed/unarmed security and/or off-duty police personnel on a short-term ad hoc basis to protect your key corporate assets. Ensure terms of engagement are defined by the firm and appropriately communicated via pre-event tactical meeting to ensure compliance with laws, regulations, and corporate policies and procedures.
  • Technical Operations: Security infrastructure hardware and software components shall be confirmed functioning as designed and a monitoring process in place to ensure ongoing functionality.
  • Travel Security: Ensure the security team is refreshed on travel security protocols related to medical, safety, and security matters. Focus on geolocation of employees and confirm safety as events may dictate. Confirm both evacuation and invacuation (lockdown) plans are ready to execute with appropriate vendor partners. 
  • Intelligence Program: Confirm with appropriate vendor partners that intelligence gathering is prioritized against known subjects and/or organizations as well as identifying possible action by unknown subjects/organizations against the industry, the firm, its employees, executives, or site locations.
  • Threat Management: Ensure all security staff are at a heightened sense of awareness on threat management and are retrained on procedures, to include the protocols to address threats received in person, by mail, via email, or by telephone.
  • Workplace Safety/Active Shooter Plan: Provide appropriate retraining, via online or webinar based, to employees on their options and risks in an active shooter situation.
  • Executive Protection: Ensure appropriate executives have received a security and safety briefing and have been reminded of protection protocols. Determine any additional actions from current state of protection.
  • Site Security: Conduct a review of current security site game plans, to include gate and breach management procedures, to ensure all are appropriate given the current threat intelligence. Enhance security infrastructure where warranted. 
  • Communication: Ensure communication plan with employees is tested and deemed functional. Convey intelligence received to employees. Be the trusted voice. Ensure employees know to communicate their status to the firm, as appropriate.
  • Employee Assistance Plans: Confirm with human resources and/or legal departments the availability of programs to assist employees in their time of need, and ensure all employees are reminded of these resources for their benefit. 

About the Author:  

Brian W. Lynch, is Executive Director of Safety & Security at RANE, a network-based risk intelligence company. He brings nearly four decades of senior management and executive level experience in the fields of law enforcement, safety, and security. Previously, Lynch served as Head of Global Security at Vanguard, where he designed and executed the firm's enterprise-wide Eight Phase Global Security Program as well as a 24x7 global operational model responsible for the identification, analysis, response, and resolution of security incidents. During his tenure in the FBI, Lynch led the Bureau’s efforts in national security investigations by overseeing counterintelligence investigations and intelligence efforts by foreign intelligence services, through tracking and seizing terrorist funds, as well as leading terrorism investigations through the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Forces, resulting in the disruption of terror attacks, and led law enforcement and intelligence efforts at the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center as Deputy Director of Operations, as well as successfully conducted criminal investigations into white collar crime, civil rights, violent crime, and drug/gang matters. 

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