The drumbeat of bad news for corporate security and risk management seems to be endless: blowback from the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, the mass shooting in Uvalde, Russia’s war in Ukraine, the upcoming 2022 midterm elections, the ongoing investigation and hearings into Jan. 6, rising inflation, and soaring gas prices.
It’s no surprise that the Department of Homeland Security in June issued its sixth National Terrorism Advisory System (NTAS) Bulletin this year, warning “In the coming months, DHS expects the threat environment to become more dynamic as several high-profile events could be exploited to justify acts of violence against a range of possible targets. These targets could include public gatherings, faith-based institutions, schools, racial, ethnic, and religious minorities, government facilities and personnel, U.S. critical infrastructure, the media, and perceived ideological opponents.”
Security professionals believe the threat will persist whether companies take a stand or stay silent, and have held this view for some time, as our Mid-Year Outlook 2021 State of Protective Intelligence Report showed. More than half of all respondents agreed their CEO has received physical threats both as a result of either expressing (58%) or not expressing (40%) a position on racial and/or political issues. More than one-third (35%) agreed that their CEO’s expressing concern publicly about extremists resulted in new physical security threats, and nearly the same amount (33%) agreed their company experienced an increase in physical threats and backlash tied to extremism, racial justice and political issues.
So, how should security professionals respond when their executive leadership takes a stance on any of these hot-button political issues, or when the organization comes under fire for failing to respond? On a practical level, here are a few suggestions to consider:
- Don’t get Blindsided by Internal Changes – As a security professional in 2022, it’s critical to act to ensure you aren’t blind-sided by statements or press releases from your organization that could impact the safety and well-being of your staff or facilities. Cultivate relationships with PR and media teams in your organization to stay in the loop about the organization’s current public stances and any upcoming changes.
- Understand your Baseline and Monitor Changes – If you have not created a baseline threat assessment, now is the best time to do so. If you have a baseline threat assessment, be sure it’s been updated recently to reflect any changes in your organizational structure and physical footprint. Using that assessment, consider the most critical issues that should be monitored. Companies with a protective intelligence mindset are ahead of the curve because they are consistently watching the threat landscape and understand it is constantly shifting, equipping them to understand those changes and act more quickly.
- Take Incremental Action to Protect Personnel and Assets – As your baseline threat assessment changes, consider ways that you can ramp up your security posture in appropriate ways as the situation changes. Are there physical areas or personnel who are particularly at risk in the emerging threat environment, or areas that should be monitored more closely than others? Where possible, take proactive, incremental steps to monitor and mitigate threats as the baseline shifts, leaving room to continue to elevate the response – or step down from previous actions – as the situation evolves.
- Understand Proximity – Arsons, protests and violence in the areas around your facilities can be newsworthy but don’t necessarily impact business operations or raise your specific threat profile, depending upon the distance from your physical footprint. Consider the geographic regions that are most critical to your organizations and the tripwires that would be most likely to disrupt your operations in these areas.
- Resilience, Calm, and Flexibility are Key– You can’t control what the leadership of your organization decides to say or do. However, you can and should be prepared to adjust your responses quickly.
- Consider Second Order Impacts – Recognize that it is likely these hot-button issues will be drawn into the workspace, sometimes leading to unpredictable consequences. Ensure communications channels are open between security, legal and HR so all stakeholders can stay on the same page and respond quickly and appropriately to any emerging problems within the organization.
While no one should ignore potential risks, a historical view can provide perspective. Not so long ago in the 1960s and 1970s, domestic violence was much more prevalent in our country, with corporations, educational and government institutions regularly facing assassinations and bombings. America is a far cry from these levels of violence today and I do not believe we will be there again.
About the Author:
Fred Burton is one of the world’s foremost authorities on protective intelligence, security and counterterrorism. As Executive Director of the Ontic Center for Protective Intelligence, he spearheads strategic consulting to physical security leaders at major corporations, advising how to optimize their security programs, streamline protective intelligence initiatives and keep their people safe.
Burton previously served as Chief Security Officer at Stratfor, a leading geopolitical intelligence platform, where he remains an advisor. Burton began his career in law enforcement for the U.S. Secret Service, and later worked as a police officer in Montgomery County, Md. From 1985 to 1999, he was a special agent with the U.S. Diplomatic Security Service (DSS). He eventually became the deputy chief of the DSS counterterrorism division.
Burton is also a New York Times best-selling author of four books, including his personal memoir GHOST: Confessions of a Counterterrorism Agent, Chasing Shadows: A Special Agent’s Lifelong Hunt to Bring a Cold War Assassin to Justice, Under Fire: The Untold Story of the Attack in Benghazi and Beirut Rules: The Murder of a CIA Station Chief and Hezbollah’s War Against America.