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Corporate Emergency Planning for Civil Unrest

The images of businesses in Ferguson, MO with boarded up windows in anticipation of unrest following the grand jury verdict has caused businesses in other cities to reflect on their own emergency planning for civil unrest situations.  Protests and demonstrations turned violent in August and rioting and looting erupted; the worst fears have come true and this has been repeated, and to a larger scale.  For the forward-thinking business owner, what are the considerations involved with securing their premises, their employees, and their investment during times of civil unrest?

Emergency Planning for Natural Disasters Applies to Civil Unrest

Firstly, it is important to note that the difficulties resulting from civil unrest can mirror similar situations brought on by other catastrophic events, i.e. severe storms, flooding, earthquakes, etc.  For this reason, many of the principles of comprehensive emergency planning, will apply to a civil unrest scenario.  What makes civil unrest different is the human element of the dilemma, not an impersonal act of nature.

Secondly, civil unrest is accompanied by a level of ambiguity that is not usually seen with other disasters.  Not every rally or protest leads to true civil unrest, large numbers of individuals can and do congregate without it devolving into rioting and looting and violent clashes with law enforcement or security personnel.  However, there is always the potential of an unforeseen spark that can ignite underlying social tensions unleashed by a mob mentality.

As one emergency planning veteran stated, the August protests were “…a no-notice event, like a tornado. This next wave is more like a hurricane.  It can gain or lose strength, but you know it’s heading your way.”  This sentiment demonstrates one of the main dilemmas with emergency planning for civil unrest, how to respond to an approaching and potentially growing threat without overreacting and without wasting resources or harming your interests.

Business Emergency Planning Shouldn’t Rely on Law Enforcement

Lastly, your business emergency planning needs to be as self-sufficient as possible and not completely reliant upon law enforcement.  The police cannot be in all places at all times.  The best staffed departments in the country only have one officer per 200 citizens, and the average is around one officer per 400 citizens.  Countless events have shown that the veneer of civilization emergency planningwhen lifted, leads to periods of lawlessness and violence.  Order will eventually be restored, but in the meantime damage and chaos will flourish.

Will your emergency planning account for this? Or will you hope that the police will protect your business?

Public Resources are Limited

In times of unrest law enforcement will mobilize additional resources, but the logistics involved take time.  Calls to 911 will be prioritized, with the stretched thin resources responding to the most pressing calls first.  Routine EMS calls could be significantly delayed as they wait for police escorts.  Depending on the tactics used, your business location might be in an area devoid of law and order for days.  For these reasons and many others, your emergency planning for civil unrest needs to be as self-sufficient, agile, and comprehensive as possible.

Deliberate emergency planning, with measured responses, will limit your liability during and after such events and allow your business to weather this and other storms. One such response is to have a corporate security provider on hand to help you manage the situation and ensure that your personnel and assets are as safe as possible. Private-sector security should be considered an part of any emergency planning session.

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