I of the Storm: How to Prepare for Protesters



From the “Arab Spring” that swept across Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya to the “Occupy Movement” that has occurred in many cities across the United States, one common intertwined theme has always been shared across these demonstrations, and that is the desire of the participants to have their voices and actions known to the world and challenge the so-called “status quo.”  Their hope is to bring attention to their cause thereby bringing change.

In most incidents, activists seek this attention peacefully. However, with the gathering of thousands of people, some of whom who may not have peaceful agendas, the possibility of violence and destruction is always very real.

Where Will Protesters Strike Next?

We are entering a peak season of high-profile global and national events here in the United States, where the eyes of the world will be upon us:

These events, along with the extensive media coverage that follows, create the perfect opportunity for demonstrators to capture a worldwide audience for their causes.

The good news is that these cities have been preparing for quite some time—aided by all of the local, state, and federal resources that come along with hosting a National Security Special Event (NSSE) of these types. The bad news is that the protestors have been preparing too.

(To some degree, they may have already influenced one of these events. Initially the City of Chicago was to host the upcoming G8 Conference along with the NATO Summit, but the G8 meeting was moved to Camp David.)

What Businesses do Protesters Target?

WTO Seattle protests (1999)

Seattle police pepper spray protestors during 1999 World Trade Organization meeting. PHOTO CREDIT: Steve Kaiser

Historically, a handful of business sectors have found themselves to be the targets of  destructive protests:

  • financial
  • energy
  • retail
  • government
  • technology sectors
  • multinational corporations

These businesses have attracted direct action, including both civil disobedience and acts of vandalism and property destruction. Unfortunately, those businesses in close proximity to companies of this type are often the recipients of collateral damage. The November 1999 World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle, for example, caused more than $2 million in property damage and $17 million in lost Christmas sales.

Recent Successes Encourage Protesters

The social meaning and power of the protest movement has shown itself able to impact the leadership of nations, perceived social injustices, cultural inequalities, politics, and the operational efficiency of businesses. With such perceived successes spurring them on, protesters are more likely to organize today than before the Arab Spring, increasing the importance of preparation.

How to Prepare for Protesters

As the cities of Chicago, Tampa, and Charlotte prepare to host these significant world events, special consideration must be taken by all to address the thousands of people who will gather in the streets, in public areas, on private property to march, to demonstrate, and to educate those who will listen on a myriad of social and political issues.

Here is a checklist individual businesses can use to prepare themselves:

  • Review exterior access to the building/complex.
  • Identify exposed exterior openings and facility services which need to be secured or protected (natural gas meters, electrical transformers, utility vaults, grated sidewalk access points, etc.)
  • Review coverage of video surveillance and determine the need for enhancements or repair.
  • Assess the level of staffing / operations that will be maintained during the critical period. Will  additional onsite facility or security services be needed around the clock during critical times?
  • Review the exterior of the facility for objects that could pose projectile or fire exposures (trash cans, landscaping brick or block, statuary, etc.). Remove or anchor as appropriate.
  • Determine the need for enhanced fencing or other barriers.
  • Consider the use of security window film to reduce the potential for broken glass, smash-and-grabs, vandals, etc. You may want to consider interior and exterior film application.
  • Survey areas of remote building perimeters (back alleys) and consider restricting
  • Evaluate the need for a business contingency plan should area access to the facility be restricted by government order.
  • Test, repair, or replace inoperable lighting.
  • Obtain board-up supplies on site.
  • Pre-arrange board-up services with reliable company.
  • Plan for resources and  personnel to handle graffiti removal when safe to do so.

As with many destructive events, from hurricanes to acts of violent civil disorder, we have learned valuable lessons. We have learned from Seattle and we have learned from the UK Riots not to underestimate the desire of people to be heard. The best way to minimize storm-related damage is to prepare for the gale force winds that may accompany it.

The effects of these winds may be minor or severe but whatever the case, those organizations that will prove to be the most resilient have prepared themselves for whatever storm may come.

About Kevin Wilkes

Kevin is Vice President and Risk Control / Security Practice Leader in Willis' Risk Control & Claim Advocacy pr…
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