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5 Ways to Manage Civil Unrest: The Experts Weigh In

Civil unrest is on the rise in the United States. The US Crisis Monitor, which captures real-time data on political violence and demonstrations nationwide, recorded over 10,600 events from May to August 2020.

To help organizations prepare for the potential impact of this trend, we sat down with three resident experts, our VP of Global Security Matt Bradley, Director of Government Strategy Troy Harper, and Chief Market Development Officer Ann Pickren. They shared five key considerations for protecting your people, property and assets during these turbulent times.

1. Gather the best intelligence

From the wave of protests that followed the death of George Floyd to ongoing tensions over the handling of the pandemic, news of civil disturbances now make daily headlines and dominate social media feeds. The best way to protect your people and assets is to understand what’s happening.

According to Bradley, our new normal has heightened the need for better risk intelligence. But where does the best intelligence around these incidents come from?

“The purpose of a protest is to maximize attendance,” said Bradley, “and the best way to reach people about your issue is via social media so you have the highest level of participation.”

The problem with social media monitoring, of course, is noise. Knowing people are going to protest only raises more questions and expands the search for answers, says Bradley. These questions include how many people will assemble, their intentions, and what the response will look like.

From the government standpoint, Harper stresses intelligence gathering and running what-if scenarios. “The best mitigation out there is using other incidents from other municipalities,” Harper said. “Your ability to prepare, respond, recover, and mitigate is what will determine your success.”

The business POV, Bradley says, is very similar. “Risk intelligence becomes actionable when you can correlate it to your people or facilities so you can inform your employees.”

2. Plan how to communicate

So how do you communicate with stakeholders around civil disturbances? Regardless of the crisis, Harper advises that agencies adopt a mechanism to initiate protocols based on pre-planning.

“You should be able to reach your staff instantly based on the triggers of your planning activities,” said Harper. “So if you see 400 people downtown in the park holding signs, you know what actions to take to escalate your own response to protect government infrastructure.”

The same goes for business owners who need to communicate to vendors, customers and staff about an incident and business closures, planned or unplanned. “Communication should be three-tiered,” said Harper.

Bradley stresses the importance of push notifications as part of your critical communications strategy. “Now that people are dispersed, you have fewer people in a location than in the past,” he said. “The only way to reach the people who are in the office is to push out to their cell phones.”

To determine which staff may be in the office, Bradley recommends putting “a ring fence around the building. You may want to push notifications to an app so you catch everybody, including people not normally assigned to that building.”

And what if people are reluctant to opt into company communications for fear the company may be tracking them? When that happens, says Bradley, reassure your staff that the company is simply taking proactive measures to help them in the event they need help. Transparency around what you are doing and why you are doing it relieves the doubts employees or citizens have around opting in.  

3. Rethink “Duty of Care”

For many businesses, the shift to a remote workforce has altered the concept of Duty of Care, maybe permanently. The lines have blurred, and it’s no longer just about protecting executives traveling for business.

Pickren sees companies are thinking “far more broadly” about Duty of Care. The logic, she said, goes this way: “If I have any information that could help protect my employees, whether they’re at work or at home, or just out on their weekend, I should share it with them.”

Who’s “I” in this scenario? Pickren says it’s increasingly the head of the Global Security Operations Center (GSOC). “Because they’re getting this information, they now become the heartbeat of an organization in response to early detection and Duty of Care,” she said.

GSOCs are concerned about civil unrest, Pickren adds, because they don’t know where their people are anymore. “You might think, well, I know where they live and where they work, but during COVID people aren’t coming into the office. You need to be able to have the capabilities of that mobile geo-fence that just says, ‘If you’re here, this is important, I’m going to give it to you.’”

Bradley agrees. “It’s the idea that we’re now communicating with people outside the office or a business trip. This out-of-hours communication is something that even the most forward-leaning of companies wouldn’t have implemented before the pandemic.”

4. Get real-time information

It’s also no longer enough to get reliable information. Government agencies, in particular, need real-time information.

Harper describes a typical scenario: “I have eyes on the ground. I have officers, firefighters, medics, city and county employees reporting real-time information. And I have social media access to monitor social media, but I don’t have staff to do it.”

“Even as a large government that has intelligence and security centers, the human factor of monitoring all the potential social media, keywords, streams, hashtags, and anything else is completely overwhelming.”

Assimilating all that information and validating what’s real “takes something more than humans,” Harper says. “That’s where the AI component of our risk intelligence solution really adds value. It’s a force multiplier for those data streams.”

Harper notes that sharing information between the private and public sector is more critical than ever. “We’re all responders. We’re all in the mission of protecting ourselves, our people, company, brand, resources and infrastructure. And It shouldn’t just be through conventional media. There should be connection points between business and industry and local government agencies.”

5. Let the experts be the experts

Are there best practices you should keep in mind in terms of managing civil unrest? Pickren ascribes to a tried-and-true maxim: Let the experts be the experts.

Bradley adds these words of wisdom: “The most important thing is validated information.”

“If your town or city has a way for you to subscribe to messages, then signing up for those messages is a good way to get validated information, because you know the source. If they don’t, then follow a Twitter account like your city’s office of emergency management.

“Social media is fine,” Bradley adds, “as long as you’re using first responder Twitter handles.”

Our experts, and many others, believe the civil unrest will continue. As Bradley puts it, “demonstrations are a way of putting pressure on state, local and federal governments to get things done. And because of COVID and everything else, people are very frustrated. Demonstrations provide a way for people to vent their frustrations.”

On the heels of the 2020 election and the uncertainty of how the new year will pan out, how much emphasis should you place on planning for civil unrest events?

“I think it has become a priority, and it will continue to be a priority,” said Bradley. “If this was something you weren’t prepared for in 2020 and you think you can just wait it out into 2021, I would rethink that plan.”

A chaotic event, whether it’s civil unrest or a natural disaster, can have a devastating impact on your business or community. Visit our new Critical Event Management Resource Center to learn how you can protect your people, infrastructure and assets with modern critical event management technology.