Civil Unrest and Business Continuity – Occupiers Disrupt Ports

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Operational Risk and Safety


Port Interruption by Occupy Protestors

HEADLINE:  Occupy protesters blocking gates at West Coast ports, halt operations at some

SUMMARY:  Hundreds of Wall Street protesters blocked gates at some of the busiest ports December 12, causing the partial shutdown of several.  Protestors hoped to cut into the profits of the corporations that run the docks. The closures affected some of the terminals at the ports in Oakland, California, Portland, Oregon, and Longview, Washington.  Protesters picketed gates, beating drums, carrying signs such as “Shutdown Wall St. on the Waterfront” and causing longer wait times for trucks. Though the demonstrations were largely peaceful and isolated to a few gates at each port, local officials in the union that represents longshoremen and, in some cases, port officials, determined the conditions were unsafe for workers. Many workers were sent home out of concerns for their “health and safety.”

Analysis by Lt. Col Oz Hill (Ret.), Firestorm Principal

Occupy Wall Street protesters continue to make their voices heard through methods that many classify as “non-violent protest” or “civil dis-obedience.” Whether or not the vast majority of the nation agrees with the protesters’ concerns, rhetoric, methodology and tactics; individually it is prudent that we are aware of the impact that civil unrest can have on our lives professionally and personally.

The protesters’ blockade of gates at some of the busiest ports in the country caused a partial shutdown of port operations at multiple locations, as well as, the curtailment of revenue generating and enabling functions.

Although the total economic impact of the civil unrest on the West Coast’s shipping industry has not been determined, the loss of wages by many longshoremen, drivers and hourly wage earners who were not able to work as a result of protest activities makes them unintentional victims of the Occupy Wall Street protests.

I am also of the opinion that tactics of this nature potentially places all consumers who depend on shipped goods to meet their personal needs at a disadvantage. The simple rules of “supply and demand” indicate that activities which reduce the supply of goods in the marketplace will ultimately cause us to pay higher prices for the limited supply of goods. The point is that in this particular instance, the protest activities designed to empower those whose voices may not be routinely heard, could place those same individuals at a disadvantage in the short term by reducing the amount of their take-home pay due to reduced work hours and increased prices for some goods due to a reduced supply.

Defining Civil Unrest

I think it is important to invest a little effort in understanding civil unrest a little more. Civil unrest occurs when anger, frustration, or fear turn disruptive en mass or on a large scale. People who are bound together in a sense of community and solidarity over an unpopular policy, war, economic downturn, lack of opportunity, panic over a pandemic, a food shortage, a bank-run—could possibly result in civil unrest.

Researching several sources I found the following definitions of the levels of civil unrest (that I have modified) and the affect they may have on individuals and communities, as well as, considerations for preparedness that I’d like to share.

Level One: The lowest level of civil unrest is when people turn on their own neighborhoods—as happened during the race riots of the 1960s and the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles. Level One civil unrest can be deadly and destructive, but primarily to people who live, work, or must travel in the immediate area. Level One unrest is spontaneous. Dionysian, is confined to a narrow geographical zone where the protestors live. Law enforcement response is generally localized. Unless you’re in the middle of it, you’re not likely to be affected.

Level Two: Level Two civil unrest may also be focused on a single area; but in this case, rioters or protesters have deliberately targeted a business district, a facility, a transportation system, or an organization to impose maximum disruption. One example: the World Trade Organization protests in Seattle in 1999; young people with violence in mind and rage in their hearts attacked an entire downtown, affecting hundreds of businesses and tens of thousands of workers who hardly knew what hit them. Another example: this spring, protesters in Thailand shut down the Bangkok Airport, adversely affecting a large number of individuals and businesses. Level Two unrest usually reflects a degree of planning and organization. The target is chosen deliberately. Although still focused in one area, Level Two can disrupt the normalcy of daily life and business throughout a large geographic region, or possibly the country.

Level Three: Level Three comes when mass civil unrest or authoritarian crackdown causes disruption at a regional or state level. Then, no matter what the original cause or location of the trouble, everyone in the region is affected. Effects might include travel restrictions, random ID checks, mass arrests, food and fuel rationing, controls on money and banking, roadblocks, and other “emergency” restrictions.

Level Four: Level Four is similar to Level Three—but on a national or even international scale. It’s martial law.

Prior to Civil Unrest Occurring

Avoid disaster denial and don’t become complacent.  All too often people tend to have an “it can’t happen here” attitude towards disaster planning. When civil unrest disrupts the supply chain everyone is potentially affected regardless of location or socioeconomic status.

Keep standard emergency preparations up to date. The first thing to do is make sure all our typical household preparedness supplies and plans are current. As Firestorm Newsletter recipients know, non-perishable and back-up food, water, and other supplies are the mainstay for everything from bad storms, to power outages and social breakdowns. During civil unrest, especially at Level Three or Four, we might not be able to purchase the things needed. Commonly these would be food, water, shelter, light and medications.

•    Food:  There are a lot of options available, ranging from freeze dried meals in individual packets to MREs or even long term storage foods in #10 cans.  These can be bought by single ingredient or single meals as well as by assortments that cost thousands of dollars at once, with a wide range of assortments between the single meals and the largest assortments.  Choose what you like and can afford.  Add supermarket foods to round it out, such as vegetable oil, sugar, salt, flour, beans, rice, etc.  Remember, supermarket canned goods only have a 12 month shelf life.  The shelf life for oils is usually about six to nine months.  Sugar and salt last nearly indefinitely, as long as they are kept dry.

•    Water:  Having water containers on hand to fill are fine, but what if there is an unexpected cessation of that faucet working?  Keep some drinking water on hand in containers at all times, at least one gallon per person per day for a 7 day period.  Having water filtration devices or water purification tablets on hand is also a good idea.

•    Shelter:  Staying at home is usually advisable, but for some people, having the option of leaving is a good one as well.  Choose a tent of appropriate size in natural colors such as browns and greens, avoiding neon colored tents.  Having a tent that is portable enough to be carried strapped to your backpack or in your backpack is a good idea.  Including an “emergency tent” in your emergency pack is also a good idea for anything unexpected.  Even tarps make excellent shelters, shades, rain protection, or windbreaks to increase your comfort.   Make sure you have sleeping gear, and if you are intending to use a hammock as your sleep system, make sure to have an insulating pad to use to protect your bottom side in the hammock from cold air in winter.  Have a sleeping bag appropriate to your region’s climate as well.  If it’s too warm, it’s a lot easier to unzip than to stay warm in a bag not rated for the temperatures you are confronting.

•    Light and Heat:  While everyone should carry a flashlight, another obvious answer is fire.  Make sure you have the makings of a fire for heat, light, and cooking needs.  Know how to use that flint & steel, as well as carrying matches and a good lighter.  Using a propane camping light and a propane camping stove may be a consideration for lighting and cooking respectively, but be certain to use as prescribed by the manufacturer. Using the propane equipment improperly could result in injury or death.

•    Medications: Having a bit more available in your medical kit than a couple of aspirins is a great idea.  Even more important is to have a month’s supply of your regular medications on hand at all times.  This preparation will provide you with a cushion should civil unrest disturb shipping and shopping, as well as allow you a cushion in the event of travel.  Add in any regular over-the-counter medications used.

Be vigilant and watch for signs of trouble when in an unfamiliar area. You may find yourself in the middle of a civil unrest protest with little or no warning. When walking, driving, biking, or otherwise traveling in unfamiliar places, stay alert! Never simply allow yourself to meander along oblivious to what is going on around you.

If you spot trouble developing, turn and avoid it if at all possible. If you find yourself unwittingly in the area of a riot, or mass protest that suddenly engulfs your immediate location, and street-level chaos surrounds you, do your best to keep a cool head, move away from the worst of it if you get the chance, and get inside a safe location, if possible.

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