We Don’t Want You To Be Scared, We Want You To Be Prepared

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Today, news passes by in seconds and we then move on to the next conflict, the next viral sensation, the next crisis. But over the past few days, some news has held our attention; civil unrest in Ferguson, Missouri; the horrifying and despicable beheading of an American journalist; a thwarted school massacre plot planned by two teenagers in Pasadena, California; increasing deaths from Ebola and an attack on an Ebola isolation ward in the Liberian capital Monrovia.  We read about war in the Ukraine, and Yazidi refugees on a mountain in Iraq.

We are practical, pragmatic people at Firestorm – we don’t share these instances to scare you – the world is scary enough on its own.  We do share information on instances such as these to prepare you – not for some apocalyptic cataclysm, but for the world as it is, now, today.


If we look at the case of civil unrest in Ferguson, we see many people suffering. The grocery store owner trying to stay in business after multiple lootings.  The people in the community, loyal to the store trying to help clean up the aftermath.

Civil unrest occurs when anger, frustration, or fear turn disruptive en mass or on a large scale. Instances where people are bound together by 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.

In 2009, writer Clair Wolfe defined Civil Unrest in the following manner:

Walmart parking lot

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, it 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.

anonymousWhile the case in Ferguson may be classified as a Level One, it had (has) the potential to reach Levels 2 and 3. The combination of confusing crisis messaging from Federal, State and local authorities intertwined with a call for protest, created concern and confusion for many.

The call for peaceful protest spread virally via social media as NMOS14 (National Moment of Silence 2014) in 90+ cities, and was in some cities usurped by groups external to the intent of the protests and more focused on an agenda of anarchy. This had the potential to create far greater turmoil across the country, and there were many arrests as a result.
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, or even worse “Oh, you’re overreacting.”

According to Lloyd’s, demand for political risk insurance has been rising as civil unrest and political violence continue to threaten businesses around the world.  When civil unrest disrupts the supply chain, everyone is potentially affected regardless of location or socioeconomic status.

For your business, have a plan; can your business operate if employees cannot get to work? Do you have an alternate worksite plan? Our partners at Regus Worldwide have deep experience in this area, and have provided temporary worksites for thousands of international employees displaced from work due to civil unrest and acts of war.

Your employees may be fearful as well, and look to Senior Management for leadership.

Questions to ask:

  • Can my business survive a disruption?
  • Will Insurance cover my losses if looting or vandalism occurs?
  • If emergency preparedness plans are activated and a designated employee is sent to an alternative worksite, may a designated employee refuse to go?
  • How will attendance policies be enforced?
  • May an employee work a flexible work schedule in the event of a civil unrest crisis?
  • Can management mandate an alternative work schedule?

Refer to this article related to a major transportation disruption – the same lessons apply.

Keep standard emergency preparations up to date. Make sure all preparedness supplies and plans are current. 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, basic necessities – food, water, shelter, power and medications – may be unavailable.

Be vigilant and watch for signs of trouble; you may find yourself in the middle of a civil unrest event 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.

Last, stay informed: know what is going on in your community, your city, state, nation and the world.

“One of the tests of leadership is the ability to recognize a problem before it becomes an emergency.”

-Arnold H. Glasow

Prepare in advance for the unexpected by taking the necessary steps and precautions to protect your business and your employees from civil unrest and street protests.

Here are some quick tips from Hub to help you minimize disruption, maintain customer confidence and keep your employees safe.

  1. Meet with local authorities and other companies in your area to discuss each other’s actions and how you can work together to mitigate risks and respond to events.
  2. Evaluate the physical protection of your property and consider:
    • Adding a barrier to the perimeter of your property, such as using crowd control barriers (aka French barriers) as a physical and psychological barrier, and to demarcate “no access” zones;
    • Providing additional signage (e.g. no camping, no trespassing) to discourage loitering and unauthorized access.
    • Ensure that your legal department or legal advisor reviews any signage before it is placed on the property.
  3. Consider increasing the use of visible security presence on the days when demonstrations or marches are planned. This could include the use of trained, third party security contractors.
  4. Proactively use video cameras to monitor the situation, especially during a scheduled protest.
  5. Assign individuals in your organization to gather intelligence and monitor news sources and social media so you can be aware of any emerging risks to your business as well as changes or delays in the transportation system.
  6. Evaluate potential disruptions to your operations (e.g. denial of access to building, staff are unable to get to work, loss of a key vendor or service provider, etc.) and develop alternate operating strategies in the event of a disruption.
  7. Update emergency notification, emergency response, evacuation and business continuity plans to ensure all plans are current.
  8. Hold training sessions for your employees on emergency response and notification plans so that everyone understands procedures and knows how to communicate during an adverse event or business disruption.
  9. Identify key leaders and hold a table-top exercise to walk through various scenarios and discuss how your organization would respond to various events. Some scenarios could include: limited staff availability, denial of access to a building, responding to civil disturbances outside of your building or responding to building damages from protesters.
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