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Civil unrest: important lessons for protecting lives and businesses

Actions that property owning organizations can take to better protect facilities, tenants and employees from civil unrest.

Article provided by Preparis.


The recent killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, sparked a national response so powerful that frequent protests ignited throughout the United States bringing greater awareness to injustices that are still prevalent in our modern society. These protests and demonstrations, when performed peacefully, can bring together a community in ways that few other actions can; however, as can be seen with the happenings surrounding Ferguson, protests have a way of spiraling out of control, causing catastrophic damage and loss of life.

From a property management perspective, it is important for the safety of your tenants and the protection of your properties to understand the cultural dynamics within the communities adjacent to your business locations, stay abreast of the events involving political discord that could permeate those business locations, prepare for the worst scenario—civil disturbances involving your properties—and properly respond to instances of civil unrest. This article offers a guide to help you begin the process of achieving these goals in the event that other instances of civil unrest hit closer to home.

Recognizing civil unrest

Analyzing the crowd

Often used interchangeably, civil unrest and civil disturbance describe a time in which the public, in whole or in part, is in a troubled emotional state, usually in objection to some event or ruling. These terms are generally applied to the wide range of actions that groups can take during these periods of turmoil: such as protests, demonstrations, and riots.

Although we have a right to publicly assemble, like our other constitutional rights, the line is drawn when the threat of violence is likely or acts of violence are evident. One lesson learned from Ferguson is that even the most well-intentioned crowd can quickly erupt into violent behavior. That is because crowds are not made up of one cohesive unit and, even though a crowd may gather for a similar cause, the individuals and subgroups therein may have ulterior motives.

In the April 2014 Army Techniques Publication on Civil Disturbances (ATP 3-39.33), escalated tumultuous crowd dynamics are described in one of the following three ways:

  • Public disorder: a basic breach of civic order. Individuals or small groups assemble and often have a tendency to disrupt normal order.
  • Public disturbance: turmoil on top of the initial disruption. Individuals and groups assemble often and begin chanting, yelling, singing, and voicing individual or collective opinions.
  • Riot: one or more groups or individuals within a crowd threaten or act violently toward other people or property and create an extremely volatile environment.

Reading through these descriptions, it is easy to see how the peaceful protest contributing to public disorder can rise to public disturbance and even riots as the environment within the initial protest continually reacts to internal and external attitudes and actions.

Understanding community dynamics

According to ATP 3-39.33, there are several reasons why a particular community, group, or subgroup may be more likely to exhibit collective troubled emotional attitudes. These reasons include “economic hardships, social injustices, ethnic differences (leading to oppression), objections to world organizations or certain governments, political grievances, terrorist acts, other man-made disasters, and natural disasters”. Depending on the location of your buildings, one or more of the above sensitive topics may already be in play in your area. Knowing which exists, if any grievances exist, can help you anticipate a potential disturbance.

Below is a list of suggestions to help you understand the community dynamics near your properties:

  • Research the local demographics.
    There are several websites that detail the demographics of the population neighboring your properties, like City-Data, for example. Reviewing this information periodically will give you a sense of communal opinions, especially as they relate to events that happen locally. In the case of Ferguson, the racial tension within the community had persisted for years; property managers in that area who were in tune with this tension would have been able to react more quickly to better protect their buildings and tenants.

  • Get to know your tenants.
    Depending on the business mission and interests of the tenants within your building, some may be more prone to acts of civil unrest directed towards them than others. Getting to know the businesses operating within your building will give you a better understanding of the likelihood that demonstrators may congregate outside of and attempt to gain access to your property.

  • Take note of the major organizations near your buildings.
    More than just knowing the mission and goals of your tenants, it is also important to have a sense of the businesses and organizations surrounding your properties. Is your building next to an international political activist group headquarters? Do your tenants share a parking lot with city hall? Answering these and other similar questions can increase your awareness of potential civil disturbances.

  • Be aware of conventions, celebrations, and other events scheduled nearby.
    Events scheduled to take place near your buildings can cause more than traffic jams; if the event draws an emotional or highly charged crowd, it is possible for protests to erupt. Being aware of these special circumstances can assist with prepping your tenants for potentially violent incidents.

Preparing for the worst

Staying informed

Staying up-to-date with the news of the activities and events near your properties can seem like a daunting task, depending on the number of properties you manage and whether or not you live nearby. One way to easily keep track of major events your tenants, neighboring businesses, and communities as a whole produce or participate in is through the use of social media. Following their companies on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, for example, will give you access to their most current information. Additionally, subscribing to related feeds or newsletters will give you other channels for staying informed.

Awareness of what could happen to your tenants, properties, or both is not enough. Your tenants should also be aware of what steps to take in the event of civil unrest, but specifically, your role and expectations. Share your property incident management plan and be sure to practice it.

Responding to civil disturbances

In the event that you or your tenants do not have an incident management plan in place and civil unrest is unfolding in your vicinity, the following may be used to help you get your tenants and property through the situation as safely as possible:

  • Avoid the disturbance
    If a large group is gathering outside the building and it looks suspicious, instruct your tenants to take caution and try to leave the area before the situation escalates. Notify local law enforcement of the situation and follow instructions.

  • Avoid conflict
    If it is not possible to avoid the disturbance, inform tenants to remain inside and away from windows and the lobby. If evacuation is necessary, do so calmly and avoid confrontations with demonstrators.

  • Secure the building
    Direct your tenants to lock all doors and secure all sensitive areas and suggest they appoint a responsible employee or station security personnel near the main door to monitor authorized access for visitors entering and exiting. Report but do not touch any foreign or unusual items left behind by demonstrators.

  • React calmly if confronted
    If approached by a demonstrator, do not act aggressively. If they attempt to rob you, give up your possessions freely. No THING is worth your LIFE.

  • Take precautions if caught in the disturbance.
    If you get caught in the middle of the disturbance, keep your head and body protected and attempt to move to the edge of the crowd. If you fall, curl into a ball and protect your head and neck. Get back up as soon as you are able.

The best way to respond to civil unrest is to devise a strategy, train and test it, and implement it as quickly as necessary.

•Date: 19th September 2014 • US/World •Type: Article • Topic: BC: facilities & buildings

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