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Civil unrest can occur in situations of social upheaval, community tension, or mass gatherings. Ranging from political, racial, or economic discontent to unwieldy sports crowds, these environments can quickly escalate into violent protests, rioting and looting.

The primary concern in these situations is, first and foremost, the safety of your employees, residents and/or tenants. Second to that is the concern for your property.

Because civil unrest may occur with little to no advance notice, it is important to create an incident management plan ahead of time so you and your team know how to take informed, safe and accurate action.

Preparing for & Responding to Civil Unrest Situations

As you create your incident management plan, you will want to consider the three mobilization phases:

Phase 1: Planning

If there is a concern of civil unrest in your area, your team should enter phase 1 which includes the creation or review of your incident management plan. The components of this are explored later on in this resource.

Phase 2: Initial Implementation

If you anticipate civil unrest in the next 24-48 hours, your team will want to begin the initial phases of implementation. This can include the purchase of supplies or materials, proactively boarding up windows or doors, bringing in outside furniture or unsecured items, and alerting residents or tenants.

Phase 3: Active Implementation

If civil unrest occurs, your team moves into phase 3, where they are continuously monitoring the situation and taking the necessary actions to keep any building inhabitants safe, assessing any damage, or calling emergency personnel to assist.

Evaluating Zones of Risk

In active civil unrest situations, it is important to monitor the threat or risk of various areas. FEMA recommends three zone assessments:

  • Hot Zone: This area is considered unsafe; anyone in this zone should be on high alert. You should wait for area to become a warm or cool zone before entering without law enforcement support.
  • Warm Zone: Area of lower threat that may become unsafe; anyone in this zone should be on high alert, and should only travel in this zone to perform essential functions
  • Cold Zone: The area has little to no threat of unrest or violence.

Creating Your Incident Management Plan

There are four components to a successful incident management plan – site planning, personnel planning, communication planning, and recovery or business continuity planning.

Site Planning

Step 1: Assess Your Portfolio

If you oversee multiple properties, evaluate each building and its location to identify which ones are at a higher risk of being impacted by rioting or looting. Downtown properties or locations with retail on the first floor are at a higher risk than suburban, garden style communities.

Step 2: Assess Your Site

The first step to creating your site plan is to assess the building(s). Walk around the perimeter of each building to identify any vulnerabilities. These may include large windows or doors, back entrances, unmonitored alleyways, unlocked parking lots, exterior gas tanks, or nearby areas where crowds may gather.

Also consider what nearby spaces may be likely or probable areas for large gatherings. This could be a courtyard, parking lot, sidewalk, etc. Any area where a group of people can easily gather may be at a higher risk for damage if the situation gets out of control.

Risk Mitigation

Once you have identified the areas of concern, evaluate how you can mitigate the risk in these areas. You may choose to proactively board up windows or doors. If you have any items that are not secured to the ground, such as patio furniture, benches or trash cans, bring them inside where they can be safely secured.

  • Security: Consider having 24 hour security stationed in your building.
  • Vehicles and Parking: If you have any parking lots or garages that you can lock, do so. If there are any cars that cannot be protected inside a gated lot or garage, be sure to remove any valuables from them, keep them locked, and park them were they will be out of the way of any emergency vehicles. You may even consider moving the cars to a separate location that is less of a threat.
  • Utilities: Turn off any utilities, especially in vacant buildings, such as gas or water. Be sure to maintain service to any alarm systems or fire suppression systems. Proactively shutting off any unnecessary utilities can go a long way in preventing secondary damage.
  • Protecting Your Property: Lock all exterior and interior doors and windows. Keep all lights on throughout the building. If you have any combustible materials, such as a propane grill with a gas tank, you may want to bring the grill and tank inside – or remove it from the property entirely to another place where it can safely be stored.
  • Command Centers: Identify command centers for your staff, residents and/or tenants in the event they need to gather somewhere safely during the unrest.
  • Incident & Insurance Information: At least one member of your staff should familiarize his or herself with your insurance policy so there is clarity on coverage, deductibles and the claim process. Have incident forms ready and ensure your team is trained on how to document any damage sustained.

Personnel Planning

 As you plan for the role of and impact on your on-site staff, be sure to consider the following:

  • If civil unrest is anticipated, such as around the time of an election, put all your staff on call during the anticipated timeframe.
  • Depending on your business, encourage employees, residents, or tenants to minimize travel. If possible, have employees work from home to avoid unsafe situations.
  • If your staff need to enter and leave the property during unrest, they should wear casual, civilian clothing to blend in with the crowd. Any badges, personal IDs, keys, wallets, etc. should be secured and hidden from sight.
  • Staff should keep any carried equipment or bags to a minimum.

Identify what external personnel resources you may need to call upon, such as vendors and suppliers. Be sure to equip your team with a list of approved vendors who they can call. This list may include your sprinkler or fire/security alarm companies, a restoration company, or your roofer or window company if you have one.

Understand that in civil unrest situations, many companies may have limited capacity. Not all of their personnel may be willing to deploy into areas of civil unrest. Travel and access to affected areas may significantly reduce. Consider calling your supplier partners in advance to confirm if they are prepared and equipped to respond.

Communication Planning

Closely related to personnel planning is communication planning. The best laid plan will fall apart if a strong communication system is not established. You need to consider both internal and external communication. Having a communication plan will help you communicate any updates as the situation changes. For example, your planned command center may no longer be safe or available, and a new location will need to be communicated

Internal Communication

  • Confirm with your staff, residents or tenants how updates and instructions will be communicated during the period of unrest. Keep in mind that cell phone signal may be limited, internet connection could be unreliable, and there may be delays in sending or receiving texts or emails.
  • Equip your staff with two-way radios and spare batteries to facilitate communication if cell phone service is limited

External Communication

  • Train your team on how to react if they are forced to engage with a rioter or looter. It is crucial that your employee stays calm, avoiding any aggressive behavior. If the rioter or looter is attempting to cause damage to the property or steal goods, your employees should never try to stop him or her. It is not worth risking their safety.
  • Review your media policy with your staff so they know what they should and should not say to the media, and who your media spokesperson is so they can direct any inquiries to him or her.
  • Stay informed as to what is happening so you and your team can react appropriately. Sign up for your city’s emergency notification system. Listen to the radio or review social media to stay abreast of the latest events. You can even download a police scanner app to your smart phone as a way to stay informed

Implementing Your Plan

The key to any emergency plan is not just identifying what actions need to be taken, but also who will take those actions and when they will be taken (i.e. what circumstances will prompt that action). The implementation lies in the “who” and “when” – any plan that does not specify these details will result in a challenging implementation. Consider using a disaster planning tool like Securecore. Our app-based emergency response planning tool allows you to document how your team should respond in the event of an emergency situation like civil unrest, as well as key pieces of information needed in crucial moments.

Especially as you enter Phase 1 & 2 of mobilization, conduct frequent conversations with your team members so everyone is clear on what needs to be done, who is responsible, when they need to be done and, lastly, how you are prepared to adapt if things don’t go according to plan.

The best disaster implementation plans are designed to be dynamic. Your people should be empowered with the information so they can respond and redirect their efforts appropriately as the situation changes.

After each implementation of your plan, be sure to regroup as a team to identify what worked well and what challenges you encountered. Any lessons learned should be integrated into a revised action plan to be referenced during any future circumstances that require it.

References & Additional Resources

Chubb Insurance: Protecting Your Business During Civil Unrest.

Donohue, D. – Preparing for Civil Unrest:

FEMA – Fire & EMS Civil Unrest Response: