Business planning is at least in part about risk management and risk mitigation. As businesses of all sizes continue to navigate the unique challenges this year has thrown at them, many business owners are dealing with concerns about civil unrest and how such disturbances might affect their operations both immediately and over the longer term. While the prospect of a civil disturbance or demonstration coming to your doorstep may seem daunting, there are some steps you can take to help ensure the safety of your employees, your property, and your business as a whole. With the right plan in place and properly executed when the time comes, you’ll be in a much more secure position facing whatever may come.
The first step is one you should have completed already: developing disaster preparedness plans for your business and your home and family. While different concerns and risks arise from civil disturbances rather than natural disasters, many components of your disaster plan will be useful should unrest occur around you. Knowing how to evacuate the building quickly and safely, how to secure vital business data, and how to secure your physical building are all vital functions in either emergency. Having a plan and practicing it are a must for all businesses.
Civil unrest differs from many natural disasters in there tends to be very little official warning it is about to happen. Official guidance regarding safety or evacuation tends to be minimal at best. As such, it’s incumbent upon both individuals and business owners to keep their ears to the proverbial ground and monitor both local and national news for sights a disturbance or demonstration might be imminent. Social media is another useful tool for both promoting your business and anticipating civil unrest. Searching for mentions of your city or neighborhood both in the post and with whatever hashtags may be relevant (EG #portlandprotests, #dallasportests) can give you some advanced warning that an event of this type may be on the horizon.
Information is only valuable to the extent it is communicated to the right people. With that in mind, businesses of all sizes need to have a communication plan in place in case the worst happens. This plays multiple roles, allowing you to check-in and see how your employees, partners, and neighboring businesses are doing. Open and regular communications fulfill many needs, from allowing you to support your employee’s mental health and safety up to ensuring you can issue a “work remotely/stay at home” order should the need arise. It goes without saying that having a plan in place for working remotely is a vital business function at this time.
Prior to a possible civil disturbance, it’s wise to have a conversation with your insurance company about your coverage, and in particular your coverage in the event of civil unrest or a riot. This is best done sooner rather than later; as with many disasters both man-made and natural, insurance companies often refuse to issue new policies or new coverage if the event is imminent. Planning in advance can mitigate whatever losses you may experience if worst comes to worst.
It’s also a good idea to talk to your suppliers about deliveries during a period of civil unrest. They may feel obligated or pressured to keep with a regular delivery schedule despite all that’s going on around them. You may want to make it clear if they feel unsafe for any reason, you’ll happily accept your delivery another day or arrange for an alternate delivery location. Likewise, you may want to communicate in advance to your customers’ regular deliveries and services may be temporarily unavailable during a period of civil unrest. In both cases, discussing needs and limitations keeps everyone on the same page and avoids any misunderstandings or points of disagreement and will help in resuming normal business relations after the crisis passes.
The final step in preparing for possible civil unrest is to develop plans and procedures for the physical security of your business. It’s difficult to offer concrete suggestions or a checklist as every business and every location have their own needs, but you’ll want to look at how to secure doors and windows, how to shut down and secure vital equipment, and what you may want to remove from the premises should the need arise. This is a good time to check on the smaller daily things that contribute to a business’s security: how are you managing and securing your cash? Is your alarm system in good working order? Do you have security cameras and are they functioning properly? What about smoke alarms and fire extinguishers? Who has keys to your building, and when were the locks last changed? As always, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure and proper planning can save you a great deal of grief.
This is the first in a two-part series. Now that we have discussed how to prepare for potential civil unrest, in Part 2 we can delve into what to do during and after the event.