PlanB Consulting

Preparation for Protest

In this week’s bulletin, Charlie discusses how to prepare your company against protesters. Taking into consideration the safety of your staff, protesters and your company’s reputation.

With the Extinction Rebellion in London last week and the COP26 (Conference of the Parties) happening in Glasgow, in 6 weeks. I thought it might be a good time to think about how we can prepare for being caught up in protests, or how you should respond if your organisation is targeted. Climate change is only going to get a more heightened profile and I do think an increasing number of different organisations will start getting targeted by protesters, therefore, organisations need to be ready. Hearing that the WWF (World Wildlife Fund) was targeted by protesters in London, alerted me to the fact that any organisation could be a target.

Here are my thoughts on the types of actions that organisations should start to carry out and some general comments on protesters;

1. Do not underestimate your adversary. Protesters can be highly intelligent, they do comprehensive research on their targets, they know how they can disrupt the business, and what actions they can carry out to gain maximum publicity. They know how to avoid police surveillance and how to keep operational security in the dark, revealing their targets at the very last moment. They are prepared to dedicate a considerable amount of time and effort to breaching and disrupting their target. Protesters trying to disrupt HS2 at Euston earlier this year dug a 100-foot tunnel and nine of them spent 30 days down the tunnel. They also know their rights and many attend weekend camps to learn how to successfully protest.

2. If you think your company might be targeted, you should have plans to deal with this at three levels. The operational level should include; security staff, receptionists, those that control who can access your sites, and those who are working on-site in liveried uniforms and vehicles. Include supervisors and managers in your operational plans. Tactical plans should be developed at the organisational level; so if the organisation is targeted at a number of different sites, or the attack is prolonged, they know exactly how to respond. Lastly, plans need to be developed at the strategic level for example, how the organisation will respond to the reputational aspects of the attack. Plans should include how to respond to a number of different scenarios. Like all good contingency plans for specific events, they should be flexible so they can take into account a wide range of different events and possible protester actions.

3. Understand your rights and what you can do in response to protesters actions. This could range from dealing with a crowd, what to do if your personal safety is threatened, preventing trespassing and ensuring the safety of protesters. Protesters will know their rights, if you infringe upon that right they will be very quick to take action against you, either in court or in the media. Sometimes they will try and provoke you or your staff into reacting to gain publicity. In the 1990s when I was in the army in Northern Ireland on operations, we had rules of engagement cards which gave us a very simple set of rules whenever we could not use our weapons. I think organisations at the operational level should develop a similar set of rules for their staff to clarify what they can and cannot do in response to protesters. Staff need to be continually trained on these rules and as new staff are employed then they must also receive training. This may potentially be a big task when contract security staff are employed.

4. Review your security. Conduct a business continuity threat analysis, so that you are able to understand your single point of failures, most critical activities and where protesters could disrupt your organisation. If you believe that protesters could do the same research and understand your vulnerabilities, you should carry out a security review to ensure that they can easily access these key points. Is there some sort of barrier between someone entering the building, then getting beyond the lobby and into the rest of the building? The stereotype of protesters is that they wear grunge clothes and have coloured hair so are easy to spot. Protesters will do their reconnaissance and if the staff in suits are being ushered into the building without being checked, they will also wear suits to get into the building. In 2019, Greenpeace protesters protested at the annual Bankers and Merchants Dinner at Mansion House as Chancellor Philip Hammond delivered a speech on ‘the state of UK politics and how Brexit’ could impact the UK economy. They got access to the venue as they were dressed appropriately for the occasion.

5. Adopt an operating regime in case of protests in your area. During an event like COP26, there will be many protests and in previous cases, these have ended in violence. All organisations in and around Glasgow should have plans in place for how they will operate during this time. Here are some ideas I think you should consider having within your operating regime: (1) Staff should be encouraged to work from home and avoid coming into the office. (2) Employees should not be wearing clothing or badges that could give away their identity and connection to the organisation they work for. (3) You may also choose to close the reception, you can inform your employees to use a side door or a less obvious entrance. (4) Develop response plans; taking into consideration a number of different eventualities if you have not already done so, and then exercise those plans to make sure everyone within your organisation is ready to respond.

We need to make sure that our response to COVID-19 does not become all-consuming and that we recognise there are other threats out there which we also need to prepare for. If you would like some help in preparing your organisation for protests then we would be delighted to help! 

About Charlie Maclean-Bristol

Charlie Maclean-Bristol is one of the Founders and Directors of PlanB Consulting. He is also the Training Director of Business Continuity Training Ltd., a UK-based training provider accredited by the Business Continuity Institute. Charlie is a former Business Continuity Institute board member and one of the very few Fellows of both the Emergency Planning Society and the Business Continuity Institute.

A former Infantry Captain in the British Army, Charlie held several emergency planning, business continuity and crisis management positions within the energy and utility industry before founding PlanB Consulting in 2007. Over the past twelve years, Charlie has delivered business continuity consultancy in 6 of the worlds 7 continents, frequently providing full business continuity roll-outs to organisations of all sizes and in all sectors.

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