Mass Shootings, War and Riots: Social Unrest Is Plaguing Our Streets. Will Your Business Be Caught in the Fray?

With civil unrest exposure teetering high, here's what businesses can do to protect themselves, while mitigating the risk.
By: | July 19, 2022

Ask anyone to list a few instances of civil unrest the world has collectively witnessed over the last two years, and you may not hear the same answer twice.

Black Lives Matter protests swept the globe after the murder of Minnesota resident George Floyd by police officer Derek Chauvin in May 2020. In early 2021, angry rioters flooded the United States Capitol after falsely believing the 2020 presidential election was illegitimate. Demonstrations to speak out against gun violence have become the norm.

Oslo residents were shook by the country’s first mass shooting in over a decade after a gunman entered a gay bar during Pride and opened fire. More recently, the Sri Lankan presidential palace was invaded by protestors, calling for the president to resign.

This is only a small collection of the civil unrest events in recent history, and they unfortunately will be joined by more in the future.

It has become a normal component of our society’s behavior. The risk exposure is vast. And though a business, company or organization may not be the target of destruction, they can still get caught in the civil unrest crosshairs.

Because of this, it is crucial for businesses to not only understand the exposures that lie within a civil unrest event, but also how to develop a protection plan should civil unrest impact them.

Allianz Risk Consulting’s Civil Unrest Risk Bulletin outlines how businesses can readily protect themselves against civil unrest events and the exact steps that need to be taken to achieve this.

How Did We Get Here?

While the threat of civil unrest has always been possible, the past couple of years have created a volatile storm for these types of events to occur.

Srdjan Todorovic, head of global political violence & hostile environment solutions, Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty, discussed what has led to this growing severity and frequency.

“The last two years [have been like] no other that [I’ve seen] certainly in my lifetime,” he said.

The impact of the pandemic has contributed to people’s growing frustrations, including lockdown protocols and regulations. From an economic standpoint, COVID-19 has caused strain, from supply chain disruption to rising prices from inflation. With abnormalities still high, people are not only frustrated, but weary.

Todorovic said that while some sense of normality has been reintroduced, “you’re seeing that the scar [of] what’s happened in the last number of years is still there.”

More recently, Russia’s war on Ukraine has tacked on another debilitating geopolitical event, as sanctions on Russia have contributed to rising oil and gas prices.

But unquestionably, the engrained use of social media within society has played a major role in the rise of civil unrest.

“Social media has played a part in the fueling of the fire on many, many issues,” Todorovic said. “It shouldn’t be underestimated.”

Social media’s influence does not merely end at its ability to spread information to the masses in quick fashion. According to Todorovic, its capability to mobilize people has also coincided with the rise of civil unrest.

“It has had a uniting effect in very contradictory terms,” he said. “Previously people [would] protest together in smaller numbers in a particular town or city. In some respects, social media has made the theater of protests much, much bigger.”

He continued, “People are not only protesting in one city, but they can be mobilized in other cities for the same cause.”

Social media use has made the probability of protests occurring on a bigger and more frequent scale that much more likely. That also means the likelihood of a protest resulting in civil unrest is incredibly heightened.

The Phases of Civil Unrest

The risk of civil unrest is not subsiding. All businesses and companies can do is best prepare themselves, should the risk come knocking at their doors.

Srdjan Todorovic, head of global political violence & hostile environment solutions, Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty

The bulletin lays out three phases of escalation that occur within a civil unrest event, which would enable businesses to develop emergency preparedness response plans with respect to a civil unrest timeline.

The phases include:

  • Phase 1: An incident that initiates disturbance within a small group.
  • Phase 2: The smaller group intensifies as other individuals join the group after being alerted by social media or news outlets. These individuals typically join the protesting group with the intention of causing damage, and “are not concerned or associated with the incident that gave rise to the disturbance,” according to the bulletin.
  • Phase 3: Organized groups engage in the unrest with “planned disruptive activities” that are directed “against targets of opportunity,” per the bulletin.

These timeline phases give businesses the chance to view an event of civil unrest and to identify its moments of escalation and danger.

Plan, Plan, Plan

Business must have a well-thought-out emergency preparedness response plan if they are directly impacted by a protest that grows unruly and dangerous.

For those businesses that do not know where to start, both the bulletin and Todorovic agree that taking a good look at your specific exposures is an optimal first step.

“The planning phase is very much [asking these questions]: Where are we at? What are our current risk exposures? Is our company on the higher end of exposure based on our geography? Are we associated with globalization?” he said.

Todorovic also said that businesses could tap into utilizing their communications team to conduct research, if they had the resources to do so, or even collaborate with local authorities to determine its true risk exposure.

Once these assessments are complete, businesses can then craft mitigation efforts specifically catered to their exposures and concerns surrounding civil unrest.

The bulletin stressed the need for businesses’ response plans to be detailed with clear lines of communication should the plan need to be enacted. Response plans should also include action for all staff members to take, despite their position level.

Other efforts the bulletin suggest businesses undertake include maintaining clear communication with law enforcement from all levels, reviewing drill procedures, conducting exposure assessments regularly, and ensuring that proper insurance coverage limits are up to standards.

Of course, businesses should also work to physically protect store and office locations from civil unrest.

This can include installing protective coverings over windows and doors, closing business before a known/scheduled protest, and removing exterior property that could be damaged or used with the intent to damage.

Response and Mitigation Efforts

A business’ response and mitigation practices hold just as much importance as its preparedness plan when it comes to civil unrest risk. By having these types of efforts in place, businesses can reduce the impact of civil unrest or  its effects altogether.

The bulletin lists several avenues a business can take to develop an effective mitigation response.

Employees who have received training can be more aware of potential risk and danger, such as abandoned suitcases, backpacks, or packages, as well as “gatherings of unknown individuals around the business,” according to the bulletin.

Other efforts mentioned include reporting violent acts or property destruction, securing the business should unrest occur and evacuating employees if needed.

Todorovic also discussed the benefits of a mitigation plan for businesses in terms of their marketing and social media presence.

“This goes hand in hand with the planning and development stages,” he said. “If, for example, [your business] has a very active social media or marketing team, [engaging in] media training, monitoring your brand and how its perceived in the public domain, is very important.”

Ultimately, not every business or organization will encounter the mirage of risks that come with a civil unrest event. But Todorovic hopes that businesses who do read the bulletin “understand what risks [they may] face and what position they [are in].”

Then, “businesses can see these scenarios that could cause strain, [whether that be] losing property or [being targeted] in some way.” &

Emma Brenner is a staff writer with Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected].

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