Security for businesses: Managing the risk from protests

Freedom of speech and legitimate protest is of course the right of every individual in the UK, but at the same time many businesses will be understandably concerned about the disruptive effect that protests and demonstrations can have on their company, and about the potential dangers that they can face when demonstrators decide to escalate their protest beyond what is legally allowed. Businesses in areas that are at risk therefore need to plan and know how to react to any potential disruption from protestors.

Whilst any city in the UK can be at risk from protests and disorder, London is especially so. This is because it is the UK’s capital city, is home to approximately 1/8th of the entire UK population, is where the UK government, parliament and monarchy is based, as well as the headquarters of key high profile businesses, Britain’s financial services sector in the City of London, and a large number of buildings and memorials of national importance. For these key reasons, London has been a key terrorist target for the past 40 years and is often the location of protests and demonstrations from a range of activist groups, many of which culminate in violence. Businesses right across the capital are therefore at particular risk.

This article is therefore written with a particular focus on London but the key points contained below can be applied to businesses across the UK. Any business can be at risk from protests and disorder, as the riots in the summer of 2011 demonstrated. Those events acted as a warning and a wakeup call to many businesses and hopefully will have focused their thoughts on how best to protect their premises and their staff. This article aims to help your organisation meet the challenges posed by civil unrest, and should help you to both reduce the impact of legitimate protest on your day to day business as well as handle any criminal activity that may take place as part of the protest.

What is the risk to businesses?

Businesses face risks from two key types of protest: legitimate protests and illegitimate protests. The latter are those that take place without any reference to the authorities. They are often carried out by protest groups determined to cause maximum disturbance to businesses and even criminal damage. Businesses can also face risks from legitimate protests when groups or individuals depart from the route that has been agreed with the authorities with the intention of going beyond the bounds of lawful protest.

The impact of protests can therefore range from minor inconvenience to severe disruption, and in some cases a company may find itself under direct physical threat. Protestors may aim to damage an organisation’s reputation, damage them economically and even injure people associated with them. Extreme protests may include picketing, occupying business premises, harassing contractors, and being violent towards staff. All of this is intimidation.

Who is most at risk?

Businesses most likely to be at risk are those that are directly involved with the issue being protested about, or if they operate in ways or in parts of the world that might make them the target of extremists. So, if you are a bank or financial institution then you are most likely to be at risk if there is an anti-capitalist protest, or the headquarters of a company involved in animal research will be at risk if the protest is against testing on animals. However, it is not just businesses that are directly involved which may be at risk; protestors may be willing to attack businesses that are associated in some way to what they are protesting against, for example if they have the same owner, or if they do business with each other. Your business may be targeted just by being a supplier, and therefore you are guilty through association in the protestors’ eyes.

What role do the police play?

The police work closely with all parties concerned and affected in order to ensure a co-ordinated response to protests, and to deal with their aftermath. It is crucial for businesses in London and in other major cities that are at risk of protests and disorder to regularly liaise with their local police force. The police are there to protect the lives and livelihoods of all the people who live and work in their area, and their experience and expertise is crucial.

If there is a demonstration or protest planned, organisers are required to liaise with the police regarding the route and timings, and so the police will always be best placed to advise businesses on the impact that it may have, and on things like road closures and access restrictions. However, as has been mentioned, not all protests are legal, and activists want to operate illegally will either avoid their legal duty to liaise with the police, or will provide them with misleading information. Police will of course intervene when the law is broken, but can only take action if there is a serious risk of a breach of the peace or if offences are committed under the Public Order Act.

Businesses should remember though that as well as being there to protect people who live and work in the area, the police also have a responsibility towards those who wish to exercise the right that everyone has to protest lawfully. When policing a march or protest, they have to balance the right to protest peacefully with the right of individuals and companies to go about their daily business, so they can’t just stop a legal, legitimate and peaceful protest. Injunctions can be brought that ban or limit the activities of protestors, but it should be noted that they are civil rather than criminal orders and that any breach is a civil matter.

How can you help the police?

The police depend on the support, co-operation and vigilance of individuals and businesses in their community in order to carry out their role effectively and to make sure that the areas they cover are safe, secure and attractive places for everyone to live and work. If you become aware of anything suspicious or notice activity that is out of the ordinary, such as hostile surveillance of your building, either in the run up to a planned protest or at any other time then you should report it to the police. Although something might seem insignificant when taken in isolation, it could provide a vital link to the bigger picture and wider investigation.

What is Project Griffin?

Businesses in major cities, and in particular London, should be aware of Project Griffin. This is a police initiative to protect our cities and communities. It specifically targets the threat of terrorism but also has implications for security in general. It brings together and coordinates the police, emergency services, local authorities, businesses and the private sector security industry. It was first introduced in London in April 2014 with a remit to advise and familiarise managers, security officers and employees of large public and private sector organisations on security, counter-terrorism and crime prevention issues. It was a huge success in London, and is now recognised as national best practise and is being implemented by police forces, cities and communities throughout the UK. To find out more you can visit the Project Griffin website.

Reviewing your security

Businesses can reduce the risk to themselves, their employees and their clients by staying security minded. Just a small investment in security measures can help to protect businesses against crime of any kind.

All organisations that have offices in cities or areas that may witness protests or disorder should review and test their internal and external security procedures on a regular basis. Protest events can be unpredictable, and therefore businesses need to take steps to protect themselves and to minimise potential disruption. Businesses need to not only assess the potential threat to their organisation but also to those companies that either share their building or are adjacent to it, in order to avoid being a victim of collateral damage.

The first step that a business should take is to appoint a Domestic Extremism Co-Ordinator (DECO) to fully oversee its whole security planning process, including counter-extremism policies and procedures. They should create a company security policy, produce a risk assessment, devise appropriate contingency plans, run evacuation drills, and be the point of contact with the police and emergency services.

Businesses need to think about what the weak points are. Typical vulnerabilities in business premises usually include delivery bays, access points and post rooms. All of these should have effective security systems and procedures in place to verify the identity of staff and visitors, and to be able to track deliveries of large packages or goods.

However, a business may be vulnerable in other ways too. Information about your employees, premises or services that is available in the public domain and therefore easy for outsiders to access may leave your business exposed. You should check all sources of publicly held information, such as internet sites and in particular social media, and take steps to reduce its availability if possible.

Businesses should also think about detecting and combating possible guerrilla activity. An example of this is “professional intrusion”, when employees join an organisation for subversive purposes. Businesses also need to think about internet security, and how they might be at risk from cyber threats such as a virus attack.

Using CCTV equipment

Businesses need to check that all of their CCTV equipment is properly working and that the cameras are cited correctly on a regular basis. Proper maintenance and positioning is vital if CCTV monitoring is installed in reception lobbies or lift areas in order to provide a visual, timed record of everyone entering and leaving the premises. If this isn’t done then it is a waste of money installing CCTV equipment in the first place. It is advised by the police that CCTV pictures should be of a high quality in case they are needed as evidence in court, and that they are kept for a maximum of 31 days.

Manned guarding and other security measures

Businesses may also wish to consider increasing or introducing manned guarding at their premises in order to provide a visible deterrent to disruption and violence from protests, and to combat other security risks. Security guards should be easily identified and should be trained and well briefed as to their roles and responsibilities.

If a demonstration has been identified as potentially violent then businesses may need to consider whether or not they need to board up their premises. This decision must be left to the individual business owner. However, businesses might want to consider the option of installing quick-close security gates and protective barriers which could protect them not only against protests but also other potential threats.

Informing and looking after your staff

The first priority of any business is the safety of both its staff and its visitors, and it is essential for organisations to retain the complete confidence of their staff before, during and after protest activity in their area.

Staff that either work within organisations or that work nearby to premises that are the target of violent protest will become extremely nervous if they are not provided with up to date information about what the protestors are doing. Businesses should therefore keep their staff full informed and advised at every stage using methods such as email, verbal or written briefings, the intranet, Tannoy or intercom. Businesses must make sure their staff know exactly what they have to do if the building needs to be evacuated, and it is also important that staff are kept updated on a regular basis even when there are no major developments.

You should also make sure your staff are aware of the impact that the demonstrators’ activity is likely to have on them outside of your business premises – for example on the transport infrastructure that they use when travelling between business venues or to and from home. You have a duty of care towards your employees.

Your should make your staff accustomed to following preventative procedures such as locking away documentation at the end of each day, logging out of or locking their computers, shredding documents which are no longer required, keeping an incident log and removing an external rubbish or rubble that could be used as missiles.

There might be steps that you can take to help your staff as well, for example by introducing flexible working patterns on the day or any protest to reduce the risk to them. So, you could allow them to change the times they arrive at or leave the office so as to avoid travelling at times that protests and demonstrations are taking place, or even allow them to work from home. Alternatively, you could allow employees to “dress down” and wear their leisure clothes to work so that they don’t stand out as working in business if appropriate. For example, if there was an anti-capitalist protest going on, people walking through the City of London wearing suits might stand out as working in the financial sector and so be potential targets. This would of course depend on the nature of the demonstration and would need to be decided on a case by case basis.

Contingency planning and the importance of business continuity

Businesses at risk should establish emergency plans that include a testing and review process, and which establish liaison points with local authorities and the emergency services. At the most basic level, the plan should define who does what, earmark temporary office accommodation and your means for protecting assets for the duration of an alert, as well as outline how communications will be secured for the duration of the incident.

Business organisations should develop business continuity plans so that they are able to continue to trade and maintain their reputation during and immediately after any major disruption from demonstrations or terrorist attacks. The same could be used in the event of any natural disasters. Having a business continuity plan will not only help your company to deal with the emergency, but it will also send out a strong, positive signal to your customers that you are a resilient organisation, and this will give your company a competitive advantage. The goal has to be to get back to business as usual as quickly as possible. If a business is out of action for any extended length of time they risk losing customers and damaging their reputation. An increasing number of businesses actually cease trading following a major disruption when they have no effective business continuity plan in place. Business continuity plans should cover the issues that have been raised in this article.

And you might think that it will never happen to you, but what about if it happens to a supplier that you rely upon? In 2011 the Business Continuity Institute and the Chartered Institute of Purchasing & Supply carried out a survey which showed that 85% of businesses were disrupted by at least one supply chain incident over a 12 month period, and that around a third experienced more than six such disruptions. If you are reliant on suppliers, you need to have plans in place to make sure your business can continue if something happens to them.

The best starting point for a business looking to draw up a business continuity plan is the British Standard on Business Continuity (BS 25999) which was developed by business continuity practitioners and published in December 2006 as a system based on good practice for ensuring business continuity management. BS2999 is now considered to be the single reference point for identifying the range of controls needed for most situations and is used by large, medium and small organisations in the industrial, commercial, public and voluntary sectors. To get advice about business continuity issues, visit the Business Continuity Institute’s website – www.thebci.org