2020 seems to be the year that keeps on giving crisis after crisis. A global pandemic and recession, political uncertainty with a US election upcoming, natural disasters—all subjects that have probably been front and centre for many, if not most, of your conversations in the past months. For organisations with operations in the US, demonstrations that tip over into vandalism and violence are a concern only second to COVID-19.
There are several reasons why demonstrations in a country like the US are a cause of concern for security professionals. First, many organisations were caught by surprise. These movements occur quite rapidly, organised often via social media, leaving corporate security departments with limited time to prepare. Second, law enforcement was relatively unsuccessful in containing them and avoiding spill-over violence—raising questions about agencies’ capability and, capacity. Many police departments cancelled their officers’ time off and requested additional assistance from other agencies, including the National Guard. Lastly, after years of globalisation efforts and international focus, many private-sector security professionals do not have the experience or the necessary resources to provide crisis and security support in the US.
With social unrest growing across the US and internationally and law enforcement resources already stretched to their limits, clients turned to Control Risks for rapid security support. One of these clients was a large new-media organisation that had concerns about the wellbeing of its employees, primarily camera crews, in several cities in the midwestern US. Their concern was well-founded given the rising anti-news sentiment in the country and the documented attacks on news crews. The client requested support immediately for their news crews who were covering demonstrations in several cities.
Control Risks supplied our client with security staff, tasked with providing support and oversight for the camera crews during field work. Each camera crew was backed by a two-person team. The teams faced many difficulties, including police roadblocks and curfews, night-time shifts with limited visibility, rapidly evolving and deteriorating security environments and highly visible news crews that attracted attention. These factors were made more challenging due to the COVID-19-related restrictions and social distancing guidelines that were very difficult to adhere to. Despite these significant challenges, Control Risks security teams were able to provide operational security to the news crews by combining threat intelligence feeds and covert security practices.
Soon enough, many other clients requested additional assistance from Control Risks, including support around security, crisis management and surge analytical and threat intelligence. The private security industry, from a security services standpoint, began to experience a sudden shortage of qualified and licensed security professionals to fulfil the exponential increase in demand. This was a stark contrast from a few months earlier when many had been out of work due to the global pandemic.
As we look ahead to the rest of the year, it is apparent that social unrest will continue to be a growing concern. Fuelled by a heightened focus on racism, anti-police sentiment, the proliferation and weaponisation of social media and what is likely to be a contested presidential election, demonstrations and associated violent encounters are likely to occur.
Organisations and the security professionals tasked with protecting them need to prepare accordingly. This includes revising crisis management plans that focus on flexibility and agility, emphasising impact-based response over detailed playbooks and ensuring that surge capacity, including licensed and vetted security agents, are immediately available to staff providing security support.
By Diego Andreu, Principal at Control Risks