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Securing Key Assets in the Age of Civil Unrest

The Capitol Hill riots of 6 January 2021 opened eyes to the vulnerability of our high-profile assets. More than a year later, the risk of civil unrest to our key assets and other venues of mass gathering hasn’t abated. What can security leaders do to secure key assets? Read on to find out.

Understand the safety risk to key assets

It all starts with assessing risk. High-profile assets have great symbolic value, which make them high-risk targets.

That’s why the failure to assess risk adequately only leads to poor response outcomes, as notes Professor Clifford Stott, an expert in crowd management who has advised the U.K. government:

“It was the failure to predict that that led them [security personnel] to be inadequately prepared when it did happen and led them to be reactive and have to mobilise more resources. It's not just about the complexities of the police response, it's also about what appears to be a poor level of risk assessments around how they understand whether resources might be necessary in the first place.”


Download Integrated Safety and Security Measures to Protect Venues of Mass Gathering Guide

Don’t neglect these key challenges to securing key assets, either

Nor is the failure to predict the only issue to consider. The venues themselves present stark safety and security challenges, as well.

What are they?

These are venues of mass gathering – so labelled because of the high concentrations of people who congregate in them, many times at unpredictable times.

By dint of being highly accessible, those visitors then present bad actors with the opportunity to inflict mass casualties, cause mass economic damage, and instil public fear.

Add to that, closing access to these venues might not always be feasible. That might be for financial, logistical, or symbolic reasons.

What’s more, the sheer size of many of these assets also means that a security incident will usually take multiple internal teams as well as law enforcement and public safety agencies to respond to – another major challenge.

Inter-agency cooperation another concern in securing key assets

And why’s that?

Well, ineffective multi-agency, multi-discipline, and multi-jurisdictional coordination is often cited as a key area for improvement in after-action reviews of high-profile incidents of civil unrest.

So too are related issues, such as lack of multi-agency, multi-discipline, and multi-jurisdictional training and exercises, coordination of response plans, multiple, disjointed, incident action plans, technical communications issues (including interoperability), and lack of communication within the field (situational awareness) and with command.

Besides inter-agency failures, researchers often find that the following goes wrong during high-profile incidents of civil unrest:

  • Failure to effectively share intelligence and information to stakeholders
  • Failure to communicate effectively with the public
  • Public access point workload
  • Public access point technical capabilities (system expansion)
  • Lack of personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • Overall lack of training and exercises
  • Resource management, i.e., securing and distributing equipment and supplies
  • Failure to develop and implement strategy and tactics
  • Aid agency capabilities, training, and experience

Take a lifecycle approach to securing key assets

What then can be done?

The simple answer is that owners, operators, and organisers must identify, asses, and control safety risk in their security and emergency planning processes.

Nor can these stakeholders just perform pro-forma self-assessments and call it a day. They must commit to ongoing risk-mitigating and risk-controlling activities to keep their venues of mass gathering safe.

Given the nature of the risk, those activities must be of an integrated safety and security nature, converging competencies from safety, security, emergency, and crisis management, as well as business continuity throughout the lifecycle of the incident.

How to operationalise such a lifecycle approach? Download our Guide to Integrated Safety and Security Measures to Protect Venues of Mass Gathering and Other Key Assets.

Download Integrated Safety and Security Measures to Protect Venues of Mass Gathering Guide