Out of respect for the victims and loved ones of the recent events that claimed the lives of police officers as well as members of the public, in this post, I have refrained from my usual “firedogisms.” Our hearts go out to all of those affected by the violence.
Civil disorder, also known as civil unrest, is a broad term typically used by law enforcement officials to describe an unhappy group of people whose goal is to express displeasure through riots, violence and mayhem which disrupt a community. Although the motivation for action varies (political unrest, severe weather, fire, or socio-economic instability, to name a few), the ensuing outcomes are often dire. In fact, in recent weeks, civil unrest has led to loss of life in the United States in Dallas, TX; Baton Rouge, LA; Ferguson, MO; and Falcon Heights, MN…to name just a few. According to CNN, the Dallas shooting and murder of five officers was the deadliest for police since Sept. 11, 2001 when 72 officers were killed in the line of duty.
In addition to life-threatening injuries sustained by police officers and demonstrators, some of the fallout from these events has impacted innocent bystanders. So, even as we collectively mourn as a nation over the heartbreaking loss of life, we want to take this opportunity to provide tips for staying safe if you find yourself in the mix during a riot or other violent public demonstration.
What to do if you are at work when a protest breaks out nearby
During the protest:
- Make contact with the senior responsible party for your office (onsite) and follow their instructions. If you are the senior person in charge, follow the instructions from your onsite security/property management team. If you have an emergency plan, refer to standard protocols set forth.
- Check with the senior person in charge to determine if a lockdown of the property is necessary.
- Relocate to the incident command center, building lobby or other location per their instructions.
- Record any pertinent information, such as signage, group size, group name and group location. Determine if the gathering is peaceful, organized, and/or on the building’s property. If the answer is “yes” to all three questions, approach the leader and ask that the group remove themselves from the property.
- If the crowd fails to disperse or becomes hostile, call 911 immediately. Once emergency personnel arrive, allow them to handle the situation and assist only as requested.
- If violence erupts and you are unable to evacuate, move away from all windows and close window coverings. Move to the safest areas in the building, taking cell phones, a fire extinguisher, first aid supplies and other provisions.
Following an Emergency Situation:
- Reset and/or restore all systems and equipment to operational condition.
- Respond to any emergency conditions as necessary.
- Conduct a full assessment of building and grounds for damage.
- Take photographs to document the incident and any property damage.
- If people are evacuated, implement a full or partial reentry as directed by the local authorities. Hold doors open and call elevators for customers. Do not discuss the incident, just state that the local authorities authorized reentry. Document the chain of events that occurred. Answer the question who, what, where, when, why and how.
- Incorporate dates, times, location, full names of participants, employers and titles.
- When directed by the person in charge, or the police department, use the PA system to share information with the building occupants. Repeat the message three times, per floor.
Wherever you are when a protest breaks out:
1. Stay put. You may be out and about when a demonstration and associated violence spontaneously evolve. Most experts agree that the best way to steer clear of chaos is by staying put until the fervor dies down. If you are able to, in advance of the event, set up a safe room, such as what the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends. Otherwise, make sure your doors and windows are locked.
2. Be informed. Don’t bury your head in the sand. To #BeSafe, you need to make sure you are aware of escalating tensions. This is one of the reasons we so often recommend including a hand-crank or battery-operated radio in your emergency supply kit. Don’t make the mistake of counting on technology in an emergency. Depending on the severity of the situation, you could lose cell service and/or electricity. In such cases, a ham radio and police scanner could prove useful.
3. Move on. If you are in public and notice that protestors begin to get loud and raucous, quickly vacate the area. In the case of an active-shooter situation, if you can do so safely, run! If not, then you should seek shelter and stay quiet. Click here to read more about what to do in the case of an active shooter.
4. Blend in. First, always be aware of your surroundings, especially in large crowds. Avoid the area around the demonstration and do not provoke the protesters, as any unnecessary conversation could turn a peaceful situation into a problematic scenario. If you are unable to safely leave an area where violence has broken out, hide.
5. Practice makes perfect. Don’t wait until a civil unrest incident occurs to find out whether your plan to avoid danger and stay safe is effective. Review and update your emergency plan. Then hold table top exercises and drills to make sure it works. Stay in contact with local law enforcement officials and public agencies.
Staying safe at times of civil unrest can be challenging. But situational awareness and advanced preparation could give you an edge. Remember to take proper disaster preparation steps because safety is a daily priority. A convenient and affordable way to make sure you are prepared for disasters and emergencies of virtually every kind is to subscribe to the RJWestmore Training System by Universal Fire/Life Safety Services, which has been designed to help improve and save lives. For more information about the best system out there, or to subscribe, click here.