In the early morning hours of November 9, 2016, President-elect Trump’s victory took many Americans by surprise. Some say they hadn’t even considered it a possibility until Trump took the stage to give his acceptance speech. Dissatisfied crowds are now flooding the streets in cities across the US in election protests, leading to dangerous roadblocks, numerous arrests, and one man shot in Portland, Oregon.
Demonstrations and civil disobedience, whether the results of a political protest or even a sporting event, are a growing concern for response agencies, with the most recent examples igniting spontaneously and ending in violence. Having said that, there are a number of actions agencies can take ahead of time to be better prepared:
Social media – Be prepared to proactively communicate and monitor key accounts and hashtags. Simple tools like Hootsuite can be used to monitor trends and social media accounts. Most emergency notification systems can be set up to post to agency owned or affiliated accounts. Be proactive and over communicate. Don’t let the “narrative” get out of control before you put forth the true story. The same is true for your communications with the press.
Clear protocols – Make sure you have clear lines of authority and rules for communicating. Extensive approval processes with people that may not be accessible, or may be overwhelmed with other tasks will cause you to miss opportunities. All too often we see time wasted in trying to get approvals for something that should have been addressed and delegated ahead of time.
Coordinate with corporate security – It’s not just about your streets – It’s also about the businesses in you local area. Here’s an interesting article about the Ritz Carlton hotel and their response to the Black Lives Matter protests that turned violent in Charlotte, NC. Meeting ahead of time with the businesses in your region can be a huge force multiplier while also ensuring the safety of by standers and those caught unexpectedly in an event.
Consider using emergency notification systems for mustering resources – Should a public incident develop, the ability to pull resources in quickly is crucial. Consider answering a few important questions ahead of time: How are you going to communicate with your staff rapidly? What if the “normal” location they would report for duty is inaccessible? How will you communicate alternate routes and muster points? Do you have contact information for those who may not normally be considered part of your staff but would be key personnel in the event election protests turned dangerous?
Think holistically and across agencies – It’s important to also consider how 9-1-1 will be involved. Determine what the dispatchers should tell callers who are reporting a civil disturbance. Also, determine how high volume call traffic can be diverted to 311 or other more non-emergency related resources. Many notification systems can drive content on agency affiliated web-sites – do the leg work in advance as you may not have quick and easy access to the IT department of your local community to make web site updates when time is precious.
Think about communications groups and targeting – Most communities have areas that are natural zones for demonstrations and activities, whether a common area in the center of town or a building that is symbolic (e.g. a Trump property). Think in advance about setting up geo-targeting regions and even lists that may be associated with certain areas (e.g. Maybe there is a school near the center of town and you want to make sure the principal is kept informed of any updates).
Incorporate After Action Reviews – Often after action reviews are only held once everything is settled down. They are valuable tools for evaluating what changes should be implemented to improve the handling of the next event. When effectively managed, these after actions can also be held during an event. During lulls in activity, take a short break to step outside the situation and identify what real-time changes can be made. Thinking ahead of time about how these After Actions will be scheduled and managed makes it possible to actually conduct them during the chaos of the event.