Don’t Let Protesters Stop You Carrying out Your Critical Business Functionality

By |2019-10-28T19:04:08+00:00October 28th, 2019|0 Comments

Risks such as natural disasters, terrorism, industrial incidents and pandemics dominated our concerns in the past. Although they are still important, the main focus for resilience professionals is moving towards technology disruption and risks emerging from changing social factors. One of my roles when I am not writing this blog is to produce an annual survey of resilience trends for DRI International. My final report for this year is not yet published but it is becoming clear from initial analysis that priorities have changed. 

For example, dealing with civil disturbances has always been an issue but it is now becoming a real priority for organizations, particularly those located in central business districts of major cities. Fuelled by social media, protests can easily be organized and coordinated. The US leads the way with protests against the President, his policies and a whole range of single issue or identity based complaints. Web-sites direct you to where you can join a local protest or demonstration. Issues such as abortion, climate change, globalization, gun-laws, immigration legislation and LGBT rights (to name but a few) are currently the most popular.

However the US certainly has no monopoly on protesting. In France, the Yellow Vests movement still protest weekly in Paris and have done for nearly a year. In the UK, political confusion has provided an ideal backdrop for those who prefer a street protest to a general election. An even more worrying European development is the destruction happening nightly in the beautiful Catalan capital of Barcelona. It has been described as “like a war zone” by many international observers. In Hong Kong democracy protesters are taking an even more dangerous route in indirectly challenging the right of China to rule the province.

In reality, most protests follow a familiar pattern with the aim of getting governments to change direction on a particular issue. Although rarely fully successful they do create more public awareness and sometimes gain some political support. By contrast the protests currently getting maximum media exposure are all about climate change. The “Extinction Rebellion” movement seems to be the focal point for coordinated international activism. Such protesters have ambitions to achieve a world-wide cultural revolution and change the lifestyle and behaviour of everyone. What started as a largely good natured, zany group of protesters has quickly become confrontational. Members of the public have started to react as their offices have been blocked and their transport to and from work disrupted. In Paris clashes between the Yellow Vests and climate activists (groups with totally opposite objectives) have been reported. How long before we start to have organized street protests against the actions of other street protesters?

Of course, caught in the middle of this chaos are the police. The front-line emergency services are also stretched, dealing with large crowds and casualties. In a liberal democracy, the right to protest has to be balanced against the amount of disruption and disturbance permitted. Many would argue that although peaceful protests can sometimes accidently escalate, if major disruption is the deliberate and primary purpose of the action then we are in illegal territory. The protesters argue that the end (saving the planet) justifies the means (shutting down airports, rail networks and major road junctions). Resilience professionals can be caught in this dilemma; they might personally agree with the aims of a particular protest group but still have to work to ensure that their businesses are able to deal with any problems such protests might cause.

So what can Resilience Managers do about this growing threat?

The good news is that if you have up to date and fully tested Business Continuity Plans in place you should be able to be deal with such situations. The main continuity issue is staff availability. Apart from staff being unable to get to work, some might be injured while caught up in a demonstration and some might not come to work because they wish to join the protest.

If the protesters objectives and routes are known in advance, then staff can plan a different route or get prior approval to work from home. It is probable that plans already exist for use in a pandemic when staffing levels are likely to be low or for industrial action when trains are cancelled or roads blocked. Critical functions and work-around measures would be similar. However, HR departments need to be involved so that they can provide advice on when people should and should not attempt to come to work. Safety of staff is the priority here. Security needs to be heavily involved to look at issues that might arise in terms of damage or attempted illegal occupation of the premises. IT needs to know that more than normal levels of home-working access will be needed and confirm this is feasible. In exceptional circumstances, a few key staff might need to stay in local hotel accommodation, which the organization would need to provide.  If the demonstration is not announced or escalates unexpectedly, some flexibility in the response might be needed – but your plan will give you the tools needed to make fast decisions. However as always, do test your response plan against a worst case scenario and ensure all people are properly briefed about what to do. Managed properly, demonstrations and protests should be a business inconvenience, not a problem that impacts critical business operations. 

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About the Author:

Lyndon Bird has worked exclusively in business continuity since 1986 as a consultant, presenter, educator, author, and business manager. He has spoken at and chaired conferences throughout the world and has contributed features, articles and interviews to most leading business and specialist publications. He has been interviewed by major broadcasters, including the BBC, Sky News, Bloomberg TV and CNBC on a wide range of continuity and resilience topics. Lyndon Bird is currently Chief Knowledge Officer for DRI International, chairs the DRI Future Vision Committee and is primary author of the annual DRI Resilience Trends and Forecast Reviews. After a decade in DR and BCM consulting, he helped found the Business Continuity Institute to promote and develop the discipline as an accepted professional field of work. He later became Chairman and International Technical Director of the Institute. He was voted BCM Consultant of the Year in 2002 and given the BCM Lifetime Award in 2004 by UK publication Continuity, Insurance & Risk. He is has edited the peer reviewed professional publication “The Journal of Business Continuity and Emergency Planning” for over 10 years. He was a member of the original BS25999 Technical Committee that wrote the standard that formed the basis for ISO22301. As well as his own writings, he has always been keen to give opportunities for others to develop and publish new concepts and ideas. His edited book "Operational Resilience in the Financial Sector" brought together many experts from around the world to discuss a diverse range of risk and resilience topics.

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