Proactive Preparation for Civil Unrest and Rioting

June 25, 2020

The ability to gather and peacefully protest is a long-standing and treasured American tradition. License for citizens to express dissent and call for actual or perceived wrongs to be remedied is among the cornerstones of the American democratic system. Occasionally, emotion and fervor may escalate the peaceful protest into civil disorder and chaos. Any number of events can prompt civil disorder and the ensuing violence and damage to property is, in many cases, significant. Riot, vandalism, looting, and arson can result in catastrophic level insurance losses for individuals, property owners, and business operators.

Business owners may implement measures to discourage, mitigate, or prevent damage to their property if their neighborhoods are overrun by a civil disorder event. No single measure is reliable in every circumstance. Each defensive measure is accompanied with its own unique challenges and vulnerabilities. A visual perception of crime produced by a boarded-up storefront may create a self-fulfilling prophecy of continuing crime and disorder. Emotionally charged and determined trespassers or vandals may be able to overwhelm any strategy or protective measure, but best efforts to discourage destruction and looting may help to mitigate resulting loss.

Business and property owners should assess their property for vulnerabilities. Inspect your property for perimeter security weaknesses or gaps in security. Do not disregard adjacent businesses, parking areas, alleys, and street frontage in analyzing the security and vulnerability of your property. Generally, riots and looting target businesses and property by virtue of proximity to the epicenter of the riot and not the type of business. With this uncertainty in mind, business owners should be prepared to implement appropriate precautions to deter, delay, slow, or discourage rioters and intruders from attempting to gain unlawful entry to their premises or cause exterior damage to their property.

1. Cover all windows and doors with exterior grade plywood
Exterior grade (CDX) plywood (5/8-inch or thicker) can be used to protect store doors and windows from damage and intruders. Determine the best method of attaching the plywood panels to the structure. Anchors and bolts or screws or tracks and headers provide more secure protection than plywood nailed to the window frame.

Burglar-resistant materials (meeting UL 972 standards) can be used for windows and doors. These materials look like standard glass but will not shatter easily, even after repeated blows. Attachment of security film to the inside and frame of unprotected glass will also make the window more resistant to impact.

2. Separate roadway/parking lot from storefront areas with temporary fencing or barriers
Fencing or barriers may be an effective deterrent for vandals and intruders. Temporary construction fencing (interconnected panels – 6-foot or higher) can help provide a buffer to protect vulnerable entrance and storefront areas from a disorderly crowd.

Water- or sand-filled barrels or barricades may also be used for temporary barrier protection of storefront areas from ramming by vehicles. This type of barrier may do little to deter rioters from breaching the barrier line but can be effective to prevent the use of a vehicle as a weapon to harm persons or property.

3. Remove high-value merchandise from plain sight or storefront windows
High-value merchandise (jewelry, electronics, etc.) in window displays or interior display cases visible from outside the store may serve to attract and entice looting. Remove and secure all high-value merchandise or create obstacles (furniture, other showcases, etc.) to obscure merchandise from visibility from outside the store.

4. Remove or conceal items that could be used as tools for illegal entry or projectiles to cause damage or personal harm
Inspect areas around the store for loose and easily accessible items that could be used as a tool to gain illegal entry or as a weapon during the riot, including benches, bicycle racks, landscaping stone, construction materials, idle store fixtures and may others. Consider how any of these objects could be misused by rioters to cause property damage or injury to others. Remove or conceal and secure these objects to prevent rioters from gaining possession of potential weapons or tools for destruction.

5. Secure or conceal trash receptacles that could be set afire
Move trash containers as far away from the building as possible to reduce possibility as implements of arson. Secure containers in place (if possible) to prevent them from being moved to start or fuel an active fire.

Confirm that any exterior/publicly accessible sprinkler and water supply equipment is operable, tamper-proof, and monitored. Exterior risers should be chained in the open position and monitored remotely.

6. Illuminate storefront areas with portable lighting
Vandals prefer to work under the cover of darkness, making bright lights an effective deterrent. Lighting makes the property less desirable for vandals and others with criminal intent. Lighting also improves the ability of cameras to detect and identify vandals or looters during the unrest event. Permanent lighting should be regularly inspected and maintained to assure that the property is well illuminated at night. Monitor growth of shrubbery and trees to ensure that lighting is not diminished by overgrown foliage.

7. Protect roof access ladders or ladder cages
Unprotected roof access ladders or roof access hatches would enable demonstrators or vandals entry to rooftop areas and equipment. Access to the roof may allow intruders to breach the roof, gaining entry to interior areas and making possible damage, theft, or destruction of rooftop equipment. Locked security gates should be provided for all roof access ladders to prevent unauthorized access. Lock shackles should be made of hardened steel and at least 9/32-inch thick. A shielded or hidden-shackle padlock is more resistant to bolt cutters and pry bars. Additionally, make sure building-adjacent trees are properly trimmed to prevent use by rioters/looters to gain access to your roof. Do not store portable ladders outside the building.

8. Relocate or conceal company or privately-owned vehicles
Move all company vehicles inside a secure perimeter or to a safe place away from the premises.

9. Remove cash and computers with customer information
Remove or secure devices containing private customer or other business-critical information. Make sure all business-critical data is backed up and readily accessible in the aftermath of the civil unrest event. Signage on doors/barriers to communicate that money and high-value items have been removed from the premises and/or leaving empty cash drawers open may help to deter potential intruders and thieves.

10. Hire temporary visible security presence (in addition to law enforcement patrols)
Trained and experienced security guards may have protocols for handing emergency situations. Visibility of a uniformed guard(s) during a riot event may deter looters or help to de-escalate immediate threats during dangerous and uncertain situations.

11. Consider modifying business hours (e.g., opening or closing earlier than normal) or temporarily closing
Changing business hours will help to avoid putting your employees and customers in a dangerous situation. Instruct employees to avoid unnecessary conflict with rioters or intruders. Respond calmly and compliantly if an intruder attempts to loot or rob your business as no items are worth the risk of an injury or fatality to an employee or customer.

No perimeter protection or security system provides surefire effectiveness. The behavior of rioters is unpredictable. Motivation to express dissatisfaction of societal troubles and perceived injustice sometimes deteriorates into violence and property damage. Property and business owners must review their likelihood to be involved in a civil unrest event and consider the measures and strategies most appropriate and available to best protect their premises.

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This advisory is only a tool to assist you in managing your responsibilities to maintain safe premises, practices, operations and equipment. The advisory does not cover all possible hazardous conditions or unsafe acts that may exist, and does not represent legal advice. Beecher Carlson Insurance Services LLC disclaims all forms of warranties whatsoever, without limitation. Implementation of any practices or measures suggested by this advisory is at our sole discretion, and Beecher Carlson Insurance Services LLC shall not be liable to any party for any damages whatsoever arising out of, or in connection with, the information provided or its use. This material does not amend or alter the provisions or coverage of any insurance policy, nor is it a representation that coverage does or does not exist for any particular claim or loss under any such policy.