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How do we keep people safe during protests and demonstrations?

Protests and demonstrations always have a possibility of turning "ugly" and while the majority of business continuity plans will have considered the impacts of such incidents on their business premises, I've seen little guidance in the form of advice that could be given to staff and colleagues if they find themselves caught up in a demonstration that is, or is showing signs of, turning violent. So I was glad I bought Chris Ryan's book "Safe". The main focus of the book is personal safety in a number of potentially threatening situations. However, much of this information can be used to provide useful guidance to our colleagues as part of our corporate preparations for continuity and resilience. The distilled essence of "stay safe" advice during demonstrations and protests is given below.

Being prepared

Advance notification of a major demonstration is likely come from local media sources when demonstrations or activist gatherings will occur. Use your preferred mainstream and social media sources as an early warning system. When a large demonstration or protest is expected, be prepared – even peaceful protests can turn violent. Have your plans in readiness and issue advice.

When a protest or demonstration is confirmed as taking place near you

Issue advice to employees (avoid the area, don’t travel - work from home etc.)

Don't be tempted to get involved (either in sympathy or to disrupt)


Mitigation when outside & close to affected area

If you see people moving away from an area – follow them

If you find yourself in the midst of a civil disturbance adopt one of these strategies listed in order of least to most risky

Keep to the extremities to one side of the crowd and follow a building line. This will most likely lead to an exit point.

Hide, go into a nearby office or shop (offices are preferable as they are less likely to be looted). Alternatively go into the nearest underground/subway station (if open, of course)

If caught up in crowd and it's not possible to move to the sides of it, hang back, stay quiet. If the protesters are moving forward, let them overtake you - but be careful not to get pushed over. If you are with someone you know and trust, link arms with them - you will be much stronger together and less likely to be pushed over

If you find yourself close to the police line. Approach the police line with your hands up. Be prepared to be hustled and roughly bundled away once you are through

Try to push back through the rioter’s line (potentially high risk if the demonstrators mistake you for a threat)

Stay away from “no mans land” (this is the area between the police/security forces line and the protesters line). If you are there, get to sides of it, try to find shelter away from glass

As I mentioned above - I have distilled a chapter of Chris Ryan's advice into a number of bullet points. Given his obvious skill in keeping alive in hostile circumstances, it's probably well worth taking note of his advice.

It’s worth mentioning that technologies are now available that can offer considerable support to incident managers when staff may be, or about to be, caught up in a demonstration or civil disturbance.  Incident management software which supports Location Based services – which is the capability to geo-locate mobile devices (such as smart phones) can be used to warn people when they may be about to enter a dangerous area and direct them to safety. 

The short video below provides an example of this in action. Many thanks to John Davison at F24 for the assistance and support in producing the content contained in the video

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