Should Businesses Prepare for Civil Unrest?

Disasters occur when threats meet vulnerability

The global events of the last two decades have significantly challenged governmental systems and the resolve of political and Industry leadership. Subsequently, these challenges have impacted the economy and the populace. Another looming recession, uncertainty at the outcome and impacts of BREXIT measures starting in earnest in 2021, then the constant threat of ‘Dread Risk’ all amid escalating tensions resulting from a pandemic intertwined with world events and social inequality [1].  Following on from Inverroy’s previous blog on Africa we now analyse a further by-product of the pandemic, the increasing threat of social/civil unrest and the ‘so what’ for business owners. How can businesses protect their assets and employees amid civil unrest, how vulnerable are you, if you have not planned?

Are you influenced by science or the media?

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 In August this year, the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) [2] produced a Public Disorder and Public Health: Contemporary Threats and Risks report [3] warning of the ‘volatile’ and ‘highly complex’ situation that is creating grave challenges to public order in the coming months. In simple terms, SAGE state “a serious deterioration of public order could overwhelm all attempts to control the contagion, overwhelm hospitals, the criminal justice system and hinder the revival of the economy”.

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Various newspaper articles have reinforced this opinion. For example, the Independent reported that “riots ‘worse than 2011’ could hit the UK amid rising tension over policing and coronavirus” [4] whilst Reuters noted that the International Monetary Fund had raised severe concerns of social unrest in some of the poorer countries [5] . Potentially subjective but enough to start the hares running nonetheless.

A sense of perspective


A sense of balance is required to put this emerging threat into perspective, consideration of the Global Risks Report (GRR) 2020 [6] casts the opinion that the long-term risks over the next 10 years see social unrest and political polarisation in a somewhat stagnant pool placing them both at the rear of the risk list. No surprise that climate change and technological threats are firmly at the fore. Noting that the GRR was released before the pandemic, it is worth considering whether the probability of civil disobedience has now unknowingly increased? However, these front runners may fuel the fires of protestors and spark a period of unrest causing destabilisation adding to the misery.

An important note is that the GRR report on short term risk adds fuel to the SAGE findings and assesses the percentage of multi-stakeholders expecting the risks of economic confrontations and societal issues to increase by 78.5% and 78.4% respectively, placing them at the top of the in-tray. Therefore, although rated as a distant long-term risk, the unpredictability of a short-term impact asks the question ‘how might this manifest and affect industry and business’?

The simple answer is the future of economies, jobs, and productivity. The World Economic Forum (WEF) states that:

 “As a new global recession brought on by the COVID-19 health pandemic impacts economies and labour markets, millions of workers have experienced changes which have profoundly transformed their lives within and beyond work, their well-being and their productivity”. The future of Jobs report (2020). [7]

Navigating the ripple effects of threat and risk


Whilst there will be winners and losers during the pandemic, the statement by the WEF suggests that the impact of this significant event or series of events will result in a social amplification of risk which is triggered by the occurrence of a major event such as the pandemic which falls into the risk unknown category or risks previously ignored resulting in a massive indirect impact creating what is known as the ripple effect of risks. Such secondary effects may result in a prolonged period of civil unrest as seen in Hong Kong [8] and potentially an escalation of wider disruption globally.

Will we see disruption to supply chains overseas? 

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The impact of the pandemic has had a telling effect on supply chains in general,  the latest BCI report, COVID19: The Future of Supply Chains: [9] demonstrates just how devastating this has been, with 73% of organizations encountering ‘some’ or ‘significant’ damage. This was, in part, caused by the fact that less than half (49.5%) of businesses had plans in place that sufficiently covered them for the supply chain issues that arose during the first few months of the coronavirus. Over half (57.2%) will look to diversify their supplier base post-pandemic, for many organizations this means reducing their reliance on the Far East (29.9%), and a further 13.1% from China. There will also be a shift towards sourcing goods more locally (66.2%), and others will look at additional stockpiling. All of this is based on the fallout of a pandemic, the increasing probability of ripple effects succumbing to civil unrest will throw yet another dynamic into the mix and further test the resilience of the supply chain abroad and within the UK.[9]

Out of the Global frying pan and into the home fire.

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So, what does this mean? If we take a step back from the global inferno and focus on our firepit for a moment, the latest edition of the National Risk Register of Civil Emergencies (2017) [10] provides an overview of the key risks that have the potential to cause significant disruption and economic damage. This document explains the types of emergencies that might occur, such as societal and malicious attacks, explaining the response from  Government and partners with mitigation, and how you as individuals, families or small businesses can help to protect yourself.

Here are some deductions for business owners to consider while looking at crisis management:

  • Community Risk Register: Ask your council to see the Community Risk Register and seek advice.

  • Plan, Plan, and Plan again: Have you checked your Business Continuity Plan (BCP)? Do you have one? Think about hiring or employing a consultant to help.

o   Do all employees know the plan and their part within it should you activate it?

o   Can you access your BCP through a media device/mobile phone?

o   The logistics of your employees, moving to and from work?

o   The shutting down of equipment and closure routine of premises.

o   Pre warn suppliers of your closure, how will this affect them and you?

o   Operating in the future. Can you move to a different location?

o   Do you have the ability for your employees to work from home (or continue working from home if you are still closed?

o   Would damage to your property have an environmental impact?

  • Insurance: Look at your insurance policy, talk to your insurer and ensure your employees and property are protected against civil unrest.

  • Security: How secure is your space?

o   Conduct a physical security review of your property.

o   Can you secure tills, vital machinery and equipment?

o   Can you pre-board windows and doors?

o   Can you pre-move stock to a secure location or secure what you have?

o   Remove all money from the premises.

o   Have you backed up all your vital records and critical information?

  •  Communication: Monitor social media, if you are forewarned of protest plans, then determine how they might impact your business, ensure that information is given to employees and customers. If you must close early, then notify your community on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook. Do a mass SMS message or email to staff. You can never over-communicate.

In Conclusion

Regardless of the short-term risk presented, the impact that civil disobedience and malicious intent can have upon the economy and welfare of individuals, families and businesses is a real threat. Whether you are influenced to act by the government, science, or media, you cannot ignore the fact that the responsibility lies within all leaderships to have a contingency plan protecting their assets. The word resilience has become a buzz word for many, to practice it requires you to understand its true meaning…

Related Information:

If this has been of interest then you may also like to read Inverroy MD, Matthew Wardner’s blog here about the battle for survival that businesses have faced over the COVID period and whether we need to simplify Business Continuity. However, if you want to talk about some of the issues Stu has raised and need to prepare your own BCP then either contact us here or try our free BCP template here.


[1] The World Social Report (2020) The department of Economic and Social Affairs.

[2] Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (2020).

[3] SPI-B: Public disorder and public health – contemporary threats and risks, (2020).

[4] The Independent (2020) Riots ‘worse than 2011’ could hit the UK amid rising tensions over policing and coronavirus, Sage experts warn’.

[5] Reuters (2020). A Pandemic could trigger social unrest in some countries: IMF

[6] The Global Risks Report (2020).

[7] The Future of Jobs Report (2020) The World Economic Forum.

[8] The Hong Kong protest explained in 100 and 500 words.

[9] COVI9 19 The Future of Supply Chain.

[10] The National Risks Register of Civil Emergencies (2017).


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Senior Consultant, specialising in Maritime Security and Business Continuity

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