Keeping Executives Safe During Protests

Keeping Executives Safe During Protests
April 23, 2024 sdcpm
Keeping Executives Safe - TorchStone Global

Keeping Executives Safe During Protests

By TorchStone Intelligence Analyst Mare Cunningham

Corporate executives may need to attend events where public dissent is present, such as conferences, shareholder meetings, or public gatherings due to their professional obligations. These occasions carry potential risks including physical harm or damage to reputation. TorchStone has previously examined crowd behavior and safety strategies, but here, we address challenges and potential threats to the personal safety of executives who must be near demonstrations or protests.

Given the prevalence of ongoing protest activity globally, it is crucial for executives—and those responsible for safeguarding them—to adeptly handle risks, ensure personal safety, uphold the company’s reputation, and address potential operational and stakeholder issues. Based on publicly available data sourced from ACLED, between January 2024 and March 2024, there were a total of 42,830 protests and riots globally, representing a marginal 1.3% increase from the 42,296 incidents recorded during the same period in 2023. Although this rise is modest, the current geopolitical environment, coupled with numerous elections, creates favorable conditions for the mobilization of agitators. Executives should remain vigilant of the potential repercussions stemming from protests, including the following impacts:

  • Safety Concerns: Protests can sometimes escalate into violence or unrest. Executives, as high-profile individuals, may become targets or get caught up in undesirable situations by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Proper awareness allows them to take precautions and avoid potentially dangerous areas.
  • Reputation Management: Executives represent their companies not just in the boardroom, but also in public perception. Being caught unaware in the midst of a controversial protest can reflect poorly on both the executive and the company, impacting their reputation and potentially leading to negative publicity.
  • Operational Disruptions: Protests can disrupt normal business operations, particularly if they occur near offices, manufacturing plants, or key transportation routes. Executives need to maintain awareness of such disruptions to mitigate their impact on the company’s operations and supply chain.
  • Stakeholder Relations: Protests often arise from social or political issues that may intersect with a company’s stakeholders or business practices. Executives need to be aware of these issues to engage with stakeholders effectively and address concerns that may arise from protest activity.
Understanding the Threats

Before implementing safety measures, it’s important to comprehend the potential threats executives might encounter during demonstrations. Conducting a baseline threat assessment aids executives and those charged with protecting them in recognizing potential threats and understanding how they may be vulnerable. Once threats are identified, analyzing their modus operandi/tactics, and monitoring their actions for signs of targeting the organization and executive is necessary.

Analyzing social media content pertaining to corporate executives and businesses demands contextualization, effectively facilitated by engaging a protective intelligence team alongside a Global Security Operations Center (GSOC). These specialized teams, leveraging the Social Media Threat Continuum, can identify and assess threats ranging from emerging grievances to pending attacks. They offer recommendations to mitigate risks and provide high-level monitoring services to executives and security teams. They offer recommendations to mitigate risks and provide continuous monitoring services to executives and security teams.

Situational awareness follows understanding, with awareness being practiced by the executive, security personnel, household staff, family, executive assistants, etc., while the security team provides oversight. These assessments also inform the development of an effective security program to mitigate the identified threats.

Trending Protest Types

One prevalent protest movement involves climate extremists. These groups typically harbor personal grievances against businesses or individuals that oppose their goals or fail (in their opinion) to make sufficient, or timely, progress toward those goals.

Following the October 7, 2023, Hamas attack against Israel, cities globally have faced ongoing disruptions and violence in opposition to Israel’s military operations in Gaza. While many of these demonstrations are planned, an increasing number are spontaneous and can erupt without warning. Similar to climate activists, these demonstrators aim to convey their “ceasefire” message to government officials, businesses, and individuals they perceive to be against their movement.

Security Assessment and Planning

Performing a comprehensive security evaluation of the event venue, home, office, and other frequented locations, based on the principal’s schedule analysis, is essential for developing mitigation plans. Identify potential entry and exit points, establish secure zones, and collaborate with local law enforcement to understand their deployment plans. TorchStone Global provides clients with a comprehensive Travel Risk Assessment (TRA) for travelers, offering security details for cities, accommodations, and venue locations, as well as emergency and relevant embassy and consulate contacts. The TRA will encompass analyses of various threats, including terrorism, criminal activities, espionage, social unrest, environmental concerns, along with other potential threats, and how they may impact the specific principal(s) involved.

Additionally, employing a Global Security Operations Center (GSOC) can offer several advantages for traveling executives and security teams, such as comprehensive threat monitoring, intelligence reporting, and travel assistance, as outlined below:

  • Comprehensive Threat Monitoring: The GSOC offers round-the-clock, year-round services to collect and analyze Opensource Intelligence (OSINT) feeds for potential threats targeting clients, their families, and fixed facilities. Additionally, the GSOC conducts real-time monitoring (including geospatial) of threat indicators during special events, including protests, parades, speaking engagements, corporate conferences, executive travel, and similar occasions.

Example: GSOC analysts detected separate active shooter incidents near a principal’s residence and another at a business location. In both cases, the respective analyst promptly notified the EP team and the business’s security team. The notification prompted tactical responses from the EP team and security personnel, ensuring the protection of family members and employees.

  • Intelligence Reporting: The GSOC tailors its reporting methods to accommodate clients’ preferences. Communication channels encompass various options such as daily, weekly, or monthly intelligence reports, as well as emergency notifications delivered through phone calls, text messaging applications, and mass notification systems.

Example: A TorchStone Global analyst provided daily reports on a person of interest (POI) who had been threatening an international visit to voice grievances at a U.S. business location. Over the weekend, the analyst detected a social media post from the POI confirming their presence in the city where the facility was located. This enabled the analyst to promptly notify the facility’s security team of a potential visit from the POI. Armed with this intelligence, the security team prepared for and managed the visit without any issues.

  • Travel Assistance: The GSOC is equipped to coordinate an emergency response to assist travelers facing threatening situations.

Example: During the Israel-Hamas conflict’s onset, the TorchStone Global GSOC supported clients by identifying accessible border crossings between Israel and Jordan for employee evacuations. Additionally, the GSOC provided intelligence on evacuation transportation options, including airlift and maritime vessels, to the client’s on-site staff.

Executive Protection Teams

Assigning trained executive protection teams to accompany executives during public events is crucial. These teams should be well-versed in crowd management, threat assessment, and emergency response. Their presence can act as a deterrent and provide immediate assistance in case of any security incidents. Establishing effective communication channels between executives, security teams, and local authorities is paramount. In case of emergencies, clear communication can facilitate a prompt response and ensure the safety of all involved parties. Regular training sessions and emergency drills are essential for both executives and their security teams. Simulating various scenarios prepares everyone involved for a coordinated and effective response in case of an actual threat.

Situational Awareness

Individuals should continuously evaluate the risk levels associated with protests, taking into account crowd size, law enforcement presence, and the potential for violence or escalation. Obviously, it is always best to avoid a protest, but when one cannot be avoided, those encountering protesters should maintain a calm, composed, and neutral demeanor, and refrain from confrontations or provoking demonstrators. It is crucial to uphold a professional attitude at all times. Stay mindful of your surroundings and identify possible escape routes in case of escalation or danger. Familiarize yourself with nearby buildings, landmarks, and safe areas. Furthermore, if the situation becomes volatile or unsafe, individuals should immediately seek refuge in nearby buildings or relocate to a secure area until it’s safe to depart, adhering to the guidance provided by law enforcement or security personnel, if they are present.

Benefits of Executive Safety Measures During Protests

Mitigating threats to executive personal safety during demonstrations necessitates a proactive and comprehensive approach. By understanding potential risks, implementing robust security measures, fostering effective communication, and conducting thorough risk assessments, organizations can create a safe environment for executives attending public events amidst civil unrest.

Additionally, prioritizing personal safety amidst protests is crucial for executives in both international and domestic settings. Through proactive measures like risk assessment, communication protocols, and access to reliable resources such as local authorities and embassy services, executives can effectively mitigate potential risks and ensure their well-being during protests. Ultimately, cultivating a culture of awareness and preparedness within executive teams further strengthens their ability to respond calmly and effectively to unforeseen situations, bolstering both personal safety and professional resilience in today’s dynamic global landscape.