The country has undergone a dramatic transformation over the course of 2020, with a historic confluence of destabilizing events. Our daily sense of normalcy has been overturned by the coronavirus pandemic, an economic downturn, ongoing protests and riots, a new push to defund police departments, and the upcoming presidential election. These events have severely impacted the security landscape and require the renewed attention of all security industry leaders.
4 Threat Considerations
As business begins to pick back up, the workplaces we are returning to are vastly different from the ones we left in March. Security leaders have been quick to address the first among these threats, implementing new technologies and protocols to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. But the changes required have grown far beyond what we expected just a few months ago. The following considerations have significant impact on the security environment and should be carefully assessed and monitored for any potential impact on business operations.
- Economic Downturn & Rising Crime. The coronavirus pandemic has stirred widespread economic instability, which historically correlates with increased crime. Millions have been pushed out of the job market with unemployment levels greater than anything we’ve seen since the great depression. Several states are reporting a spike in their homeless populations with some economists predicting up to a 45% increase by the end of the year. The kind of economic downturn we’re seeing right now has already been linked to rising crime rates, with homicides up 14% in Los Angeles, 52% in Chicago, and gun violence escalating throughout the nation. A continued economic downturn may trigger even greater vagrancy, higher crime rates, and extremist recruitment.
- Protests and Riot Activity. More than 10,000 demonstrations have occurred across the US this year, both in response to coronavirus lockdowns and a resurgent Black Lives Matter movement, with hundreds turning violent. Violent flashpoints and riots have erupted in cities overnight from Rochester, NY to Kenosha, WI illustrating the reach of these beyond major metropolitan areas. Looting, arson, vehicle rammings, and rudimentary IEDs have spread through American cities small and large. In many areas, the presence of occupied zones, such as Seattle’s CHOP zone, has allowed harassment, vandalism, and violence to go unchecked.
October Protest Activity provided by MSA Intelligence
- Defunding of Police Departments. Law enforcement agencies throughout the country are facing unprecedented budget cuts due to pandemic cuts and new activist calls to defund or even abolish police departments. The NYPD’s budget experienced the most significant total dollar cuts at over $1B, with Los Angeles following by cutting $150M and even mid-size cities like Austin cutting $144.5M. These cuts come at a time when gun violence is on the rise, police ambushes are spiking, and officers are under mounting daily pressure.
- 2020 election. In this midst of this year’s turmoil, political polarization has crept to new heights creating new cracks in social cohesion and setting the stage for political violence. Americans are divided across a host of social, economic, and political issues with tensions seeping out into the streets. This is paired with historically low trust in government institutions, a divided congress, a vacant Supreme Court seat, and unprecedented levels of mail-in voting. Experts are warning of the potential for widespread violence surrounding the 2020 elections. In August, the FBI warned law enforcement agencies of documented threats against political candidates and events, likely to increase as the election approaches. Facebook and other social media platforms are bracing for potential unrest, taking precautions to prevent violence from being organized or proliferated across their platforms. If the vote count process is delayed, tensions may flare and trigger new waves of violence and extremism that bleed into residential and business communities alike.
The security considerations outlined here are already impacting the threat spectrum in quantifiable ways. Violent crime is rising in cities across the country, with murders up an average of 16% in 25 large American cities. Americans are nervous and preparing themselves as signaled by a dramatic rise in gun sales and massive city flight. Employees in particular have expressed concerns over returning to business districts in the current environment. As security leaders, it is our role to address these concerns with programs, plans, and processes that effectively mitigate new and evolving risks. The following recommendations are critical to success in the new security environment.
- Know your local contacts. Many police departments, such as New York and San Francisco, are coping with budget constraints by directing non-criminal complaints, such as mental health, homelessness, and peddling, to other agencies. Be sure to identify the proper agencies and points of contact for potential incidents and complaints. Reach out to public-private partnerships and reputable industry associations to facilitate new introductions. Document changes in your security plan and train all security staff and vendors accordingly.
- Conduct a Security Audit. Industry best practice calls for annual security audits to identify new and persistent threats, vulnerabilities, and risks to your personnel and property. In the current environment, the security landscape is changing rapidly and more frequent audits may be required. Diligently review your security plans for potential gaps. Consider hiring a vendor to conduct an independent threat and risk assessment, or a penetration test. Identify and implement strategies to mitigate new risks resulting from COVID, protest activity, law enforcement resources, or civil unrest.
- Implement an Intelligence Program. Information and events are moving at warp speed in 2020, and the security landscape is in constant flux. Consider implementing an intelligence analysis program for 24x7 threat monitoring. Be sure to craft a program, or work with a vendor, that offers around-the-clock analysis and alerting on your specific and unique concerns. General keyword alerts are insufficient and create more noise; an effective program will distill the noise and limit alerting to events directly impacting your organization. Be sure reporting covers the full spectrum of threats from social media threats to executives and family members, to potential workplace violence or local protest activity.
- Training, Training, Training. With flashpoints impacting new cities overnight, it has never been more critical to ensure your security staff and vendors are prepared to respond. Topics to emphasize in the current environment are de-escalation, behavior pattern recognition, and workplace violence prevention. Security personnel training should be paired with real world exercises that reinforce classroom tactics. Equally important, training should be substantive and recurrent. Include training for staff on how to report incidents of suspicious activity or suspected criminal events. Newsletters and periodicals are an effective way to update staff on new and evolving information.
The events of 2020 have impacted the business community in ways unimaginable just one year ago. The security industry is facing a world in constant flux. One certainty, recognized by security industry and business executives alike, is that security will play a critical role in the resumption of business activities. A group of 150 executives recently penned a letter to New York City Mayor DeBlasio warning of widespread anxiety over the city’s future among the professional workforce. While government action is imperative at both local and national levels to stabilize the landscape, private industry must also redouble efforts to safeguard their personnel.