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Businesses can reduce riot risks.

FROM THE VIEWPOINT OF the helicopter whirling through Los Angeles' twilight skies, the scene below was one of utter, shocking devastation. Several city blocks were burning furiously, the glare from the fires illuminating the darkening streets. As massive billows of smoke spewed from these conflagrations, gangs of youths marauded through the streets, smashing the windows of buildings not yet in flame, then rushing inside to cart off any valuables that lay unattended. The fury unleashed by the rioting went unabated for several days, and when it was over, entire sections o[ the city lay in charred ruins.

The Los Angeles riots, which caused more than $775 million in property damage, proved that riots and other types of civil unrest can pose as great a risk to businesses as natural disasters such as earthquakes, hurricanes and floods. As a result, many businesses are busy reviewing their readiness for these violent and destructive calamities. For these companies, coordinating loss control strategies with response and recovery plans can mean the difference between their survival and ultimate collapse.

Although many of the response strategies that businesses employ for natural disasters can also be used as a protection against civil disturbances, there are some important differences between these events. For example, although both types of crisis can overwhelm local law enforcement and fire fighting authorities and prevent them from responding promptly, the Los Angeles riots demonstrated that when a civil disturbance erupts, the unrest and violent disorder can continue for days; as a result, a prolonged period of time can pass before authorities can get control of the situation and begin recovery actions. Therefore, in contingency planning for civil unrest, businesses should assume that emergency responses by local authorities will not necessarily be timely, and in some cases will not be available at all.

The unique nature of civil disturbances demonstrates that risk management planning must be undertaken before an incident occurs. Although special loss control measures can be employed to limit physical damage to buildings and facilities, these measures should be used in tandem with crisis response and business recovery procedures. In their effort to protect the company, risk managers should use these techniques to minimize damage to company facilities, to protect employees and customers during the crisis, and to maintain critical business functions and operations both during and after the incident.


Whether arising from racial and ethnic tensions or conflicts between unions and employers, riots and other civil disturbances can wreak significant damage on a company. For firms located in blighted urban areas or embroiled in labor disputes, civil unrest may pose a greater risk than natural disasters. Therefore, when planning for loss control, risk managers need to determine the degree to which their companies' facilities are vulnerable to riot damage. This requires understanding the nature of these disturbances. Typically, riots are characterized by angry mobs that rampage through streets, ransacking cars and buildings. Often, rioters will attempt to batter their way into buildings or, in some cases, try to set the structures on fire.

Therefore, protecting the company from arson is a top priority. In order to achieve this protection, stringent fire protection methods are needed. Adequate fire protection is especially important in the case of riots because, as mentioned earlier, the resulting chaos and violence can delay fire trucks and ambulances from reaching the scene.

Automatic sprinklers are the first line of defense against fire. Although sprinklers are typically installed within a facility's confines, installing sprinklers near exposed areas such as doors, windows and conveyors will provide an even greater degree of protection. Additionally, if there are neighboring structures abutting the building, the potential exists for a fire that originates in this adjoining structure to spread into the company's building. It is also important to protect the roof because if the fire spreads to this area, it would be out of the range of the internally installed sprinklers and could eventually cause the roof to collapse, thus rendering the sprinklers useless. Finally, in buildings that are subject to repeated vandalism or arson attempts, sprinkler control valves should be locked in the open position. This technique has been used to prevent arson attempts in many buildings, thereby saving structures and significantly reducing recovery time.

Sprinklers come in a variety of types, ranging from the large-drop models to the Early Suppression-Fast Response sprinkler, which was designed for use in high-pile storage areas. In-rack sprinklers can also be installed within storage racks to protect their contents. In order to obtain the sprinkler systems that will provide the best protection for their buildings, risk managers should contact a reliable, licensed sprinkler contractor for advice on proper design applications.

Another way to minimize the risks posed by arson is to ensure that the design and layout of the facility reduces the likelihood that a fire will spread. For example, incorporating separate storage areas for combustibles within the building's design is one way to reduce fire risks. And, when outside storage is necessary, combustible materials should be stored at least 50 feet from the building and, if feasible, be enclosed in an isolated area. In addition, installing masonry-parapeted fire division walls with openings that are as fire-resistant as the wall itself provides good protection against exposure fires.

Wherever practical, non-combustible or fire-resistant materials should be used in the construction of a company's facilities. For example, a steel deck roof can be used instead of a wooden one since it costs only modestly more than its wooden counterpart. Roof construction insulation and coverings should also be fire-resistive and rated Class A fire-retardant. Finally, all insulation and vapor barriers should be constructed of non-combustible materials.

Since rioters and vandals often attempt to forcibly gain access to buildings, risk managers should make sure that all exterior doors and door frames are secured. Therefore, external doors and related hardware should be designed to resist battering, blows or prying. Ideally, solid doors should be rated by Underwriters Laboratories with approved fire door hardware assemblies, including jambs and hinges; it is important that hinges are designed so that the pins cannot be removed or broken, and that all door frames are solidly constructed and firmly in place. For optimal protection, the door-locking bolts and frame should be impervious to thin instruments such as screwdrivers and jimmies; in addition, the bolt itself should be constructed of a material that is resistant to cutting.

Securing external glass doors presents a special risk management problem. However, these doors can be protected by overhead roll-down steel security doors; another option is to place metal guards over the glass, thus protecting the door from projectiles and blows. Finally, all unused entry doors should be secured and alarmed.

As with doors, windows should be secured to the greatest degree possible. In the case of businesses such as retail establishments, taking measures to secure display windows is particularly important because looters may be tempted by the objects on display. Although these windows should be designed to optimize customer viewing, they can be secured through the use of rated partition walls, roll-down steel security doors or other measures. Another alternative is to construct external display windows that are actually blocked off from the rest of the building. This type of structure allows looters to gain access to the display area, but will prevent them from actually entering the store or building itself.

Easily accessible windows should always be kept locked. Additionally, well-designed grates and bars can be installed over the windows to ensure their protection. Although all unused windows should be permanently locked, it may be practical to replace permanently closed windows with solid glass block. In some cases, plate glass windows can be replaced with long, narrow units that come in frame sizes such as 18" x 72". Whenever used, these replacements should be constructed of shatter-resistant or wire-mesh glass.


Besides securing windows and doors, it is also important to thoroughly review the facility's perimeter security.

If the facility includes a yard or parking lot, aesthetic walls and fencing can be used to restrict vehicle access to driveways. In cases where buildings are surrounded by fencing, the fences should be examined to ensure that their height and condition are adequate to bar entry onto the premises. There should be no gaps between the fence and the ground, and objects such as trash receptacles or other structures that could be used to scale the fencing should be removed from the area. If the fencing includes any gates, these should be constructed of sturdy materials and contain secure hinges and locking mechanisms.

Other important security measures include identifying any other openings or entranceways to the facility and securing them tightly. This step entails securing all roof hatches; determining that all doors to the roof or to elevator penthouses are constructed of strong materials and in good condition with sturdy locks; and ensuring that all ventilator shafts and openings, sewers and entranceways are protected. Additionally, although all emergency exits should be designed for easy egress, their design should restrict entry. If the structure contains skylights, these should be secured with sturdy metal bars or grates; if the skylights do not serve a useful purpose, they should be removed. Another security step is to strictly account for all company keys. These should be assigned only to trusted personnel and should be stamped with a "Do Not Duplicate" emblem.

Although these procedures can be of great help in securing a company's facilities, no business can be made totally immune from the threat of civil disturbances. Depending on prevailing economic conditions and company location, some firms may be more vulnerable to one type of civil disturbance risk than another; with this in mind, risk managers must take their companies' unique situation into account when designing the loss control strategies and measures to be used. Another important step is to consider the attractiveness to looters of the contents of each facility, and the impact that the loss of a particular facility would have on the company's overall operations.


Although loss control strategies can be used to protect facilities from dam* age, most businesses have a vital need to maintain their operations in the aftermath of a civil disturbance. As a result, these firms must have a business continuation plan in place. Although disaster recovery and business continuation planning were originally in the domain of data processing and management information systems functions, executives are now realizing the need to protect all of their key business functions.

In the case of riots, it is important to realize that even if the violence does not damage the firm's own equipment or facilities, the business' ability to pursue normal operations would be hampered. For instance, if a bank's facilities are spared from riot damage, the loss of nearby telephone lines would nevertheless affect its ability to process transactions. Although the bank's MIS staff would work directly to restore these lines of communication, other functions, such as sales and customer service, would also be impaired. As a result, key personnel in each of these areas need to know what to do if a business interruption occurs.

Therefore, developing a business continuation plan requires identifying the actions that must be taken to reestablish critical business functions both during and after the disturbance. Generally, these operations can be maintained through the use of alternate or backup sites. However, if a company does not have a backup site, the plan should define the strategies the company will take to continue supplying services or products to their clientele. These measures may include repairing or reinstating a damaged facility or locale, or moving to a new primary facility. The plan should also list the employees who will be involved in this process, as well as describe their responsibilities and functions.

Developing a business continuation plan can take from 12 to 18 months, and requires assistance from experts in risk analysis, business interruption assessment and other loss control disciplines. Besides outlining the recovery strategies the company can take to protect itself from civil unrest, the plan should also contain documented procedures for operating both during and after an emergency situation. Additionally, certain employees must be trained as to what their responsibilities are in the event of a disturbance. Finally, the plan must be tested regularly and updated in order to adjust its features to changes in company philosophy, operations or personnel.

Loss control measures and business continuation planning should go hand in hand. Loss control techniques will mitigate the impact of the incident on the business, but if significant damage occurs to the facility, then the business continuation plan will enable the firm to maintain its operations, revenue stream and credibility with customers as it recovers from the incident.

Robert M. Lucero is senior loss control consultant with Johnson & Higgins in Los Angeles.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Risk Management Society Publishing, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Author:Lucero, Robert M.
Publication:Risk Management
Date:Mar 1, 1993
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