The recent events surrounding George Floyd and others now demand that businesses, especially those in an urban location, realistically prepare for riots and civil unrest.

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We are witnessing a fundamental change in the way we look at protecting a cannabis business.  In my career, there have been several specific incidents that have fundamentally changed how we view and how we protect our facilities.

The bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma in 1995 changed the way security procedures allowed unknown vehicles to park or get close to buildings.  Building “stand-off” was increased.

Events of September 11, 2001, increased our general awareness of security operations and forced airlines to increase the security of cockpit doors during flights and added a revised policy that mandated that cockpit doors remain secured during flights. The infamous 2001 shoe bomb attempt that was a failed bombing attempt that occurred on December 22, 2001, on an American Airlines flight, forced new policy requirements that passengers remove and x-ray their shoes before boarding an airplane.

The recent events surrounding George Floyd and others now demand that businesses, especially those in an urban location, realistically prepare for riots and civil unrest. I have taught security operations to government and private sector audiences for the past 20 years and we have always taught “protest management”, but with a few isolated exceptions, have not dealt with widespread looting and riots in the United States.

The incidents surrounding George Floyd’s death ignited another fundamental change.  While we have to accept the need to support the First Amendment, we also have to be ready to deal with the reality of a protest that has turned violent.

The peaceful protests that evolved into riots and looting by fringe elements following Floyd’s death led to damage and property theft in multiple major cities across the country. While many of the protests were civil, others took the opportunity to burglarize, damage and loot stores.  It is more important to note what the first targets of looting are high-value, high-demand products. This includes electronics stores, liquor stores – and a new target, cannabis dispensaries. The property damage and financial loss resulting from recent riots were expensive and an eye-opener for many business owners.

We need to accept the realization that in the event of a protest/demonstration in your area, your cannabis business may be a target and you need to prepare. The following steps need to be accomplished, noting that the issues involve both physical security and policy/procedure.

1.   Recognize that you are a potential target of looters and appropriately prepare. 

Acknowledgment is the first step.  Looting is a crime of opportunity and targets always include high-value, easy to move, easy to sell products. As a cannabis dispensary, you are a target.  You may be a target simply because of your location, or because you are adjacent to others who are targets. Recent events show that protests/riots can happen quickly and are unpredictable but are often located in an area where an “incident” has occurred. Consider your location and consider the history of protests/riots/looting in your city and surrounding area. Consider what businesses are near you. Pay special attention to the news because unrest often spreads quickly after an incident.

Three elements to consider when developing an emergency operations strategy are time, resources and money. When time is limited, such as during a spontaneous civil protest, operations management must rely on the expedient deployment of assets. This is why preparation is so important – you need to be ready to act.

Consider having an independent security audit to make sure you have addressed every issue, ensuring you haven’t missed anything. A new pair of eyes might detect something that you didn’t.

2.    Prepare to quickly shut down operations. 

Strategies must be in place to quickly mobilize necessary assets to protect your facilities.  A shut down of your facility will happen one of two ways, either completed far in advance of anticipated trouble or as a result of imminent threats. Preparation includes putting appropriate policies into place, including who decides to shut down. There should be a single person designated to make this decision. Your facility should have a plan and prepared to put the plan into place. Be prepared to board up, which includes having material and tools available to board up and having the personnel assigned and available to do the work. Understand that this requires an investment that you might never use, but also understand that the middle of a protest is not the time to be looking for materials, supplies and people to do the work. Realize material and supplies become scarce when everyone else is also looking for them.

Consider installing security shutters on your doors and windows. Security shutters can be easily and quickly deployed and will prevent or minimize damage. Be sure to check local ordinances, as some cities (including Minneapolis) prohibit the installation of security shutters because “external shutters cause visual blight” and create the impression that an area is “unsafe” and “troublesome”.

3.    Prepare to quickly and safely either move or secure your product and cash.

Cannabis businesses typically involve significant amounts of cash. Ideally, you should be prepared to move your inventory and cash to a predetermined safe location. Do not underestimate the potential damage to your facility. Damage can be significant and random burning of commercial properties is common during these protests.

If you are using contract armored services, work your plans with your armored carrier long before you need it. 

There is a cost-benefit to preparation. If your emergency operation strategy is in place ahead of an incident, fewer assets will be needed. This can lower the cost to effectively respond and stabilize an incident.

4.    Make sure your property address is clearly marked, especially if you have boarded up your business.

If police and fire resources are available, make sure they are quickly able to find your property. Take steps to have your address clearly marked, especially if your windows and doors are boarded up. Paint your address on the boards. Protests bring in police and fire resources that are not local and may not be familiar with your business or your location.

5.    Verify your insurance coverage for riots and protests.

Business insurance may not cover loss or damage due to public unrest. Verify with your insurance carrier that your coverage includes riots and intentional damage and clarify the definition of “protests” and “riots”.

If you are impacted by a protest, riot or looting event be sure to get your entire staff involved after the fact to discuss the event. Topics should include what worked, what went wrong and what should be done differently the next time. Generally, appropriate regulatory agencies must be notified in the event of an incident such as theft, loss of product, or breach. In California, reporting must be carried out within 24 hours of the incident.

It’s best to address these issues now before an incident occurs or is expected. Your business might never be in the middle of a protest, but taking a proactive stance just might ensure the security of both your staff and your business assets.

About the author: Jeff Dingle is a Senior Consultant with the Florida based Security Advisory Group.  A former federal Special Agent and Security Specialist, he had managed security operations and provided security audits for high-risk enterprises in the private sector, Federal Government, casinos and a FORTUNE 15 company.  Dingle can be reached at  [email protected]

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