10 Steps to Mitigating Possible Election-Related Unrest on Campus

Election day is Tuesday, November 3. Is your campus ready to address these potential election-related security issues?

10 Steps to Mitigating Possible Election-Related Unrest on Campus

With the 2020 elections being one of the most hostile and tumultuous elections in recent history and with several groups declaring that they will not accept any result other than their preferred candidate’s win, the potential for election-related unrest has led to federal and state law enforcement agencies to broaden planning and preparations to potential unrest both on election day and the following days.

For higher education, election-related unrest might take several forms, whether as a standalone event or an interdependent incident manifestation. Among others, these can include:

  1. Internal: student or employee activism that directly affect campus operations and day-to-day activities.
  2. External: unrest in the area that limits accessibility to the campus or pose a threat to students, employees or assets due to their physical proximity to an unrest hot spot.
  3. On campus polling places: polling locations have the potential of becoming areas of contention, especially since various groups have declared their intention to monitor these locations for what they consider “voting irregularities.”
  4. A quick escalation of events: unlike campus sanctioned demonstrations, civil unrest can erupt with little to no warning, quickly morph and occur in one or several on-campus locations simultaneously.
  5. A rebound effect: an internal response to a remote event or an internal occurrence that generates an internal reaction.

In light of the aforesaid, below are 10 proactive recommendations that can mitigate several potential risks or lessen the effects of campus-election related unrest:

  1. Have all relevant campus departments and personnel review policies and procedures to ensure they are up to date and reflect the current balance you strive to achieve in the spectrum between freedom of expression and civil unrest.
  2. Identify potential campus protest scenarios and prepare your relevant contingencies. Train, run drills, reevaluate and expect the unexpected.
  3. Establish an ad hoc incident command center– follow NIMS and incident command principals; identify members and responsibilities, establish a hierarchy, communication capabilities, etc.
  4. Reach out to your partners – law enforcement, federal agencies, emergency responders, local hospitals; request information sharing, establish real-time communication lines and available support.
  5. Launch an on-campus campaign emphasizing tolerance and acceptance. Engage relevant entities and express your expectations as well as campus protocols and venues for political expression.
  6. Identify resources needed vs. available. Take steps to ensure self-sufficiency and redundancy, taking into consideration that external resources might be unavailable at your time of need.
  7. Plan and adjust manpower accordingly — ensure your ability to address simultaneous incidents at two separate locations. Review your scheduling, assign on-call duties, cancel vacations or hire short term service providers with specific needed skills.
  8. Consider a “rapid response” capability tailored to your layout and possible contingencies.
  9. Review your campus access control, create plans or actively implement access control mechanisms, such as physical closures, check points, camera oversight etc. Consider adding signage that clarifies ownership and expected behavior on campus grounds.
  10. Retain the ability to document on various platforms. Consider adding to your response capabilities a cameraman for audio and video recording.

Although these proactive recommendations are not a one size fits all, they do offer a general framework with inherent flexibility that can be tailored to fit numerous incident types and responses by campus personnel. Though 2020 has been uncharted territory for most facets of life, history has taught us that the best approach starts with awareness and then progresses to preparedness and having a plan in place that is simple, direct and allows for changes in real time.


Gregory Richter is the director of safety and security for 30 campuses in the Southeast United States. He has 33 years of law enforcement experience in South Florida (retired captain). He also has 32 years of experience adjunct teaching experience at several colleges and universities in South Florida. He is a member of the FBI National Academy Associates, the Police Executive Research Forum and ASIS International.

Oren Alter oversees crisis management for 30 campuses in the Southeast United States. He is a security expert with over 30 years of experience, including the Israeli Special Forces, Service in the Israeli Intelligence, Corporate Security for a multi-billion dollar company and Higher Education Crisis management and Emergency response.

Note: The views expressed by guest bloggers and contributors are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Campus Safety magazine.

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