Mitigating Operational Risk During Expressions of Freedom of Speech

by | Jun 7, 2024 | Risk Governance

Operational risk is the risk of loss that generically results from failed internal processes, a lack of preparedness in governance, unforeseen external events, criminality, and/or a disconnect from community. The risks we manage are a continuous multidimensional review of the totality of our risk existence. They require us to constantly be aware of our surroundings and the processes that make our risk governance effective and viable.

One might argue that our governance is rooted in civil disobedience with the event being a central event to our nation’s existence – the Boston Tea Party. Oh, the horror of risk gone bad…the destruction of valuable cargo and the lack of preparation in actively providing security for the tea in question, not to mention the failure to identify and obtain payment from the perpetrators.

Wikipedia states: “Freedom of speech is a principle that supports the freedom of an individual or a community to articulate their opinions and ideas without fear of retaliation, censorship, or legal sanction.”  While the United States First Amendment to the Constitution protects the right to free speech, it brings with it general limitations restricting libel, obscenity, hate speech, incitement, damage to property, and national security.

This discussion relative to operational risks is a focus on public risk and those operational risk issues facing public entities as they prepare for “expressions” of freedom of speech – demonstrations, encampments, protests, and/or the barricading and occupation of public or private facilities.

What information might be necessary for public governance preparedness for these types of events? Here is a thumbnail list of what you may need to think about as you watch the news reels and the discourse occurring within our governance spheres.

Public risk mitigation needs to rely on “fluid” information and data. Historical trends may be helpful, but governance needs to be aware of social media trends and community activism on both local and global scales. Social media is instant, far reaching and has the capacity to incite disobedience faster than the adage “of the speed of light.” Misinformation is fluid and invasive to discontent. Managing communication means investment in technology that is current, accessible, managed by policy, and secure so that governance can communicate and mitigate. Note the phrase “managed by policy.” If technology and communication systems are not entity approved, they become legally problematic and unruly.

So, how might a public entity proactively prepare for a potential “freedom of expression”? Governance needs to be receptive to the good, bad and the ugly – active listening without judgement. Community partnerships with stakeholders are central to governance as are our partnerships with local, regional, state, and federal partners in both the public and private sectors. Communication needs to be proactive, honest and respectful amongst partners.

Public risk needs to holistically assess the community we serve while being aware of global issues that may materially alter our existence. Reality checks are important to the mitigation of our community “expressions.” Overconfidence is problematic in risk mitigation as it leaves little room for one of the most important words in the English language – “IF.”

“IF” is an important risk mitigation tool in preparing for potential expressions of social disobedience. It provides a gateway to thinking outside of the norm. Remember, humans are well…human – individually and collectively inspired by circumstance, events, or their environment. Robust safety committees best serve risk professionals. Safety committees are a tremendous tool when mitigating risk and checking the reality of public governance. Open, honest conversations about risk issues and governance vulnerabilities help us individually and collectively prepare for the challenges of “expressions of Freedom of Speech.” A multidisciplinary approach to listening, expressing concern, and understanding your partnerships’ issues and preparedness or lack thereof can assist in mitigating negative social expression.

As you contemplate your entity’s total cost of risk, let me offer operational risk mitigation strategies for “social expressions of discontent” that might include:

  • Vibrant security, law enforcement and emergency management protocols,  and partnerships;
  • Regular and engaging community partnerships interactions where concerns and opportunities are discussed and mitigated;
  • Business Continuity Planning that is understood in practice; and
  • Current valuations of properties, facilities, and their potential loss of use.

One might argue that the recent trend in facility occupation is overexaggerated. Risk professionals across the globe would disagree. We as risk professionals need to understand the ramifications of potential loss of our facilities, our business models, the danger to our staff, and our community presence. An ounce of risk prevention … is an opportunity to mitigate the potential of disruption in governance both collectively and individually.