Persuade Public Officials and Other Community Leaders to Conduct an Assessment of the Community’s Ability to Handle Division (see Planning Step 3 about identifying these persons)


Assess what might occur if no planning takes place

  • Temperature taking: Examine the level of division within the community by discussing:
    • The history of past civil unrest in that community.
    • Civil unrest in comparable communities around the nation.
    • Any clashing interests within the community (talk with key spokespersons about hot button issues).
    • Recent changes, including in assaults on police officers, complaints of racial, ethnic, religious or other inequity in law enforcement actions, complaints about racial or other inequity in schools, levels of unemployment, and media focus on racial or other tensions.
  • Community resiliency: Evaluate the community’s ability to deal with division:
    • Research the community’s history with respect to dealing with division/civil unrest.
    • Compare the community’s record with how comparable communities around the nation dealt with division/civil unrest.
    • Assess the diversity of decision-makers when taking into account the likely divisions within the community.
    • Assess the collaborative involvement of various segments of the community with the police.
    • Listen to perceptions of key spokespersons for a variety of interests within the community regarding the overall health of the community.
    • Examine the public agencies’ processes and informal practices already in place to deal with long-term, sustained divisions within the community that have the potential to lead to civil unrest.
    • Determine whether community leaders have sufficient channels of communication with public officials and with each other.
    • Compare the community’s resilience, according to these measures, with the resilience of other communities.
    • List areas for improvement.
  • Emergency readiness: Assess the community’s readiness to deal effectively in the first hours and weeks of civil unrest, whether locally generated or generated because local events implicate national concerns.
  • Conflict resolution assessment: Determine the community’s readiness to deal with sustained conflict and civil unrest.
    • Gauge the resources for collaborative problem-solving within the community and the public’s use of these mechanisms.

Determine the community’s unique identity and shared values:

  • Define what all segments of the community care about (for example, its ability to talk openly about its differences, its strong schools, thriving tourist industry).
  • Identify what the community has a reason to preserve by dealing effectively and peacefully with its divisions and avoiding extensive civil unrest.
  • Explain how shared values extend to each segment of the community.

Conduct a cost assessment: Ascertain the potential range of the costs of civil unrest, including violence and deepened bitterness and the damage to the community-wide identity. The experience in Baltimore, Ferguson, and Sanford might provide a basis for estimating these costs for the planning community.


To incentivize and inform planning, it may be necessary to identify the likelihood of civil unrest and the likely costs that could arise due to the failure to plan for civil unrest. Bringing in the expenses of another’s city’s unrest may help to overcome the human tendency to focus only on the cost of the planning. Baltimore officials, for example, estimated that the direct city expenses for the spring 2015 unrest amounted to $20 million, an overall cost figure that could be augmented by taking into account the about 380 businesses damaged, conventions canceled, and federal costs. In addition, an assessment of what might occur allows the planning group to delve into the issues that will need to be addressed through the planning process for that community, and to examine how resilient the community’s processes are for dealing with division and the types of issues likely to produce division. An assessment might produce consensus on that community’s unique identity and values – the valued public goods that people across the community do not want to jeopardize as the community wrestles with division. Naming what people from across the community value about their city can be key to getting people from different groups to understand that they have a shared interest in protecting their community. Even communities with little division may face unrest when a local incident provides a way to publicize national issues. Getting ready for civil unrest will improve the likelihood that underlying issues will be addressed constructively rather than resulting in destructive actions or remaining unresolved.



In identifying potentially divisive issues, the planners might reflect on the fact that civil unrest seemingly triggered by a single incident is likely grounded in a broader sense of past unfair treatment and a lack of public trust in the community leaders to address that unfairness. Thus, a plan for civil unrest should take into account these broader public concerns. A planning group broadly representative of the community can often surface these potential sources of division. Past history is one of the key indicators of the potential for future unrest. An examination of the community’s history of civil unrest as well as sources of current unrest in other communities helps to uncover divisive issues as well as the residents’ concerns about how public officials handled them.

Seattle conducted such an assessment. The Seattle Office of Emergency Management provided research for the Seattle plan for “social unrest.” The office investigated the history of civil disorders, from 1886 when a mob “attempted to evict Chinese residents from the city” to the present, and analyzed the effectiveness of interventions by city leaders. Next, it analyzed the vulnerability of Seattle to future events and the likely consequences for the city. It discussed the range of issues that might spark unrest currently and the range of developments that might ensue. Then it also assessed the most likely scenario, the city’s readiness, and its costs. The office then issued a “Seattle Hazard Identification and Vulnerability Analysis” – with a cover page containing photos of a burning building and obstructed traffic – that could be a basis for future planning. http://www. hazards.