Personal, national security now and after COVID-19
Throughout history, we see that crisis brings out the worst of us. It calls the dark side of our being to take the spotlight. It is not common to see normal, well-behaved people follow the emergent norm of a crowd into looting during riots. You see people, who on a good day would keep their heads, turn violent and go on a rampage vandalizing and destroying properties.
Social Psychologists who study group behavior use three terms to explain why seemingly cool-headed people lose control in groups. The terms are Collective Behaviour, Emergent Norms, and Deindividuation.
Collective behavior occurs in groups of people who are relatively unorganized yet hold a sense of unity and may work toward a similar goal. There are many explanations for collective behavior but one of the leading explanations happens to be second term: Emergent Norms
Emergent Norms suggests that a group’s definition of “appropriate behaviour” – arises from the mob. It just suddenly evolves and takes on a life of its own. That’s why you could watch a peaceful protest spiral into an orgy of violence and vandalism in the blink of an eye. To the untrained eye, it would seem like some banshee demon just hijacked the minds of the protesters and began to channel violence through them. I mean you will look in that angry mob and see men in shirt and tie running with no direction.
Interestingly, collective behavior as a result of emergent norms is not enough to trigger a mob. Social psychologists suggest there would necessarily be some additional factors acting on a group to tip it towards violence. One of those factors happens to be Deindividuation which they define as the reduction in a person’s sense of individuality and a corresponding willingness to engage in deviant behavior. In deindividuation, participation in crowds reduces the individual’s concern about being evaluated by others and about maintaining a positive persona. Their sense of self and awareness becomes diminished and then they rise on the waves of the crowd. This, in some way, is what it means to be “lost in the crowd.” In essence, they are one with the crowd – the crowd is a single entity.
When calamity comes and people begin to unleash a level of violence that was not the norm in the past, we look to definitions and explanations like the ones given above to make sense of it all. We try to find associations and make intelligent deductions as to how the dark side of humanity could be revealed in such a manner. We try to find a justifiable explanation for the madness.
If something as mild as a riot or a protest can turn people violent, how much more violent will they be when they are driven by the instinct to SURVIVE! To what extent will they go? What will be the limit of their outrage?
So, we have three things converging on us as we go through the pangs of this pandemic. We have the tendency for a few of us to leverage on trying times to drive terror into others; we have the contributing factors to collective behaviour, and then we have the human instinct for survival; all of them forming a dangerous cocktail that we must now find a way as a people and as governments to deal with.
Just days into the crisis reports, we got the news that miscreants were already wreaking havoc in downtown Lagos, Nigeria. Harassing local residents, stealing and maiming as they go.
We are in a period of unstructured change. The world is in a state of crisis. Multinationals are seeking ways to stay afloat even while some companies are also having supply chain disruption and business travel disruption. But yet they still need to figure out how to ensure business continuity; stay ahead of the competition; manage their assets and even evacuate their people. With all of these, they now have the additional need to ensure the security of their business’ internal processes, their properties and their people.
I had an interesting chat with Mr. Oyekachi Adekoya, CEO of PR24, a Private Security firm in Lagos, Nigeria. We discussed the subject of personal and national security – pre, during and post COVID-19.
He began by looking at security for businesses and corporate organisations, and then nicely tied it into personal and national security.
Although what is of utmost concern to businesses would be that they find ways to ensure their continuity and maintain their asset integrity, Mr. Adekoya was of the opinion that security-wise, businesses need to do have a concrete plan. The plan has to begin with risk assessment and logistical preparations for eventualities and even an evacuation plan. One of the major reasons businesses are going under in these times is because they had no plans for times like these. They were blinded by the norm and never made plans for eventualities. For businesses that are still running in these times, it is important that they put together serious security plans. They need to run scenarios and have backups for every contingency. Once the crisis hits home, it’s always too late to plan. All you are left to do is to devise a means to react.
Added to security risks, there is also the risk of infection – the spread of the contagion in the workplace. This could quickly turn a thriving work-floor into ground zero. Businesses need to have plans for these kinds of eventualities too. Policies and procedures need to be enacted really quick to manage for things like these. And again, a lot of intelligence needs to go into this. It is imperative that organisations use a lot of scenario planning and thinking to draw up foolproof plans to either resist violent or contain the contagion.
For individuals, Mr. Adekoya opined that the greatest risk would be that of contacting of the disease. Then there is the risk of being victims of the inhumanities that are beginning to arise in small pockets in the state. For their personal health, people need to be on the guard – against things that will give rise to fear, anxiety and stress. Fear has been proven to weaken the immune system. Corona Virus is not as contagious as measles people need to educate them on this and then use that information to shut out fear.
The one human risk that is sure to hit the larger populace is what he termed the Hunger Virus. There’s a risk of about 50% rate of unemployment as the crisis hits deeper. This alone can create alarming levels of want and once people are asked to choose between staying calm and being fed, you know which option they will go for. More than ever before, this is the time to share resources and find ways to meet the needs of the hungry; that simple gesture to go a long way in securing the lives and properties of people in certain locations.
Communities – whether gated or not – need to bond together and find ways to provide their own security. The police and other law enforcement agencies are overwhelmed and understaffed at this moment hence it may be unreasonable to expect time to cover all the hot spots in the state every night.
We have seen the effects of failure on the part of the government to put the certain infrastructure in place before the pandemic. What we have had to deal within the last couple of months is the result of failed government and governance at almost all levels. Our government has been highly reactionary in the face of this pandemic. We have seen a blatant failure to plan or prepare for any kind of doomsday. We have no evacuation plans; no contingency fiscal or economic plans. In the face of the crisis, our government was looking to billionaires and foreign governments to provide aids to combat the visible signs of the pandemic. There was not a single state with any contingency plan. At the onset of the crisis everyone them looked to the federal government to bail him or her out. There were states without any kind of containment facilities and even up until now some still don’t have the means to test their citizens for the virus.
We have no emergency plan on how to deal with contagion, no blueprint for dealing with anything more than malaria – and even for that, we get the mosquito repellant treated nets from foreign agencies. So sadly, in terms of security, we really cannot do much. The law enforcement agents are also caught in the survival flux. They are as prone to violence and misbehavior as the miscreants we are hoping there can rein in.
I think this pandemic should serve as a big lesson for our government and even the well-meaning mass of Nigerians. The demand for good, proactive and inclusive governance should be at the forefront once we emerge from this crisis. Government should use the evidence of this pandemic as a blueprint for crisis intervention planning and programs. The COVID-19 pandemic is enough scenario for them. Government at the Federal, State, and Grassroots levels should develop well codified Contagion Prevention and Management Plans. FEMA should be upgraded and updated to have systems, programs and policies to deal with contagions. These plans should include Fiscal, Security and Logistics elements within it. Our state of readiness to deal with the outbreak of any kind of contagion should never again be as low as it is now.
When terrible times come, our chances of survival increase exponentially is we are ready at the individual, systemic, institutional and governmental level. It is only then that we can stay rest assured that come what may, we can wait out the storm.
It is only then we can boldly say that, “this too shall pass!”
Are you currently experiencing internal conflict triggered by this pandemic and would like to reassess your goals to create a new norm for yourself, household and organization?
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