The Risk of Cascading Events


The recent unrest in Charlotte, North Carolina brings to mind and old adage:  ‘for want of a nail, the shoe was lost; for want of a shoe, the horse was lost; for want of a horse, the rider was lost; for want of a rider, the battle and a country was lost.’

This saying decribes what is known as a threat cascade, a sequence of events where one is a precursor for the next and that often eludes both security and risk planners.   Whether it is Charlotte, Ferguson, or Baltimore, businesses are increasingly on the front line of the political battles playing out across the U.S.   Without stepping into the political fray, at Butchko we analyze these chains of events through a different, more critical lens and then take a hard look at what law enforcement, governments and businesses can do to prepare for and protect themselves against the impact of these events.

Businesses are not threatened by the initial event (the police shooting), but rather by the public’s reaction to the event.  The chain reaction begins with a peaceful demonstration that descends into rioting, looting, and violent confrontation with the authorities, media, or whomever gets in the way.  In our cities, all businesses located along the path of least resistance in urban centers are exposed to the same vulnerabilities.  What is different is how the authorities intervene and manage the “cascade” of events.  For every Ferguson, or Baltimore, or Charlotte, there is a New York City, a Philadelphia, or a Dallas, where the reaction to the event unfolded in managed, peaceful ways.   One way reflects preparation and anticipation, the other – quite honestly – is the loose nail in the horse’s shoe, so to speak.  The “it can never happen here” approach.

So what should businesses do? 

First, acknowledge the obvious – it could happen to you.  An incident.  A mass protest.  A riot and subsequent destructive orgy.  It will impact your business operation, the safety of your workers, and the profitability of your organization.  A completely supine approach to the problem might ultimately affect your reputation as well.  Acknowledging the possibility, and planning from that point is part of smart, intelligence adaptation to the reality we live in today.

Step away from purely emotional responses.  Explore the connection between an organization’s assets, protection measures and threat events through a series of tabletop exercises that examine potential event cascades.  Things to consider include coordination with local law enforcement, community outreach, hardening of your facility, and implementation of set response procedures.  With a plan in place that is flexible enough to adapt in real-time, you are more equipped to prepare yourself, your business and your people to deal with an issue when it arises. In many regards, this is similar to disaster preparedness plans.  It is a reality in our industry that many risk practitioners give short-shrift to threat analysis…principally because they really don’t understand it to begin with.  They fail to consider follow-on events, patterns and indicators that signify shifts to new threats, or common denominators that reaffirm a similar event is about to unfold.   It’s all too easy to skip to the vulnerabilities, the “shiny objects” that represent “solutions.”  Without a clear, in-depth understanding of threat, one risks preparing for the wrong thing.

At the risk of mixing our adages, the remedy to the “horse and nail” scenario is another time-worn but useful piece of wisdom: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”


Butchko, Inc. offers a methodical, in-depth way to plan for the eventuality of cascading threat events and the risks these pose to your business. Butchko’s bSMARTTM platform analyzes these cascading relationships and offers users a clearer and more comprehensive picture of their risk.