We’re living in troubled times. We have entered a new period of conflict and instability. A recent Princeton University group study of three months of protests in 2020 found that 96 percent of U.S. urban areas saw violent unrest. Even greater unrest is likely that could last well into the decade. Bank of America has warned that there is a very real risk that “civil unrest” could crash the global economy. But there is more to surviving civil unrest than the economics of it.
Surviving Civil Unrest
The most important thing we can do to protect ourselves from civil unrest is to stay ahead of the curve. Knowledge is power. The anticipation of events before they occur puts us in a better position to avoid, mitigate and defend against them.
A preparation mindset is essential. Your mind is not only your greatest asset, it’s also your best weapon. Plan ahead for any anticipated or possible events. Visualize yourself in your worst-case scenarios. What would you do if they occur? What are your options? Run different scenarios through your mind. Being prepared puts you ahead of the curve.
Any number of things may cause civil disorder. It may be a single cause or multiple causes. The events can be planned, or they may be spontaneous. They can happen at a moment’s notice and without warning.
The benchmark of civil unrest is when a protest, involving a large group, goes from free speech to violent action. The motivation for violence is proportional to the reason for the protest. Agitators can manipulate the crowd to incite violent action. Overreaction on the part of the authorities can also act as a precipitating factor.
Emotional contagion influences crowd behavior by providing a psychological sense of unity. It provides cover for individuals to do things that they might like to do, but otherwise would not do on their own. Once unlawful and disruptive acts occur, the crowd effectively becomes a highly emotional mob.
Avoid potentially confrontational gatherings, no matter how strongly you may feel about a subject. The best way to avoid trouble is not to ask for it in the first place.
Assessing the Situation
It’s crucial to stay up to date on any potential or unfolding events. The Internet, television and radio are critical sources of information. Radio and local television may be the best real-time sources of information for rapidly unfolding local events.
Pay attention for any specific alerts, warnings, cautions or all-clears issued by local emergency agencies. Are there any hot spots? Have the authorities set up any safe zones for essential services?
Situational awareness is key. It’s the foundation of good decision making. It accomplishes several things. Most importantly it gives us the tactical advantage of being prepared for events before they occur, keeping us ahead on the action-reaction curve. It also serves as a deterrent. If a bad guy knows that you are on to him, this eliminates the element of surprise and makes you less likely to be a target.
Situational awareness allows you to take control of your environment, assess your options and take decisive action. Don’t allow yourself to become distracted. Distraction is a common technique terrorists and criminals use to target people.
Confident Gray Man
It’s important to look and act confident. Dominate the situation. Law enforcement training refers to this as “command presence.” A confident individual is less likely to become a target. Predators look for soft targets and are likely to avoid hard targets. Acting confident does not mean acting aggressive. Predators may view the latter as a challenge.
It’s also important to be a gray man, or woman. The concept of the gray man revolves around blending into any environment and avoiding standing out. Looking as if you belong allows you to disappear into a crowd without drawing undue attention.
Avoid any clothing, signs, stickers or other outward symbols that associate you with a group, organization, political party, religion or any controversial or hot-button issue. Be careful not to publicly espouse any opinions or beliefs that others might mistake as confrontational. Much as you might like to express yourself, it’s important not to give anyone looking for trouble an excuse to start something.
In Your Car
You may think that a vehicle will provide you with safety. It doesn’t. So, what should you do if you’re caught in civil unrest while driving? The best option is to avoid the unrest altogether. If you are aware of when and where there will be a protest, you can avoid it completely. Unfortunately, this is not always possible, as unrest and protests can be very unpredictable, and mobile.
If you see that unrest is occurring or imminent, you need to secure yourself in your vehicle. Make certain to roll up your windows and lock your doors. Turn off the ventilation system in your vehicle to prevent any chemical agents employed by law enforcement against the crowd from getting inside.
Don’t wear your seat belt. While this may seem counterintuitive, it’s important not to have a seat belt on, as a seat belt will hinder a quick escape.
What should you do if your vehicle is surrounded by a crowd? If someone is in your path and you have no other alternative, drive slowly forward. Once they see what you’re doing, they may step aside. You can’t use your vehicle to hit people or run them over, except in justifiable self-defense.
If you reasonably feel your safety is at risk, you can do what’s necessary for self-protection. The term “reasonable” is the key. What it really comes down to is the demeanor of the crowd and whether you are actually in danger. You should always use the least amount of force possible.
EDC & Go-bags
In any disaster or crisis, whether natural or man-made, there are two basic options—shelter in place or evacuation. The goal in evacuation is to get to a place of safety. You not only need to know where you are but the route and alternate routes to get back to safety. You also need the right tools, and most importantly you must know how to use them. Tools without training will do you little good.
Everyday carry (EDC) means simply what you carry every day. It’s what you have on your person. A go-bag or get-home bag is a small bag designed to get you where you need to go. A go-bag differs from a bug-out bag. A bug-out bag is designed to help you survive for a longer period of time. They’re typically larger and intended as multi-day packs.
When deciding what you should carry, you need to consider a variety of factors. These include how long it’s going to take to get to safety, and distance, potential threats and other hazards, including the environment, weather, your level of physical fitness and clothing. Keep in mind that mobility equals survival. Size and weight matter.
You have a variety of options, including backpacks, sling bags, satchels or messenger bags. A backpack distributes weight evenly on the shoulders for comfort and is easier to run with. A sling bag, satchel or messenger bag is ideal for confined spaces, quick access to contents, in crowds and when driving—simply swing it around to your front.
Although this isn’t a product review article, I am a big fan of Vertx concealed-carry bags and packs. Designed for professionals, they’re exceptionally well made and low profile. Plus, the rapid access concealed-carry platform accepts ballistic panels.
The Mountaineers, a conservation group located in the Pacific Northwest, have developed a widely recognized list of 10 basic essentials for outdoor survival. They’re only the basic items. Additional items may be necessary, depending on the situation or activity.
- Sun protection
- First aid
- Emergency shelter
Although “10 essentials” list of emergency items was developed for outdoor survival, they’re applicable in any survival scenario.
A portable charger/power bank for your cell phone is a must. A good, comfortable pair of walking or running shoes is essential. You may have to walk long distances, or run. Try doing that in flip-flops or heels.
If you are allowed to carry a concealed firearm, do so, along with multiple spare magazines. And you need less-lethal or non-lethal options as well. Even if you live in a restrictive jurisdiction that prohibits most weapons, you still have options for personal protection. For example, a dry powder fire extinguisher can be employed as a crowd control tool to create space. And of course, you can use it to put out fires.
Personal protective equipment (PPE) is also crucial. Ballistic eye protection is essential. Eyewear should meet or exceed mil-spec MIL-PRF 32432 ballistic or Z87+ industrial safety standards. You should also have a pair of heavy-duty gloves. Some sort of respiratory protection is also vital. I would recommend a N95- or KN95-rated mask at a minimum. A N95/KN95 mask will provide protection from particulates, such as soot from fires, however it’s not designed to provide protection from chemical agents.
The Wrap Up
Carry a trauma kit to treat any injuries that are immediately life-threatening. At a bare minimum you should have a tourniquet, hemostatic gauze and a pressure dressing, as well as chest seals and nitrile gloves. Stick to the basics: “Stop the bleeding, start the breathing. Protect the wound and treat for shock.” And get training. The time to learn how to use a trauma kit isn’t when someone is bleeding out. And don’t forget to keep with you an adequate supply of any prescription medications and other necessary items.
The keys to surviving civil unrest are assessment, avoidance where possible, preparation, situational awareness, training and tools.
This article was originally published in the Personal Defense World April/May 2021 issue. Subscription is available in print and digital editions at OutdoorGroupStore.com. Or call 1-800-284-5668, or email email@example.com.