How to Prepare for and Survive a Riot

How to prepare for civil unrest

When a group of people has been oppressed or feels that their rights are being infringed upon, it is common to see them come together to demand change and action from higher authorities. If such an event escalates, it can take a violent turn, not only with the risk of hurting people, but also extensive damage to personal property, local businesses, and the overall economy.

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Riots and civil unrest facts

  • One of the worst prison riots began on July 27, 1973, at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary. It took nine days for officials to seize control of the prison, but by that time they were left with $20 million in damages.

  • The costliest riot on record occurred in Los Angeles, CA on April 29, 1992, the day when four LA police officers were acquitted from the brutal beating of an African-American motorist. Thousands of people responded by vandalizing, looting, assaulting stores, and people. The aftermath of six days of unrest resulted in over 1,000 buildings being destroyed, thousands of people being injured, 53 people dying, and damages that exceeded $1 billion.

  • One of the latest demonstrations to make headlines is the riots that came as a response to George Floyd’s brutal killing. These protests, some peaceful and some violent, have lasted 3 weeks in 140 US cities. While the data is being updated consistently, there’s speculation that this may set the record as the costliest riot in US history. We shall see. USA Today has a map depicting all the places where protests occurred, including all the states where the national guard was activated.

Terms you should know

Protest: To publicly demonstrate a strong objection to an official policy or course of action. Peaceful demonstrations and protests that abide by the law do not constitute civil unrest.

Civil demonstration: This term is also called civil resistance, which is either a spontaneous gathering or a movement that forms a nonviolent resistance as part of a larger campaign.

Civil / Social unrest: These terms are also known as a civil disturbance, civil disorder, or civil conflict. These are defined by law enforcement as a gathering of three or more people, in reaction to an event, with the intention of causing a public disturbance in violation of the law. Civil unrest typically involves injury to other people and/or damage to property.

Political unrest: A sum of riots, general strikes, and anti-government protests.

Riots: A form of civil disorder commonly characterized by a group lashing out in a violent public disturbance against people, authority, or property.

Current map of protests and riots in the USA

This is the only map I could find that shows any current demonstrations. It features all types of popular issues occurring worldwide, including up-to-date information on where protests and riots are taking place in the United States. Find that here.

In the wake of a protest or civil unrest, you can do a Google search for: “Live protest map in ‘location where protests are taking place’” and you should get plenty of results.

What to expect during a riot

According to the National Institute of Health, social unrest has been attributed to a variety of causes ranging from political, environmental, social, economic, racial, and ethnic tensions to food scarcity, inflation, and other issues.

While protests can be an effective and peaceful means of inspiring change in a nation, some have the tendency to turn violent. During civil unrest, you can expect to see people behave in an uncivilized matter. In the midst of all the emotion and passion, you’ll probably experience an apocalyptic scene where the sounds you’ll hear are those of shots being fired, windows being shattered, tear gas grenades being thrown around, and all-around chaos.

People will take to the streets and loot, cars and buildings may get set on fire, graffiti will be scribbled on walls, and the police or armed forces will do what they can to contain the commotion, whether it’s by arresting or killing rioters. If you find yourself in the midst of this, you may experience immense tragedy.

How to mitigate civil conflict

While we cannot control the masses, these are some suggestions that may help you lessen the lasting impacts of civil unrest.

  • Practice situational awareness. Civil disturbances can be as minor as a small group of people fighting to an apocalyptic scene with thousands of demonstrators, tear gas, and fire. While there’s no such thing as a riot-proof preparedness plan, you should always observe your surroundings and maintain situational awareness. For example, when you walk into a restaurant, think to yourself: what would I do if a terrorist came in here and assaulted the restaurant? What’s your nearest escape route? What would you use to shield yourself? Ask yourself the same questions when you attend large gatherings, travel overseas, and go anywhere where there’s a large crowd.

  • Learn the communication, response, and evacuation plan that your workplace has in effect with respect to civil demonstrations.

  • If you own a business (especially a store-front), double-check with your insurance company that you’re covered for damages as a result of riots and demonstrations, including vandalism. Keep copies of your businesses’ expensive purchases to show proof of which items you owned but were looted or destroyed.

  • Keep a personal emergency kit at work, whether that’s a work kit or a get home bag. If the demonstrations disrupt the local methods of transportation, be sure to have a plan of how you’re going to get home.

  • If your home is located in close proximity to the downtown of your city, or a major government office, learn alternative routes to the places you frequent most.

  • Purchase personal and home protection equipment, such as weapons, door guards, and cameras. Learn ways to fortify your property to protect it against the possibility of  a home invasion. If your home is located in a vulnerable area, you should consider building a safe room or some type of shelter.
  • Stay updated with the news. Whether you’re home or traveling, have a general understanding of the situations surrounding the place you’re currently in. Understanding that there is tension building can help you mentally prepare for a riot that might come as a result.

Staying safe during civil unrest

  • Avoid places that are having demonstrations. If, for example, a local broadcast delivers the news that there’s a demonstration happening in front of city hall, avoid going in that direction.

  • Do not get involved in a riot. Showing your support at a peaceful protest is fine, but anyone that shows up with bricks and weapons on-hand has a deliberate evil intent. If you don’t want to get hurt, leave the scene as soon as possible.

  • Avoid attending large protests. Civil disorder can escalate quickly, and your safety is a priority.

  • Travel with caution and avoid demonstration areas. Keep a low profile to prevent becoming a target and expect delays due to traffic and blocked roads. Never drive through a demonstration.

  • Keep enough cash (in a safe place) in the event that civil disorder causes banks and ATM’s to close.

  • Observe locally enforced curfews, ordinances, and regulations.

  • If you find yourself in the middle of a demonstration, either find a place where there are fewer crowds or take refuge in a large, sturdy building, such as a hotel or business. If the riot is politically inclined, avoid government-owned buildings, such as police stations, city hall, the supreme court, and embassies, to name a few. Do not go near shops with large glass windows.

  • If you become injured, seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Raise awareness on preparing for civil unrest!

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All definitions were taken from Google’s dictionary which uses Oxford Languages.
Tracking Protests Across the USA in the Wake of George Floyd’s Death — USA Today
America’s Most Destructive Riots of All Time — CNBC
FAQ: Riots and Business Insurance —
What is Civil Unrest? Definition and Preparedness — Study
Riots arise from passion, but looting is a crime of opportunity, experts say — The Washington Post
Global Civil Unrest: Contagion, Self-Organization, and Prediction — US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health