Preparing for Civil Unrest in America: Caught Up in a Riot

What you need to know about preparing for civil unrest in America

Did you ever think that people outside of major metropolitan areas would have to worry about preparing for civil unrest in America? There’s been a clear uptick in protests, riots, unrest, and outright battles in the streets across the United States over the past couple of years, and I think it’s becoming evident this is no longer a rare, big-city event.

The sad truth is that peaceful, well-intended demonstrations are increasingly turning violent. Because the protests start peacefully and planners generally have good intentions, predicting potential civil unrest is almost impossible. Fortunately, most demonstrations rarely, if ever, devolve into chaos.

It’s the unpredictability of even well-meaning demonstrations that makes them so dangerous. Therefore, before participating in or traveling near such an event, or if you happen to live in an area near the site of the protest, you should take a few precautions. Keep in mind that you don’t have to be a city dweller to face such an event. You could be in the city for a doctor’s appointment or other necessity and find yourself in an unexpected situation.

Knowing what to do if you find yourself in the midst of a riot will help keep you safe and alive.

The First Step Toward Preparing for Civil Unrest in America Is to Stay Informed

Maintaining active situational awareness will help keep you safe. A great road to improving your situational awareness is through information.

So, take a look at the local news regularly. Keep an eye out for stories about possible demonstrations or anticipated problems in areas you may be going. If you’re traveling to unfamiliar areas, set up keyword email feeds focused on the area, town, or city. They’ll alert you with an email when a news story containing your keyword is published.

Next, listen to what people are discussing. Are they ticked off and fired up to cause trouble? What about their body language? Do you get the impression they are preparing for a fight?

Is your gut telling you there is going to be trouble? If so, listen to it!

Pre-Plan Your Actions

This is a place where a lot of us get stuck in normalcy bias. Especially for those living in less urban areas, preparing for civil unrest in America is something we hadn’t considered seriously until recently.

Have an idea in your brain of what you will do if something happens. By thinking ahead and considering potential scenarios along with possible responses, you will be ahead of the game if something happens.

  • Plan your egress routes out of the area ahead of time.
  • Know safe havens such as a hospital, public buildings, etc. As violence dynamics expert Rory Miller recommends, “Don’t run away from danger but towards safety.”
  • Ensure you have money for transportation should you be separated from your car.
  • Set up pre-designated meeting points in the event you lose your family or friends.

Think about the situations that could arise and find ways to avoid them. When you do, you’ll be ready for more possibilities.

During the Actual Civil Unrest

Let’s face it: when a riot happens, the police have their hands full. Most folks have the mindset that they will help you, but in the midst of chaos, this isn’t guaranteed.

Chances are that the police already have their hands full. Plus, running towards the police during a riot may not be the best decision. It may not be that easy for them to tell you apart from the knuckleheads. If not, you could end up on the wrong end of a police officer-operated riot stick.

Likewise, going against the protesters may catch you a beating as well. Instead, try to blend in while working your way towards a safe location. Blending in does not mean doing stupid things such as confronting the police. It means you become the gray man and don’t draw attention to yourself. Then, focus on working your way out of the area. In most cases, moving diagonally in a crowd is much easier than trying to move in the opposite direction or in a straight line. Once you’ve gotten out of the center, linger around the edges until you find a place that you can slip away to safety.

As in any bad situation, one of the keys to your safety is to remain calm.  This is not a time to become emotional. It’s a time for confident decision-making, followed by swift action based upon those decisions. You will also need to remain observant and adaptable to the developing situation. Remember the OODA loop and use that strategy to make sound choices.

The Bottom Line on Preparing for Civil Unrest in America

The bottom line on preparing for civil unrest in America is that things have really changed over the past few years. Previously, the idea of finding yourself caught up in the midst of a riot seemed unrealistic for most of us. But now, due to political divisions, racial tensions, and an increasing economic crisis, the concept is no longer so far-fetched.

While the safest course of action is to avoid the entire situation, that isn’t always possible. Sometimes, events evolve rapidly. By thinking through your plans ahead of time, you’ll be far more prepared to respond quickly and effectively.

Have you ever been involved in a situation of civil unrest? Have there been protests in your area over the past couple of years? Please share your experiences in the comments below.

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Brian Duff

Brian's preparedness career began at sixteen and included professional roles as a lifeguard, firefighter, paramedic, Special Operations team leader with the 3rd Ranger Battalion, Diplomatic Protection Specialist, and international security director. He's managed medical clinics in Afghanistan and Uzbekistan, provided high-threat diplomatic protection in Iraq and Pakistan, advised a rebel army in Africa, oversaw U.S. embassy security in Baghdad, and directed a premiere tactical medicine training facility. Brian is an expert in Security, Crisis Management, and Preparedness Mindset and hosts the Mind4Survival podcast. He holds a bachelor's degree in Security Management and an MBA in Information Technology Management.

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  1. Greg Chabot on October 15, 2021 at 9:17 am

    Excellent points and tips.

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