How to Survive a Riot and Civil Unrest

One thing is for certain, civil unrest and riots are going to increase in frequency and strength.  As we’ve seen recently, riots can occur in cities large and small.  An unfortunate incident near your home or work could easily cause a riot in today’s charged environment.  

People like you and I just want to go about living our peaceful lives and not get involved.  The best way to do this is to be prepared.

What you do or don’t do could be a life or death decision.  And these decisions may be different depending on whether you are at home, work, or somewhere else.

Riots often start as peaceful protests but devolve into something else entirely.  They occur due to frustration from a variety of sources.  Class warfare, protesting too much control by the government or police, perhaps religious fanatics, and any number of other reasons could be the reason for a protest or riot.  The fervor surrounding all of these things is increasing in intensity.

Preparation is Key to Survive a Riot

In order to survive a riot unharmed, you must have a plan, knowledge, and potentially a few tools.  

Know the Area Well

You need to know the streets and alleys well in areas where you spend a lot of time (especially near home and work).  Doing a lot of walking around the area is a great way to get to know parts of the city.  Walking areas during safe times gives you the time to take in all the area to know what is normal and what isn’t.  By walking, you also have the ability to pay attention to street names and figure out which streets and alleys are obstructed and which are potential hot zones.  Be on the lookout for escape routes and potential choke points.  Knowing which roads connect to other roads and what buildings are around will help devise an escape route quickly if an emergency strikes.

Similarly, driving around is important if you have a car because you can cover a larger area and know a wider area.  It is important to know numerous ways to escape an area and what roads connect.  During a riot, many streets may be blocked either by rioters or police.  And other roads may be jammed with people trying to escape.  Knowing back streets will help you escape quickly rather than being stopped.

Every Day Carry Kit

You should have a small kit of essential items that you carry with you every day, just in case.  We recommend using a backpack that you can carry your notebook computer in.  This will blend in well with everyone else and carry many essential items.  I recommend carrying the following items in your daily carry kit.

  • Folding knife with pocket clip.  In the event of civil unrest, move this from your backpack into your pocket
  • If you have a concealed carry permit, I would carry a pistol and extra ammunition.  Note, your employer may have policies against carrying firearms in the office, so investigate that before adding a pistol to your backpack.
  • Sunglasses with impact and shatter resistant lenses.  This helps blend into a masked mob and protects your eyes.
  • Pepper spray.  Also move this into your pocket in the event of unrest
  • Flashlight, even if your cell phone has a flashlight built in, carry a separate one
  • Cash – the amount is up to you, but you may need to pay someone off.
  • Mylar blanket – this comes in useful if you cannot get home and have to find somewhere safe to sleep outside.  Also, since the rioters don’t usually carry mylar blankets, it could signal to the authorities you are a victim rather than a participant.
  • Portable AM/FM emergency radio or equivalent app to be able to listen to the news
  • Survival manuals loaded on phone
  • Bandana – can be used as an improvised gas mask or can be used to blend into a masked mob
  • Hoodie or t-shirt, depending on the time of year.  You probably want to buy these at a thrift store because you will not blend in if you are wearing brand new clothes.  We recommend dark colors with some sort of counter-culture design or a popular professional sports team.
  • Para-cord
  • Gas Mask (optional, but useful)

Situational Awareness

Blend In With the Crowd

You are probably thinking to yourself, I can be prepared all day long, but what do I do if I end up in the middle of a riot?

First off, you need to remain calm.  Panicking only makes things worse and prevents you from being able to think quickly.  If you are dressed too well (Richie Rich?), look like a tourist, or just don’t look like the crowd, you will draw unwanted attention to yourself.  As the situation turns worse, you should hide anything that makes you look like you have money.  The first thing you should do is immediately take off any watches or jewelry you may be wearing.  These make you an easy target for theft and you will likely be the first person beaten simply because the mob thinks you have money or are part of the problem because you represent “the man.”  Protesters generally come from lower economic classes, so anyone who is in a better financial position than they are is a target.

The name of the game is to blend in.  You want to become the “gray man.”  Immediately take off any piece of clothing that makes you look different.  Try to put on a hoodie, t-shirt, or something more casual.  A knit cap would be good to cover your head.  Try to emulate the look of the mob and not draw attention to yourself.

Your goal should be to safely exit the mob, so stay toward the edges of the crowd rather than in the middle.  Move along with the mob and mimic their chants for as long as you are stuck in the situation.  Make angry faces and by all means do not look scared.  However, be looking for an exit.  Avoid eye contact with others.  Don’t confront anyone or fight unless you have no choice.   As soon as you see a safe place to leave the crowd, do so without drawing attention to yourself.  Do not stay with the riot for longer than necessary.

If you see police while you are stuck with the mob, make sure you demonstrate you are not one of the protesters.  You want to get out of the protest as soon as you see police.  Cover your head with your arms to protect from punches, rocks, and bottles and run to a wall or somewhere away from the crowd.

After you have exited the situation, get rid of the clothes you used to blend in with the mob.  As soon as you exit the riot, you want to look like a law abiding citizen.  Move away from the riot as quickly as possible, but be sure you don’t get into another dangerous situation.  Make sure you aren’t moving toward the police station, city hall, or other locations where the mob is likely to move.

Also don’t go toward places where there is likely to be looting such as near a mall or other retail stores.

Ultimately you will want to stay in the shadows and avoid well lit areas.  Stay close to walls and trees while avoiding light poles.  Running won’t necessarily help, but don’t waste time.  Work on getting somewhere you know will be safe as quickly as possible without drawing attention to yourself.

Carry a Mugger’s Wallet

You may well get robbed while you are in a riot.  I recommend hiding your real wallet and carrying a mugger’s wallet where you would normally carry your real wallet.  Keep it stuffed with a small amount of cash and some fake credit cards to make it look real.  This way you have something to give to the thief and if they are in a hurry, they will be satisfied without looking too closely at the contents.

Avoid Using Your Gun

Unless your life is in danger, do not let anyone know you have a gun.  Keep your firearm accessible in a pocket or concealed holster, but do not draw your weapon unless necessary.  If you pull a gun or knife out in the crowd, the rioters are likely to turn on you.  Your gun is for protection only and will only provoke the crowd if they know you have a gun.


If you don’t know where a safe location is, if you see an open door, go inside.  Know that protesters will likely come in also, but inside is always better than outside.  Try to observe where the exits are.  If there is a restaurant in the building, there is always an exit in a commercial kitchen.  You will want to find a place where you can safely hide yourself.  Find a room where you can barricade yourself in while still having an exit strategy.  You might want to consider moving to an upper floor where nobody will follow you.  In many buildings, retail is on the first floor and upper floors are offices.  The looters will stay on the ground floor and not move upstairs.

Fortify your location

Wherever you end up, make sure it is somewhere you can barricade yourself in, but also have an emergency exit.  I recommend a second floor office with an outside window.  As I mentioned previously, the looters are likely to stay on the first floor where the retail is, but since the second floor is often offices, the looters are less likely to find items they are interested in stealing.

You can barricade the door with office furniture or heavy boxes.  Anything you can do to prevent the door from opening would be helpful.  

Remain quiet so nobody knows you are in the room and be sure to hide, but also be in a position where you can see people who may want to harm you.  You want the option to remain hidden and have the element of surprise on your side if you find it necessary to attack.

Stay away from the window in case rioters start shooting into the building.  The only reason you want to be in a room with a window is for an emergency exit in case the looters set the building on fire.  Ideally outside the window will be some sort of balcony or fire escape, but being on the second floor, you will be able to jump in an absolute emergency and still likely be able to run away without injury.

What If I’m With My Family When The Riot Occurs?

Your strategy will definitely differ if you are in a group because you will need to prepare for the likely event that someone will get separated.  When you are by yourself, you don’t have to look out for others in your party and can make split second decisions.  

The type of people you are with will change the strategy.  If you are with co-workers, you probably want to stick together as much as possible because there is strength in numbers.  But, depending on the situation, you may not want to spend much time on first-aid for injured people in your party.  Perhaps drag an injured person out of the chaos onto the side of the road, but it’s ok to leave them behind because you can’t provide much help in the middle of a riot anyway.  It is perfectly acceptable to leave the group if you find a good exit strategy where you can safely exit the mob.

The situation is completely different if you are with your family.  You will want to make every effort to stay together.  If one of your kids gets lost, you will definitely want to find them.  If a child gets lost, your first priority will need to be to get your wife and any other children to safety before going back in to find the lost child.  It obviously isn’t an ideal situation, but a lost child is less at risk than you are because they will not be seen as a threat.  When you go back into the situation, you probably want to have a pistol with you for protection.  You also will want to spend some time on the outside observing the situation trying to find your child using either binoculars or a monocular.  Ultimately make every effort not to let anyone in your family stray away.  Always have eyes on them.

Invest in a Gas Mask

When protests turn into riots, the police generally use forms of tear gas to disperse the crowds.  This gas can irritate your eyes and lungs even if you are several blocks away from where the gas is dispersed.  I don’t carry my gas mask in my every day carry bag, but I do have one for everyone in my family along with multiple filter canisters.

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