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15 Tips for Staying Safe During Times of Civil Unrest

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It wasn’t so long ago that a violent riot was an unusual event, something that happened, perhaps, following a sports championship game or a particularly contentious jury decision. Increasingly, though, they are frequent occurrences. As a result, civil unrest safety has become a significant concern of many.

Civil unrest, whether it’s a group of citizens legally expressing their opinion or an all-out riot, is something to learn about and prepare for, especially if you live in an area where they have become more likely or even commonplace. They’re also referred to as civil disturbances.

Often, gatherings of angry people can erupt into violence completely out of the blue, but usually, there are plenty of warning signs before a group reaches that point. The problem is, that you never know what the final trigger will be.

These 15 tips in four categories will help you stay safe, especially if you happen to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.

image: police in riot gear; civil unrest safety

15 Civil Unrest Safety Strategies

Safety strategies for civil disturbances are simple to learn and implement when necessary.

Do you know how to stay safe in times of civil unrest? These 15 tips are simple to learn and implement when necessary. Click To Tweet

What to Do Before: Stay Informed

1.  Stay informed of local events and international headlines. You can’t afford to ignore what is happening. Twitter is often the best source for up-to-the-minute news. Follow national and local news sources for this information.

2.  If you find out about a rabble-rousing group, you can get on their email list and/or follow them on Twitter and Facebook. They will usually publicize their activities, giving you a heads up of where to NOT be.

READ MORE: Three moms share their stories of preparing for civil unrest.

What to Do During: Your Safety is YOUR Responsibility

3.  Fact: The larger the group of people, the lower the overall IQ. They will not be thinking rationally about their actions or possible consequences. They also have the cloak of anonymity. This is a scary combination.

4. Establish a meet-up location in case you’re separated. The movement of a mob is chaotic, powerful, and unpredictable. Despite your best efforts, your group may get broken up. As soon as you realize the danger (if not before), pick a place to regroup should that happen.

5.  Don’t assume that you will be singled out for protection by Law Enforcement Officers. They will almost certainly have their hands full already. Civil unrest safety is your responsibility.

6.  Don’t expect sympathy just because you are caught in the middle – even if your kids are with you, even if you’re handicapped.

7.  Blend in, if you can, until you can get out. If they’re wearing shemaghs, you wear a shemagh. If they’re carrying a sign, you carry a sign. Whatever they’re chanting, you chant. If they look angry, you look angry. Blend in just long enough to work your way to the edge of the crowd and then leave.

How to Get Out: Reaching Safety

8.  If you are of the “wrong” nationality or race, get out quickly. Don’t wait. Even a peaceful demonstration can become violent and your appearance can, and probably will make you a target.

9.  If you can’t get out, take cover, hide, but be prepared to defend yourself and your loved ones. If they can’t see you, they can’t hurt you.

10.  If in the middle of a mob, work your way to the outer edges and make your escape. By the way, if you typically wear uncomfortable shoes, or at least shoes that would hinder a quick getaway, you might just want to re-think that as a habit or always have a good pair of closed-toed shoes in your vehicle or workplace.

11. Do not get caught against a wall or fence. You’ll be trapped and possibly injured or killed.

12. Take cover, and stay indoors as long as possible. Mobs of people that become a riot are by their very nature unpredictable and generally speaking, indoors will be safer than outside. However, if you hear breaking glass or smell smoke, you can probably assume your location is no longer safe.

What to Do RIGHT NOW: Develop Habits

13. Get in the habit of EDC: Everyday Carry. These are items you automatically put in your pockets when you leave the house, along with your keys and wallets. Depending on whether or not you want to carry a purse, you may have to adjust your wardrobe. Think escape first, defense second.

Civil unrest safety has more to do with awareness and avoidance than it does confrontation.

A couple of items for EDC to consider that relate to this topic:

  • $50+ in cash, smaller bills
  • A knife with a larger blade or a “tactical pen”  (Know how to use these.)
  • “Industrial strength” pepper spray — although, if you or a family member has asthma, this can debilitate you as well as an attacker
  • A face mask to protect your nose and mouth from smoke, tear gas, or pepper spray. Eyeglasses or goggles protect your eyes.
  • A police scanner app (free!) on your phone to avoid areas with problems

READ MORE: This list of personal security considerations from the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency is intended to “help mitigate threats to personal safety.”

14. Stay up to date with controversial issues, especially hot-button issues in your home area. These can trigger random violence as well as organized protests, which can become violent.

15. Improve your “situational awareness”. This means knowing what is going on around you so you can spot danger and move away from it more quickly. If things go badly, situational awareness can help you stay focused on your primary goal: staying alive and safe.


If you go back and re-read these tips, most are things even little kids can learn to some degree. When your whole family knows that they need to get to the edge of a crowd to escape (#9) in advance, it makes coordination in an actual emergency much easier.

Ultimately, your safety is your responsibility. And since there are usually warning signs that a crowd may turn violent, you can prepare by knowing what those are and what to do if you’re caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.

How have you prepared to handle civil unrest?

Updated 6/7/22.

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I’m the original Survival Mom and for more than 11 years, I’ve been helping moms worry less and enjoy their homes and families more with my commonsense prepping advice.

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