How to Prepare for and Survive a Riot

One thing is pretty clear: riots will increase in frequency, duration, and size in both the U.S. and on the old continent. They ignite rapidly, like a flash of kindling and quickly escalate, forcing overwhelmed authorities to declare a state of emergency or even localized martial law.

So what can we do about it? We’re peaceful and just want to live our lives; we definitely don’t want to be a part of all of this bedlam, nor do we think we deserve to be humiliated or lose our property to sate the mob’s anger.

The only way to protect yourself from a riot is to prepare for the sad inevitability.

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In today’s article, I will show you how to maximize your chances of surviving a riot by learning what to look for before ride starts, how you should behave and what you should do when a ride begins if you are caught in it, and how to escape from the wrath of the unruly mob once it is well underway.

What Exactly Is a Riot?

A riot is a generally disorganized public spasm of violence perpetrated by a group against other people and their property. Typical symptoms of riots include burning and destruction of cars, storefronts and buildings, vandalism, looting, assault and battery of persons. Riots may target people or institutions specifically related to opposition or are untargeted and wild.

Riots can start for a variety of reasons or no reason at all, but at their core they are fundamentally a reaction to increasing anger and agitation among a sector of the population.

Understanding the Beast: Characteristics of a Riot

Before we can plan and prepare for anything, we must understand it. As chaotic and unpredictable as they are, riots are no different, and certainly have general characteristics and a sort of tempo to them that is observable and repeatable.

Take the time to understand these important factors below before we move on to the planning phase so that we can avoid them entirely with a little bit of luck.

Why Do Riots Start?

Riots are often started for well-founded if poorly thought out reasons, like perceived abuse of government power, police use of force (justified or not) or what is thought to be mistreatment owing to a lack of entitlements.

Riots also might start for depressingly inane reasons like fans suffering the loss of a hometown favorite sports team.

Consider that multiple instances of the latter have occurred in North America in the 21st century alone, and many more in Europe (soccer hooligans, anyone?) and whatever faith you have remaining in humanity may very well be snuffed out.

Riots at their most fundamental are a reaction to anger that has built up steam over time.

You might think of a riot as the flash of igniting kindling; it is itself symptomatic to underlying issues, and like that dry bed of kindling, once it sparks it will readily spread and self-perpetuate.

Riots May Be Planned or Unplanned

Riots or one of those funny things that just seem to occur as if out of nowhere, even though any prepper worth the name would be extremely wary of any large gathering of people, especially one that is already agitated or aggressively protesting.

In some cases, a planned demonstration maybe deliberately intending to go loud or use direct action.

In other cases, a political demonstration or large movement for one and all may see something happen that galvanizes the crowd together, all at once but as individuals, into a mob that lashes out violently.

What you should take from this is that you should avoid any and all mass gatherings of people that are out for a “purpose”; they may just be looking for a reason…

Riots Have a Way of Fueling Themselves

Once a riot has properly broken open into outright bedlam, it will typically become self-sustaining. Revenging a perceived wrong will not be enough to settle everyone down.

If the riot was planned, attaining their objective will not be enough to settle everyone down. You will see that Carnage for its own sake and the sheer Joy of violence and Mayhem will sustain further violence.

In short, the rioters will see the riot itself as reason to keep on rioting. This factor is largely responsible for how long riots seem to last completely unavailable by any countermeasures save extraordinary force.

A Quelled Riot Can Easily Re-Ignite

Even though government forces and police might stop a riot cold, cracking skulls and arresting agitators until everyone has had enough and goes home, they have a funny way of starting up again after the streets have been cleared, the patrols slow down and the roadblocks are removed.

Individuals can be detained or dealt with, but the idea of why the riot started cannot be stopped by physical intervention.

A riot is only ever truly over when the majority of people willing to act on the sentiment that cost it decide that they have had enough.

Also smaller riots that get shut down and one part of town May pop up elsewhere if enough rioters simply relocate.

You Cannot Reason With a Mob

It is completely impossible do you have a conversation with, to reason with or persuade a mob or any member of it!

Once a riot is in full swing anyone who’s engaged in the chaos is by the strictest definition beyond reasoning with.

If a mob or any member of it is about to use violence on you, you will have to escape or fight, there is no way to talk them out of it.

Also, you must think twice before you attempt to defend yourself against a mass group of people. Weight of numbers counts for an awful lot.

When you consider all of these factors in totality, it is understandable while someone might come to the conclusion that a mob is closer to a weather event or perhaps natural phenomenon than people acting according to some, any, recognizable rationale no matter how misguided.

Even so, there is plenty that you can do in order to keep yourself safe and react to one in time.

Riots can proceed virtually unimpeded for hours or even days at a time, and represent a significant danger to life and limb, not to mention property, of anyone who is unfortunate enough to draw the ire of the mob.

How to Prepare for a Riot

Move Out of the City

The first thing you might want to do is to move out to a more rural area. I’m not saying you need to quit your job and move to the wilderness, but if your home is in the middle of a large town or city, there is definitely a greater chance that you are where the riots will start and/or spread.

Both housing prices and rents can be less expensive in the suburbs and in the rural country, so the sooner you move there, the more money you save and the safer you’ll be as long as you avoid bad neighborhoods, of course. But if you can afford something downtown, surely you can afford something in the suburbs.

Take extra care even if you live in the country and commute into the city for work.

It is entirely possible that a riot could break out near your workplace or between your home and work, forcing you to detour or attempt to deal with it then.

Keep in mind too that if a state of emergency or martial law is declared, you might be “relocated” against your will to a temporary camp or safe zone. Similar to what happened during Katrina when they threw everyone inside the Louisiana Superdome.

If you don’t want this to happen to you, you need to act fast the moment you see things taking a turn for the worse in order to get away from the riot and escape any cordon being established by authorities.

Many people see fleeing to the woods or some other place away from home as the universal solution to any disaster. In case of social unrest, bugging out may be the last thing you do.

With so many desperate people out in the streets, you, your family, your gear and your vehicle are sitting ducks.

If your home is in a “safe” neighborhood away from the riot’s hotspots, you should be able to bug in for weeks until you figure out what to do.

But this means you need to start a stockpile and have a few sources of food and water.

Have an Everyday Carry Kit

If it is in any way viable for you to carry a small but comprehensive EDC kit, you should do it.

A basic go bag will be entirely adequate for most preppers, or if you already carry a get home bag you can supplement it was just a couple of items and be prepared for dealing with riots wherever and whenever they might appear.

As always, if you are working we’re living in a major metropolitan area, you’re probably going to have to contend with a bevy of laws, especially those that unduly restrict personal weapons. It is up to you to know, understand and adhere to these laws, and break them at your own risk.

Here’s a quick list to get you started:

  • A folding knife with pocket clip
  • Pistol (Optional, but if you get cornered only a gun will furnish the range, repeatability and shock factor to repulse a crowd of crazed rioters.)
  • Backpack
  • Sunglasses (Choose a pair with impact and shatter resistance. Helps protect your eyes from mayhem and also for blending into masked mob.)
  • Pepper spray
  • Flashlight (your phone may already have one, but save it to have a back-up)
  • Cash (Cash can buy you a favor when you need it desperately.)
  • Paracord
  • Mylar blanket (also useful for signaling “victim” to authorities)
  • Portable AM/FM emergency radio or equivalent app.
  • Survival manuals loaded on phone
  • Bandana (multipurpose, can be used as improvised gas/dust mask or to temporarily blend with mob.)

Depending on the clothes and bags you wear and carry with you every day, you can hide all of these and more inside your pockets (cargo pants have lots of pockets, by the way).

Know Your City Inside-Out

This seems like simple common sense, and it is, but if you live or work in a metropolitan area that has even a chance of seeing mass rioting break out, you must know the area backwards and forwards.

You should have multiple routes to and from your place of work and other places you routinely visit.

At any given time you should be able to detour off of any of those routes and either pick up a secondary or tertiary route or jump back on your primary route after you have passed the obstruction, whatever it is.

You won’t be improving your situation if you try to detour around a mob only to drive into the really bad part of town or get stuck in a dead-end or traffic snarl.

Knowing how to get home using various routes will be crucial when rioters have taken over various parts of the city. You have to know the city inside out, every street, every dead end, every possible way home or way out because the route you normally take could be a warzone.

If you can learn the street names, by all means, do it. Regardless, you should have printed maps in your get home bag and BOB. Another thing you can do is load your maps offline on your phone.

That way, if the phone lines are out of service, you’ll still be able to look at them (and, if the satellites are still up, even use GPS navigation).

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How to Survive a Riot

Stay Calm

The worst thing you can do in a riot is to panic.  By keeping a cool head, you give yourself the best chance of survival.  Think about the situation and comprise a plan to get you and your family to safety.

Blend In

Blend in not just to avoid becoming a victim of rioters but also to avoid being a target for the police.

For instance, if you show up dressed in all black with a bandanna wrapped around your mouth, law enforcement could easily mistake you for one of the bad guys.

When you’re trapped in a riot, here’re some of the most important things you can do:

  • Remove all “white collar” accessories (earrings, tie clips, watches, rings, ties, etc.)
  • Move in the same rough direction as the crowd and at the same speed
  • Mimic chants, attitude, general demeanor
  • Avoid eye contact with other people
  • Stay near the fringes so you can bolt or escape as soon as possible.
  • Don’t fight with rioters unless you have no choice!

You can use items from your EDC kit to affect a useful disguise for blending in with the mob, a bandana or respirator, sunglasses and gloves will do the trick and are still genuinely protective against certain threats.

When the time comes to ditch your disguise, they are all easily removed. Try to become the so-called “gray man“, who knows how to blend in to his surroundings and the people around him.

Also, do not remain “hidden” within the mob longer than you have to! The moment you can break out safely and get the hell away from it the better!

Blending in with the mob to avoid their violence against you should be a last ditch effort; police will be heavy handed in dealing with anyone seen as part of the riot, and your fellow rioters may be using the event as cover to dole out violence on anyone in range for the sheer joy of it.

You must always be alert to the fact that most authorities are going to be very, very stern when dealing with anyone they perceive as part of the problem.

Avoid Areas Where Secondary Issues Occur

Once you have broken free of the ride itself, don’t put yourself in the classic out of the frying pan and into the fire situation by moving to or through any commercial area.

Even if the riot itself has not yet reached or affected these places, you can depend on opportunists raising hell and looting there since the majority of an area’s police presence will be completely preoccupied with containing and suppressing the rioters.

Once you are under way with your escape, don’t move so fast or so rashly that you blunder into other crimes or dangerous situations in progress. Time spent thinking clearly is never wasted.

Fortify Your Current Location

No matter what you try to do to get through, out of and away from a riot it just might not be in the cards. Your best bet may be to take shelter in a hopefully low priority building, and hunker down while waiting for the right to pass.

This is a dicey proposition, but sometimes the best one. If this is the case, you need to stay away from all exterior doors and windows where you might be seen or that might attract the rioter’s attention.

If you can hunker down inside an interior room, that is where you should but you must also be doubly sure that you leave yourself a reliable way out of the building in case it is set ablaze.

You can reduce the chances the curious rioters will get into your shelter by fortifying the door.

You can do this with wedges, with heavy furniture, with a handy bit of lumber and some nails or even some paracord wrapped around the door return mechanism or the handle and secured to a strong point or other anchor.

Take the time to learn a variety of field improvised fortification techniques to buy yourself a little extra time to react if nothing else in this situation.

If You Are in a Car, Stay in the Car

The vehicle gives you some level of protection, so staying inside can help your situation.

Try to keep moving and assume people will get out of your way. Avoid driving towards the police or military as they will see this as a threat and will use force.

Do Not Use Pepper Spray

Even a slight breeze could blow it back in your face. In addition, there is a good chance that you will only irritate the attackers.

Avoid Using Your Gun

Do not pull a weapon unless your life is in danger. One of the easiest ways to get a mob to turn on you is to pull out a gun or knife in the middle of the crowd. Weapons should be a last resort.

Avoid Public Transportation

Buses and taxis are easy targets for an angry mob. Try to avoid public transportation if possible.

Wear Baggy Clothes

This is often the best defense against sharp objects.  When a riot breaks out, knives and glass are a major threat.

Avoid any Authority Figures

This may seem counterintuitive, but being around police or military is dangerous in these scenarios.  They assume that all civilians are dangerous and will act in a violent nature.

Stay Away from Stores

Often people will use riots as an excuse to loot.  Stores are where they will attack.  Try to stay away from these building.

Be Selfish

Protect only your family and yourself.  You will see plenty of strangers that need help, but helping them jeopardizes you and your family.  Focus on what is most important.

Do Not Take Sides

Many times a riot will consist of two groups of people with opposing views.  Staying neutral is the best way to avoid confrontation.

Get a Fire Extinguisher

One of the biggest dangers with riots is fire. Having a fire extinguisher will help you control the blaze knowing that your local fire department will likely not come to your rescue.

How to Get Out of a Riot

Go with the Flow

If the whole crowd is moving in one direction, it is important that you move in that same direction. You can still work your way towards safety, but do it in a diagonal direction. Do not move against the crowd or perpendicular to their flow.

Attempting to go against the movement of the mob, should you find yourself caught within it, is foolhardy. Instead, treat the mass of rioters as you would a riptide.

Keep pace within it, follow its direction of movement as you make your way to the sides, hopefully allowing you to duck into an alley or side street and make haste away from it. Attempting to hold fast within it, or go against it, will draw attention at best or see you trampled at worst.

If you fall, ball up and protect yourself. Often times, deaths in riots are caused by trampling. Cover your head and protect your vital organs until you can safely get up.

If You Are with Family, Keep Them Close

One of the biggest issues with riots is getting separated.  If your family is pulled away from you, their chances of survival are greatly reduced.  Lock arms as you work your way through the crowd.

Do not make eye contact. As with any animal, direct eye contact tells people that you want them to acknowledge you and possibly engage with you.  Keep your eyes down and get to safety.

If you see smoke, keep away from it. In a riot there are only two sources of smoke, fire and tear gas. Both are bad.  Stay away at all costs.

Ask yourself if this is the start of a larger issue. If you stay informed, you often know if this will be an isolated incident or if it will spread and continue.  If you think it will be an ongoing issue, you may want to leave the area completely.

Get your Back Against a Wall

If you find yourself stuck in a riot, you need to protect yourself as much as possible. Putting yourself against a wall allows you to defend yourself from the front while not worrying about somebody approaching you from behind.

Avoid “Kill Zones”

These are also known as bottlenecks. Any area where the crowd is funneled into a narrow passage is dangerous, especially if it allows a high ground position.

These are areas where mobs, military, and police will try to affect the riot.

Final Word

A lot more can be said about preparing for riots and Martial Law. I intentionally avoided talking about food stockpiling and bug out bags because I believe that what you do in a disaster is much more important than what you have.

updated 04/17/2020 by Tom Marlowe

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