Camping & Survival

Five Steps to Staying Safe During Civil Unrest

Picture shows a police spraying tear gas on protestors

On Sunday, August 10, 2014, a quiet vigil in Ferguson, Missouri quickly turned into a riot. Protestors vandalized and looted more than 12 community businesses. The following morning, one local school closed in fear of students’ safety if they walked to class. As of this writing, rioting, protesting and looting have gone on for 10 days. Protestors have shot at police, thrown Molotov cocktails and burned cars and buildings. Local businesses are remaining closed and law enforcement have set up check points throughout the neighborhood, making leaving for work and returning home difficult. Though not as bad as the 1992 L.A. Riots where 50 people died, another 2,000 injured and over 1,000 buildings damaged, Ferguson, Missouri is in an official state of emergency. Afrika Bryant, a Ferguson resident says, “We were going to get hotel rooms, but now we’re scared that they might start looting houses.”

Picture shows a house in New Orleans sprayed painted with the words, "You loot, we shoot."
Keep the appearance your home is occupied. Looters are typically not looking to physically harm people—just take your stuff.

There is no telling when a riot and looting is going to occur. They happen abruptly and usually violently. Historically, riots happen in bigger cities, when racial tensions are high and people are struggling economically. Due to frustration and anger, a mob acts out in ways lone individuals generally would not. One bad person taking advantage of the situation will begin looting. Because of mob mentality and the mask of anonymity, the crowd follows. Riots are unsafe and volatile situations; you do not want to be caught in the middle of one. Besides the tear gas, rubber bullets and risk of being trampled, law enforcement is overly cautious and cannot instantly distinguish between you and a looter. To learn more about how to survive a riot, read “Don’t Get Swept up in O(mob)ama Mentality: Surviving the Romney Riots.”

If your area becomes a hotbed for civil unrest, experts and survivalist agree—you are safer staying home. Preparing for civil unrest in your town is much like prepping for bugging in during any other emergency or weather disaster. You should have plenty of food, water, batteries, medicine and first aid, an alternative cooking method, fuel and lighting for your family for a week. Though losing power during civil unrest probably doesn’t come to mind, you should always be prepared to lose utilities. Fires during the L.A. riots knocked out electricity and water lines. Deemed too unsafe to work on it, crews could not fix the problem for days. Further, during violent riots and looting, you will need to secure your home to keep you and your loved ones safe.

Picture shows a police spraying tear gas on protestors
If your area becomes a hotbed for civil unrest, experts and survivalist agree—you are safer staying indoors.

The following ­­­five steps will help you prepare for civil unrest.

1. Hunker Down at Home

At the first sign of civil unrest, you need to activate your plan. You do have a plan, don’t you? If not, read, “Home Invasions, Do You Have a Plan of Action? Part 1” to help you create a plan for home invasions. Your plan needs to include how you will get your entire family home if you are at work and the kids are at school. Will you need to retrieve elderly family members? Have your routes mapped out including how you are going to pick up any family members and how you are going to get home. Include a few alternate routes in case of roadblocks, checkpoints or traffic. This transportation plan also needs to include an escape route if fires rage in your neighborhood. Your first instinct is probably to grab the bug out bag and leave. However, during violent riots many find themselves stuck in traffic, in a sea of people blocking the roads, law enforcement roadblocks and even not allowed to leave.

2. Create a Safe Room

Before any sign of social unrest, prepare a safe room inside your home—much like the safe room you prepared for storms. Ideally, your family’s safe room ideally should not have any windows, have enough room to spread out and room to store essential survival gear. Additionally, for the complete safe room stock it with a defensive weapon, ammunition, a fire extinguisher and a way to call 911. Replace plywood or the hollow interior door of your safe room with a fiberglass, solid wood or metal reinforced door that swings outward. Place security hinges and dead bolts on the door, as well as securing the doorframe to the wall. This makes it harder to kick in the door.

Safe Room Checklist

If creating a safe room in your house or apartment is impossible, during civil unrest and violent riots, stay away from windows and the front of the house. Keep all family members and pets in the back of the house where stray bullets are least likely to penetrate.

3. Fortify Your Home

Even in peaceful times, you want to keep your home from being a target of home invasion. This means always keeping your doors and windows locked, installing dead bolts on doors and properly securing sliding glass doors with double locks and bars that stop the doors from sliding. You may also want to consider installing polycarbonate or window film to all glass windows in your house. These plastics protect glass from shattering and breaking—making it difficult for burglars to break in.

First level windows are most vulnerable. If budget allows, you can replace windows with hurricane-rated ones or place decorative iron bars over them. Investing in heavy wood or metal shutters that you can close and lock from the inside is the most secure option. Further, planting thorny rose bushes or cactus under accessible windows helps, too. However, avoid planting heavy thick bushes—these provide hiding places for criminals.

Install motion sensor lights and make sure all patio, front porch, garage and side lights work. Keep them on at night. A dog is a great deterrent, as well. For more on securing your home, read “Home Defense Equipment: Is Your House Secure?

4. Take Extra Security Steps

picture shows rioters throwing molotov cocktails on an already burning fire
Remove combustible material from the front, sides and behind the house.
  • If your property is fenced, keep barbed wire handy. As soon as you know trouble is brewing, install it along the perimeter.
  • Draw the shades, blinds or curtains so no one can see in. Cover the windows with foil or black garbage bags if you have to.
  • Keep the appearance your home is occupied. Looters are typically not looking to physically harm people—just take your stuff. Keeping the lights on and alternating which ones you leave on, lets those on the outside know you are keeping watch throughout the night.
  • Do not answer the door if someone knocks. If they announce themselves as law enforcement, make sure they show ID.
  • Keep pets inside.
  • Remove combustible material from the front, sides and behind the house.
  • In case of fire, wet down the roof, yard, deck, patio, garage, any wooden storage sheds and all vegetation surrounding your home. For more on how to protect your home from fires, read, “Surviving a Wildfire.”
  • For those of you, like many of us, on a strict budget may not be able to afford fancy windows and reinforcements, keep wood inside the house, hammer and nails or a drill to cover windows. In a pinch, you can break furniture and use the wood from that to board up windows.
  • Keep plenty of plastic and duct tape on-hand to seal up all windows and doors from smoke from fires and tear gas from getting inside your house.

5. Don’t Fuel the Fire

Though you might feel tempted, do not sit out on the front porch with your firearms. Cops will be on edge and they will not know if you are an innocent civilian simply defending your property or a threat. Your display may also summon bad people—not only have you shown the world you have guns, but you also have shown you have something worth protecting.

Civil unrest can severely disrupt your life for days, even weeks. It is unsafe to be outside, stray bullets and fires can ruin buildings, homes and lives. Make sure you are prepared with our five-step plan to staying safe during social unrest, rioting and looting.

Have you lived in an area where people rioted? Share your experiences with others in the comment section.


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Comments (23)

  1. A close friend and I had our own version of ÔÇ£Escape from LA New Orleans styleÔÇØ during Katrina. I had made an ill timed decision to purchase a truck of my dreams, a 2001 F350 diesel Lariat fully loaded from a broker in Houston. We rented a car from my home town and drove down to pick up the truck. Just when we finalized our departure plan Katrina made the forecast news, we felt we could easily make the run and be well on the way home before anything bad could happen and as everyone else we just didnÔÇÖt see any real danger.

    As I am always inclined to do when I travel I plan my routes and pack accordingly, this was no different and I usually defensively carry a weapon and try to do so in all ways that are conforming to the jurisdictional laws of my travel itinerary. Sometimes it is impossible to conform entirely and the best we can do is breakdown the weapon and lock it up in separate compartments.

    All of this being said and done, we figured a stop in NO and a night out in old town on our way back was in order. Bad call, as we moved north east out of Houston the forecasters were still wavering on the projected land fall and much like everyone else we figured it,

    1. WouldnÔÇÖt hit dead center New Orleans.
    2. WasnÔÇÖt coming that fast.
    3. And even if we hit some bad weather we were rolling in one of the biggest cabable 4X4 trucks made.

    Well everyone knows what actually happened, and the only thing that did play out even slightly was the truck we were in. What ensued over the following 48 hours was nothing that even a Hollywood writer could dream up. My friend and I spent over 48 hours either sitting somewhere in New Orleans on high ground or literally plowing through roads inundated with 3-4 water. We were so thankful that the truck had a off road lift package
    and was prepped for fording deeper off road water hazards.

    What we werenÔÇÖt thankful for was the fact that other people also wanted the truck, 24 hours into the aftermath it became very dangerous for us to be trying to move up out of the lower Parishes, I still canÔÇÖt believe what was going on around us and I thank God every day, we were able to push our way through some very deep water and make it over one of the last bridges out of the city proper.

    There is much we saw and to this day I canÔÇÖt believe we actually made it out of the area when we did. It became evident that many people werenÔÇÖt as fortunate by the radio reports and other folks we talked to, we both couldnÔÇÖt fathom the scale and desperation of that we had just done. 3 days after being almost swallowed up and disappearing in that black hole we arrived home, my wife came out to look at the truck and said two things, nice truck, you stink!

    In a particular retrospective manner, I still havenÔÇÖt processed some of what I think we saw, I am thankful for two things, being prepared to protect myself and property and for that amazing 2001 F350. No doubt things would have been much different if not for those blessings.


  2. Cameras are cheap and it doesn’t require a $800.00 DVR from Costco. Just some cheap analog or very small lcd cheap ones.

  3. That happened too in our neighborhood in long beach, ca. about 3 yrs. ago a few blocks away. Barking maybe, or just testing the household. Were never caught, never found, ,I believe.

  4. We have a grown up Lab “Lap Dog”, if there is such a thing. It’s my wifes Baby. Less I wish having to run the vacuum everyday in the summer. Our other dog is a mix doberman, airdale?, shepherd. Strictly a outside dog except to let him in so he knows hes not for lack of love. I’m waiting for our first animal control warning letter about barking. We haven’t got one ever since getting them. Our previous dog was a Husky shepherd mix and smart but had to put him down–so sad.

  5. The Barking Alert alone may just give the other poor sob reason to stop and give pause. But if not, I have plenty of Blue trash bags.

  6. In a time of unrest good chance the authority will be no better than the thugs its best to treat everyone as a danger to your person safety. Animals though excellent to warn will easily be shot even if they pose no danger by those with the firepower with or without a uniform.

  7. CJ, I agree.My Shepherds stay inside,mainly because they are pets but also because it makes them even more wary of strangers and to protect them.
    Any dog who isnt socialized to people naturally becomes a better watchdog,no matter the breed.

    1. NO CJ, socialize your dogs, they will make better companions. A dog that is trained to be aggressive will fight for you … till his tail gets wiped, then he will likely run away. A companion dog who is defending out of love will fight to the death if he has to.

  8. Would like to add (concerning pets, esp. dogs)–keeping them inside is a good idea. Years back, my neighbors watch dogs, tho’ behind the wire fences, began dying. The crime element would throw meat/weiners injected with antifreeze over the fence.

  9. The hardest thing has been the duration of the unrest. The mental trauma on the family was the one thing I didn’t plan on. As a Ferguson resident since 1995, we have all taken a lot of abuse for being white in recent years. It’s not worth it, we are out of here ASAP. Our property values have gone to hell.

    1. Yes, I know what you mean Fred. I also am a racist by definition (white), so since IÔÇÖve had such a great advantage in life due to my ÔÇ£white privilege,ÔÇØ I just have to accept that itÔÇÖs time for me to be discriminated against and for non-white folks to be given preference.

      Seriously, take off. Your neighborhood in Ferguson will look like a Zimbabwe ghetto in a short time anyway.

  10. The Rodney King riots in lb,CA hit our Costo and Turners sporting good across the street from there. But, that was all on the west side of town , miles away from where we live east of there. Too many gun owners on my block for anyone else to cause trouble there or here.

  11. Bevinnie
    One on each side is 4 up all night…some cant do even one and if your guard can see all sides or all approaches then u have the best u can do…I dont have the manpower to keep 4 up all night 7 days a week…. Somebody has to watch during the days also..,,,
    Our neighbors cover two sides and the other two can be covered by one person and then you also have passive defenses…punji pits,fish hook lines chest high etc….

  12. having someone up all night is great however I happen to be alone. I rely on remote cam that feed to a computer and motion sensors. In a pinch I could feed them off a generator.

  13. So long as someone is always home, awake, equipped, and capable of placing/returning accurate fire, there is nothing more you will need for civil unrest.

    Rioters are looking for easy targets, flee armed resistance, and are usually carrying handguns that they have poor accuracy with.

    1. So far,what u say is basically true Oak ,but I wouldnt stake my family’s safety on things remaining static in the future.
      Should the armed thug gangs of,say,Chicago decide to break loose then such tactics and mindset will fail.
      When those animals start rolling,anything in their path is pretty much just food.

  14. Consider forming a neighborhood watch patrol or lookout. Create a phone tree where neighbours can keep each other informed. If you have elderly in your area consider bringing them into your home or set up rotating shift of care. Elderly people are valuable in wisdom and knowledge. They may not be able to fire a weapon or fight off an attack but they can keep you entertained with stories! Think how the situation effects your pets. Keep your pets safe and preferably inside.

  15. Never sleep inside without having a guard outside that is UP ALL NIGHT.
    Whether u do it as an OP or LP set up or just somebody with a gun on the porch,somebody has to be up and outside all the time.

    1. My husband suggests that we include one person for each of four sides of any building that you are in. And the need to be up all night is a given.. Take turns to keep everyone involved alert.

    2. If you set up an outside perimeter place people at the corners of the building. This has the advantage of covering 2 sides and visual contact
      with each other, otherwise if something happens the response will be delayed if at all!

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