How to Escape from Being Swept up in a Riot

Demonstrator detained by riot police, Rio de Janeiro, 18/7/13

Three types of people generally get caught up in civil unrest or riots. People who are there to make trouble, those who unintentionally get caught up in the melee, or individuals who are curious. It is important to appreciate the volatility and potentially life-threatening dangers of being swept into a riot. Police will not know who is friend or enemy, and rioters can cause you harm as well. Avoiding being in the area altogether is the best way to stay safe, but what can you do if you get immersed in the chaos?




Move Away

Stay as far away from the front of the pack as possible, and try to move towards the back. This will get you out of the most dangerous part of the situation where the potential of getting injured by police or crushed by crowds pushing into them. However, it is important to be prudent when trying to get to the back of the crowd. You may need to zig-zag, take a few steps back before going forward and then back again. How you retreat will ultimately depend on the size and dynamics of the crowd as well as how much space there is to maneuver.


Another option is to get to the left or right edge of the crowd and find a way to retreat from there. There are generally fewer people near the sidelines, and this can give you an opportunity to make a faster exit. Keep in mind that you are just as vulnerable in a thin part of the crowd as you are in the middle or towards the front. Police shooting tear gas canisters can lob one right on top of you, or you can be accosted by a crazed individual.


Make Yourself Invisible

If you can not escape, the next best thing to do is to make yourself as invisible as possible. Find a building to stand against, hide in an alcove or behind a dumpster in an alley and reevaluate your plan. Avoid standing in the front of a business as rioters tend to target those before anything else. You don’t want to be mixed in with a crowd of looters while also contending with broken glass or pieces of metal. Your goal is to step aside and move from areas of cover to cover within the confines of the affected area where people are less likely to converge upon.


Getting Trampled

Another risk that you face is from getting trampled and injured. The best thing to do if you get knocked to the ground is to curl yourself up into a ball in order to protect your torso and limbs from injury. This also gives you the opportunity to get up as quickly as possible the moment there is an opening.


Shelter in Place

If you are in a building on a higher floor that is situated within ground-zero, stay put. Most rioters will damage the ground floor of public buildings and retail stores. If you are in a hotel, office or apartment building, stay in your room or proceed to a higher floor where you can ride out the storm. Take a fire extinguisher with you as well any defensive weapon that you can find. Always situate yourself near an exit that is behind you so that you can quickly retreat if crowds do approach.


Remember that the ultimate way to avoid being caught up in chaos is not to be there in the first place. Pay attention to news reports, try to gauge the direction the riot will progress during the ensuing hours and go the opposite direction. However, using these techniques can help you if you are stuck and don’t have any other options. Keep your wits about you, think through your options and don’t panic. Your goal is to use good judgment and make appropriate decisions that will lead to your ability to get out of the area unscathed.




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