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If you’re in the middle of a riot

Riots are much more dangerous than many people think, writes the safety awareness trainer, and regular contributor to Professional Security magazine, Steve Collins of PS5, pictured.

If you find yourself surrounded by a mob of angry people, you are not safe, even if you are not the main focus of the riot. In recent times we have seen an upsurge of protesting and rioting on our streets, sadly it is becoming more common in all major cities. These situations come under the heading of ‘Public Disorder’ and can take many forms, including, rioting, looting, vandalism, violence and arson. Public disorder is, to say the least, unpredictable and even peaceful protests can escalate extremely quickly when small numbers of individuals are intent on provoking violence. Consequences of public disorder may include:

• Physical casualties
• Psychological casualties
• Disruption to critical services, particularly policing and emergency services.
• Damage to property and infrastructure; and
• Possible economic damage.

An angry, protesting or rioting crowd is extremely frightening and dangerous, especially if you are an innocent bystander. If you’ve found yourself in the middle of a riot, you may not be able to get away immediately. Your biggest danger is falling to the ground and being trampled on, or being crushed as the crowd presses forward. You may be part of a crowd voluntarily, at a sports stadium, or at a rally for example. Initially everything seems to be ok, you may even be enjoying the atmosphere, but then for some reason the mood of the crowd changes, and in the blink of an eye you are in danger.

In your vehicle

Riots are extremely dangerous, but you are probably safer escaping them from within your vehicle rather than on foot. However, this still does not mean you are automatically safe by just being in your car. It’s just a normal day and you are driving your car through the city. You take a right turn at the lights and BOOM! There you are surrounded by a seething mass of protesters.

The up side is that you are in your car and therefore have a good method of escape, because you have a physical barricade between you and them. However, sadly, this does not mean you are totally safe. There’s nothing rioters like to do more than hijack a car and try to turn it over. There is also a strong possibility that the rioters may try to forcefully open your doors and drag you out.

What can you do?

As with all personal protection the most important way to prepare for a riot is to simply avoid it in the first place. Unfortunately, riots and protests are very unpredictable, so it can be very difficult to avoid them. That said many protests are planned several days, weeks, or even months in advance, so if you are aware of when and where a protest is going to take place, just stay away.

Once you see that a riot is looming or actually happening, you now need to secure yourself in your vehicle. That obviously means you need to lock your doors and roll the windows all the way up. Although not so essential in the UK it can be important to shut off the ventilation system so that any gas or smoke deployed by the police on the crowd won’t affect you inside the car. If you had to get out of the vehicle and make a run for safety, seatbelts will hinder our ability to make a quick escape so undo them.

Although we have all seen it in the movies the worst thing you can do is to drive straight through the crowd at speed knocking multiple people out of the way or running over them. This is, for one thing, illegal and you could find yourself in court facing charges of assault and possibly murder. The last thing you want to do is draw attention to yourself. Instead, you need to carefully navigate your way through the crowd. You need to drive defensively, so try and keep moving, drive slowly and gently push people aside. Regardless of whether you’re driving fast or slow, keep your foot on the accelerator throughout the rioting. The key to escaping is to always be moving, even if very very slowly.

However, if you think your life is being threatened and the rioters begin attacking your car and trying to pull you out, the situation has changed. Now you can begin to accelerate and forcefully use your vehicle to push them aside, but do not hit them any harder than would be considered reasonable force.

Here are some simple tips that will help to protect you from harm:


• Avoid crowds where you know there could be risk of unrest, such as volatile sporting events or political demonstrations
• Try and stay calm
• Walk (running may attract unwanted attention)
• Avoid confrontation and eye contact, by keeping your head down
• Get indoors and wait for the crowd to pass
• Stay close to walls and other barriers where possible, but avoid tunnels
• Move carefully to the outside of the crowd
• Comply with police and answer their questions
• When you arrive at a large event or venue make sure you check out the safest and quickest exit routes
• Always stay away from the centre of the crowd
• Take steps to edge your way out of the crowd
• Try to stay on your feet at all times
• Fold your arms in front of you, in that way you may be able to create a bit of breathing space around you
• If you fall or are knocked to the ground, curl yourself into a ball with your hands around your head. Try to crawl to the nearest immovable object such as a wall or a tree – somewhere where the crowd will be forced to separate and where you will have your biggest chance of getting back on your feet


• If you get inadvertently caught up in a marauding crowd, don’t panic.
• Never stand at the front of a crowd, by a stage or a barrier, because you are most likely to be crushed there.
• Try not to be crushed against walls, pillars or steps, etc.
• Try not to leave a venue with the main crowd, especially if ‘rival’ spectators are leaving at the same time. Leave a little early or wait until most of the crowd has left.
• Don’t be carried along with the movement of the rioters and hang back to allow them to pass you by.
• Don’t do anything that could potentially put you in harm’s way.


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