It doesn’t matter if the situation has been brewing for a while or if it happens spontaneously. The chaos that comes with civil unrest can be unsettling and lead to several anxious moments. However, what does help keep you calm is having a plan and knowing that you and those among your immediate family are well versed in it so as to keep yourselves out of harm’s way.

So what constitutes an emergency plan for civil unrest?

The most important thing is staying informed; it doesn’t matter whether it is through social media, mainstream media, friends, family, or authorities. The medium you rely on is your choice but the key is to stay informed. In most instances rumours precede major events but it is only when you start receiving news from reliable, established sources that you should review your exit plans.

How to safely escape from protests and riots

Ideally, one should avoid the areas where there’s a risk of an incident occurring. However, if you can’t avoid being there, then it is important to understand that the capacity of law enforcement could be stretched and coming to your assistance may not be a priority at that point in time. Also law enforcement personnel may not be sympathetic to you and could perceive you to be part of the problem.

If caught in such a situation, it is better to blend in until you can find an exit. Edge your way out to the side of the crowd and find a safe passage. The crowd could turn on you if they fear you’re there to cause trouble for them. So chant what they may be chanting, visually appear as they would be, aggressive, angry, yet all the while moving away.

Reaching safety should be your sole priority, because if you are dressed differently, are visibly of a different race or ethnicity, or even hold different political leanings, you could be targeted. Rational thinking is rare among large crowds and mob mentality rules.

Their anonymity gives them a certain freedom to act, therefore try to move away while ensuring you are not caught up against a wall or other barricade. Take cover, and remember that if they can’t see you, they can’t hurt you.

If you are indoors, move away from glass panes. Stay low and towards the rear of the property. If it is after dark, switch off your lights; if it’s daylight, draw the blinds and lock your doors. However, if you smell smoke or hear glass break, assume that the safety of your place has been compromised and escape to a safer location.

If you think that tear gas may be used, move upwind and keep a moist cloth and water with you. If you wear contact lenses, remove them. If you are teargased, rinse your eyes with water. Blow your nose, rinse your mouth but don’t swallow, and cough and spit. Get medical support as quickly as you can — make sure to rinse your eyes till are able to get medical attention.

If confronted with gunfire, the best strategy is to Run, Hide and Fight.

Run — Get out, as fast as you can and as far as you can but only if it’s safe.

Hide — If the gunfire is directed at or towards you, hit the ground. Crawl away to safety or stay put, depending on what the shooter is doing.

If it is aerial gunfire then take cover behind something with an overhead cover.

Keep your cover until you are certain that it is safe to come out or till authorities have clearly taken control of the situation and/or subdued the gunman.

Fight — You should take the risk of fighting or challenging the shooter only if your life depends on it. Remember if you decide to fight, it has to be with all your might.


Always make sure someone knows where you are at all times. Always have a predefined gathering point for all family members in case the place you are at is compromised.

For example, if your home is in the unrest zone and your children are at school, they must either head to your office, or to a relative’s, or wait for you to come to them.

In case you do get trapped in a dangerous situation, reach out to the rest of the family and inform them where you are but be mindful to only communicate if you don’t expose yourself or your hiding place while doing so.

Create a WhatsApp or SMS family group and text on that. If you can’t get hold of people, post your status on social media — especially if you are with a group of colleagues, friends and family. Others who are looking for them would benefit from knowing where they are and could get help.

No matter where you live and what situation you face, it is imperative to always have a safety plan. The escape plans, considerations for shelter place, and what valuables to take must all be a part of this plan. Its use isn’t necessarily restricted to a particular scenario, practicing and updating the plan is the key.

Norbert Almeida is a security advisor.

He tweets @norbalm and can be reached on or his


Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, November 13th, 2016



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