Basically, the advice given here is all about surviving in a crowd of people when law and order begins to break down and things escalate into violent confrontation. The first rule of survival is to read the signs around you. If you hear people shouting, glass breaking, police sirens, see smoke from burning cars, the obvious thing to do is to take cover or get as far away as possible.
At home or abroad, it is possible to get caught up in a civil disturbance and the advice given below is largely common sense but it makes you think about what you would do in such a situation. In escalating street violence, when people are behaving mindlessly and the authorities are trying to stamp on the trouble before it gets out of hand, events move fast and it is not so easy to calmly think through what to do. People who are in the wrong place at the wrong time do get hurt in these street conflict situations.
Protests and demonstrations are rarely spontaneous and if they are, they usually only involve a limited number of people who are of like mind. Most protests and demonstrations are carefully organized and there is fair warning that, on a certain day, at a certain time, in a certain place, the protesters plan to rally. The organizers of these events do not want conflict, they just want their voices heard and they want as many people as possible to join their cause.
Things go wrong because anti-social elements see these protests and demonstrations as an opportunity to move matters to the next level so they infiltrate the demonstration and incite violence. Violence can also flare up because emotions run high among the protesters and the target of this anger is often the police who are trying to control the situation.
Property is also a target for this burst of anger and frustration and it is usually when a small number of people start damaging property that the police take affair and trouble escalates. If any of the protesters attack the police (throw stones, punch a police officer, etc.) the police response is to use tougher measures in return in an effort to isolate and arrest the key troublemakers. The police are not too forgiving in these situations and innocent people do get arrested or injured by mistake.
Riots are relatively rare in most countries. A riot is a number of determined people making a decided attempt to overthrow an unpopular regime, in effect an armed conflict and the prelude to civil war. Authorities respond with the appropriate degree of force. They use the military and riot police to get the situation rapidly under control and extreme force is used, often with little warning, in a determined effort to eliminate the ringleaders and to panic and disperse the rioters. If a riot becomes protracted you end up with civil war.
Anyone taking part in a protest or demonstration runs the risk of being arrested or being seriously injured. This is a risk they are prepared to accept. For this reason, stay away. Curiosity is the main magnet that draws innocent people to the scene of a protest. Innocent people run the same risk of arrest or injury as the people involved. An angry mob is dangerous and unpredictable so if you are not directly involved you have two great dangers, the mob and those trying to control the affray.
If you are caught up in such a situation, do not get involved. This may mean taking control of your own indignation, for example, if you see riot police being (in your opinion) brutal with a prisoner, do not start your own protest. They will arrest you simply because they don't have the time to debate matters with you. Do not confront or argue with the protesters, as they will see you as "the enemy." Do not take photos; the mob and the authorities will both react negatively to this. Stay on the sidelines and look for a means of escape.
If you are caught in the crowd
Moving in a densely packed street crowd is like trying to swim through a strong ocean current. You have to move with the crowd do not try to move against it. The greatest danger in any crowd is being knocked down and getting trampled, especially if the crowd is fast-moving (trying to escape a police charge, tear gas, etc.). Go with the flow and carefully edge your way to the perimeter and look for a building you can enter (hotel, etc.) or a side street that takes you away from the centre of trouble. Do not enter subways — they can get packed and become very dangerous places.
If you are a family, trying to stay together is not always possible, so arrange a meeting place in case you get separated. Do not let children walk, always pick them up and carry them. Carry a child to one side of you so you can see where you are going and you can better protect the child. If you are in a stadium, experience shows it is better not to flee for the exits; many people are trampled to death in this sort of panic. It is better to stay where you are or get onto the stadium ground and wait until the police or security people tell you what to do.
If you fall down, curl up into a ball. Protect your face, ears and internal organs. In this position, you are a smaller object that can be avoided. You will receive less damage if you are stepped on. Watch for the opportunity to get back on your feet as quickly as you can.
Things you should avoid doing
In the crowd, do not panic and try to force people out of your way in your desperation to escape. Even jostling others can be interpreted as aggression in this emotionally inflamed situation. You may also cause someone to fall and be trampled.
Do not approach police lines thinking they will rescue you. Riot and crowd control police use a strategy designed to drive the crowd like cattle to an area where they can disperse them or arrest them. If you approach police lines, they may assume you are going to attack them and you run the risk of being hit by a rubber bullet, being smacked down with a baton or being shot dead. Driving towards police lines can be misinterpreted. Police are trained and prepared to protect themselves against deadly threats meaning that you may be shot at if they think you are going to run them down.
Do not use public transport (if it running) as all public transport vehicles can become targets of the mob.
If you are driving, do not stop. Drive slowly and use your horn to get people to move. If your car is attacked, get out of it and get away. Better to lose your car than your life. Don't speed up and risk knocking protesters over; experience has shown the mob will instinctively turn on anyone who does this.
Learn to defend yourself
It takes just five seconds to win a fight. These five moves are guaranteed to put down any opponent. (If the animation doesn't start in a couple of seconds, click on the animation to start it from move one.)
Although called "five moves that will defeat anyone" you should practice the whole sequence so it flows like one move. If someone throws a punch with his or her right hand, block it with your left and practice also blocking with your right in case you meet a left-handed assailant. If you learn nothing else, this technique will stand you in good stead if confronted. Of course, it is best to join a club and learn self-defence but find one that teaches specific defence skills appropriate to dealing with casual violence, rather than learning Eastern martial arts (unless that grabs you). If you can find an instructor who taught close-quarter combat in the Army, so much the better.