Each year thousands of people around the world are killed or injured in riots or other forms of civil unrest. As recent riots in places as varied as Dubai, Paris, and San Bernardino, California, suggest, civil unrest can occur just about anywhere where there are enough people. The best way to stay safe during these disturbances is to avoid them or evacuate them, as once you’re in the midst of a riot, survival can come down to luck.
With the unprecedented civil unrest aimed at American Embassy’s in Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Qatar, Malaysia and more it is clear that Americans who travel abroad for business, vacation and to visit family must take serious precautions and be prepared at a moments notice.
The assault on the American consulate in Libya consisted of two separate attacks that forced the Americans from the consulate and then besieged them in a second building in a gunbattle that lasted four and half hours, according to a detailed timeline from a senior administration official.
The bloody offensive by extremists killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. In addition, three more U.S. personnel were wounded.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the Libyan militants a “small and savage group,” and she praised Stevens, who began working in Libya during the revolt against Moammar Gadhafi.
Although these events were directed at US Embassy’s throughout the region it does not mean that Americans in general were not targeted. It is best to keep up to date with the latest happenings around the world as they can effect the region you are visiting or a region you may be traveling to in the near future.
Make preparations in advance
Should civil instability erupt, especially if you’re traveling abroad, you may need to be evacuated. Make an evacuation plan that includes where you can go to be evacuated (usually an embassy or an airport) and where you can go if you are unable to get to that place. Make sure all members of your family know the plan.
- Know the locations of police stations, hospitals, embassies and airports in the area.
- Keep a backpack filled with emergency rations and supplies. Keep a small amount of non-perishable food and some bottled water in a backpack. The total weight should not exceed 10 pounds, so you or a family member can easily carry it.
- Keep an emergency credit card, a small supply of cash, and some traveler’s checks with your passport. Make sure you know where your passport and other papers you may need are, and make sure that you can easily get to them. During civil unrest, money can sometimes buy you out of bad situations (a bribe at a roadblock, for example) and will usually be essential to facilitate any evacuation, so it’s good to keep an emergency supply, including a little cash, on hand.
Know before you go
While riots can happen anywhere, they’re most common in places that are experiencing palpable tension or upheaval, where the smallest spark can ignite violence. Before you travel abroad, research conditions in the place you’ll be visiting by reading news stories about the area and checking for travel advisories issued by the U.S. Department of State or equivalent agencies. If there is a strong possibility of civil unrest, consider postponing or rerouting your trip.
Contact your embassy and notify them of your presence
If you’re traveling abroad in an unstable country, call your embassy to register and let them know where you are.
Pay attention to what’s going on around you, and get out of an area if warned
In the weeks, days, or hours preceding a riot, residents of an area can often tell that something big is about to happen. If you’re a traveler and local people, police, or consulate staff warn you of the possibility of impending violence, leave the area as quickly as is safely possible.
Avoid large groups of people, especially demonstrations
You need a lot of people to make a mob, so riots are most common in urban areas. The more people you get together in one place, the larger the chance of a riot becomes. Stay away from demonstrations–peaceful protests can quickly turn violent–and, if the atmosphere is already tense, consider avoiding festivals or other events where people crowd together.
What To Do If Your Embassy Is Attacked
If the embassy of your country is attacked it is best to head to the airport as soon as possible. If it is not possible to do so safely then you must shelter in place.
Having at least 1 week worth of food and water at your location is ideal during these situations. If you feel something big is coming to the area and you were unable to leave in time you MUST get prepared by stocking up on food and water provisions. This way you will not have to go outside and be a target of attack.
- If you know civil unrest is occurring, the best thing you can do is stay far away from it. Do not venture into a riot to gawk or to find out what it’s about.
- Avoid public transportation, especially bus and train stations. These places may become hopelessly–and dangerously–crowded if there is a threat of impending civil unrest. Even airports can become swamped, potentially dangerous places, so it’s best to call the airport or your embassy in advance to check on the situation there.
- Secure your home and business if rioting is imminent.( also it is important to research and confirm self defense laws in the area if you think your safety might be threatened) Rioting often brings looting, and looters can pillage and destroy your property. Make sure your doors are locked, and board up all your windows. Remove small valuables to a safer place if possible, since determined rioters will get in just about anywhere.
During episodes of civil unrest, many people fail to heed warnings to evacuate so that they can protect their homes or businesses. Consider this decision carefully, as it may put you in grave danger. It’s important to remember that if looters strike you will likely be outnumbered, and your attackers may be armed. If you can evacuate, it’s usually better to do so–your property is not worth your life.