Are We Ready for Civil Unrest America?
Civil disorder, also known as civil unrest or civil strife, is a broad term that is typically used by law enforcement to describe one or more forms of unrest caused by a group of people. Civil disturbance is typically a symptom of, and a form of protest against, major socio-political problems; the severity of the action coincides with public expression(s) of displeasure. Examples of civil disorder include, but are not necessarily limited to: illegal parades; sit-ins and other forms of obstructions; riots; sabotage; and other forms of crime. It is intended to be a demonstration to the public and the government, but can escalate into general chaos.
A Texas judge has come under fire for comments he made about the potential for civil unrest in this country. The judge believes that contingency plans must be put in place in the event that some sort of worst-case scenario becomes a reality.
What we can do
1. Keep standard emergency preps up to date. First thing to do is make sure all our typical household preparedness supplies and plans are current. As BHM readers know, backup food, water, and other supplies are our mainstay for everything from bad storms to long-term unemployment, from power outages to social breakdowns. During civil unrest, especially at Level Three or Four, we might not be able to get out to buy things we need—or we might consider it more prudent to stay at home. On the other hand, if we ourselves are part of the unrest, we may need those supplies to sit out a siege.
2. Don’t fall into foolish complacency. We who live in the country tend to have an “it can’t happen here” attitude toward political violence or social upheaval. We see those things as urban phenomena. And mostly, they are. But there’s no ironclad rule that says they have to be. If anything disrupts the supply chain, for instance, rural areas could be the first to be cut off from food, medicines, fuel, or other necessities. If government breaks down to the point where it can’t deliver food stamps, housing vouchers, social security, or bureaucrats’ pay, the rural poor and unemployed could become just as restive as their urban counterparts.
3. Watch your health. As I write this, the airwaves are shrilling about swine flu. This outbreak may fizzle; after all, perfectly normal flu kills many every year without causing panic, martial law, or incessant media coverage. On the other hand, it’s certain that one day some illness will rampage across the globe. Few things inspire public panic more quickly than contagious disease, and once again rural areas are not immune. Take all the standard recommended precautions like frequent hand washing. Make sure your preparedness kit includes surgical masks and disposable gloves as well as a selection of frequently updated medications. And be ready to lay low at home for a long time in the event a serious plague gets loose.
4. Make common cause with your neighbors. I’ve said it before, but establishing a strong bond with people in your community—right now—is vital to every sort of emergency preparedness. In event of a Level One or Two emergency, these are the folks who could come to your house to make sure you’re okay. They might give you a ride out or a place to sleep if you accidentally end up in a “hot zone” of riot or protest. In a deeper or more long-term emergency, they could pool resources with you to make supply runs. They can advise you if they’ve spotted a roadblock. They might let you cross their land to avoid a route that has become dangerous.
5. If you grow crops or raise food animals and the unrest is due to a food shortage (or something has driven city people out into the countryside), prepare to protect your resources day and night. Here again neighbors can do each other valuable services, like taking shifts guarding fields, barns, private roads, and gardens. Yes, this is an apocalyptic scenario. Not a likely one. But if it happens, it’s a Level Three or Level Four emergency—delivered to your own front yard.
6. Get advance word on local conditions when traveling. We’re used to hopping into our vehicles or onto airplanes and going wherever we want to go. But as the worldwide economy deteriorates, it’s wise to keep an eye on our destination. Right now, this warning pertains more to overseas travel than jaunts within the U.S. If you plan to go abroad, visit online sites like Travelfish.org. They’ll have bulletins about adverse conditions in areas you plan to visit; you may even be able to receive alerts via email that will warn you about anything from political protests to disease outbreaks in places you plan to go.
7. Watch for signs of trouble when in an unfamiliar area. Sometimes the only advance notice you get is the notice your own senses give you. When walking, driving, biking, or otherwise traveling in unfamiliar places, stay in what gunfolk call “condition yellow.” This is different from the meaningless colored threat levels the Department of Homeland Security puts out. It just means “be alert!” Never simply allow yourself to slouch along obviously. Always be aware of who’s nearby and what’s going on around you. If you spot trouble developing, turn. Avoid it if at all possible.
8. If you stumble into a “hot zone” of unrest, be prepared to think on your feet. Not many people are qualified to give you advice about how to behave if you unavoidably find yourself in the midst of trouble—a riot, a mass protest that suddenly engulfs your familiar downtown, a spot where police are bashing heads or hurling tear gas seemingly at random. That’s because not many people have ever been there and every catastrophe is different. If street-level chaos surrounds you, do your best to keep a cool head, move away from the worst of it if you get the chance, and get inside if possible.
9. If you’re swept up in mass arrests during a riot or demonstration, the officers probably aren’t going to be listening to your protestations of being an innocent bystander. You’ll only tick them off and possibly get a charge of resisting arrest. The best advice I’ve received from my friends who’ve been busted during out-of-hand protests: Go along as best you can. Usually, all charges in such cases are either dropped or reduced once calm is restored. Only if we’ve reached the extreme point where police are rounding people up and throwing them into detention camps or “disappearing” them is fighting cops on the street likely to be worth it; then…fight like a demon.
10. Have a good lawyer and carry his or her card with you. Once again, in the heat of chaos it may not do you much good. But that card will come in handy later. Besides, if you and a police officer have an encounter in calmer circumstances, a lawyer’s card, along with your calm assertion of your legal rights, will help you to be taken seriously. Police officers are like anybody else; they’re more likely to go after easy targets than ones who are obviously knowledgeable and prepared. My lawyer has a helpful little list on the back of his card of the things you should do—and not do— when accosted by a police officer.1 I’d trust that more than my own nerves in a tight situation.
11. Be careful of roadblocks. This is a hard one. If we reach Level Three or Four of unrest, we may not only see the obnoxious police “checkpoints” we’re burdened with today. We might also see two other things. One would be expanded police roadblocks, with warrantless searches, harsh questioning, and possibly mass arrests. Another could be “freelance” roadblocks—roadblocks set up by anybody from political protesters to highwaymen. (Just as gangs of home invaders now masquerade as SWAT teams, highwaymen might masquerade as government officials to rob the unwary.) If it’s humanly possible, avoid roadblocks. It’s not illegal to turn away from them, as long as you don’t disobey any traffic laws. Police do consider it suspicious behavior and may come after you, even if you’ve done nothing wrong; but in a time of civil unrest, avoiding a roadblock could save your skin. Of course, both police and freelancers will set up their blockades to make them as hard as possible to avoid—all the more reason to be alert, know where roadblocks are likely to be, and have a mental map of alternate routes. If, in a time and place of unrest, you’re in a line approaching a roadblock, watch what happens to the people ahead of you. If you see any sign that the motorists ahead are being abused, get out of there.