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Personal Safety In Riot Situations

11 August 2011


Stratfor's Vice President of Tactical Intelligence Scott Stewart discusses personal safety during mob violence situations while using the recent London riots as an example.

Stratfor is a US based security company, the advice is from an American perspective, but is applicable to all (with video)

In today's Dispatch we're going to change gears a little bit and take a tactical and a practical look at riots and using the topic of the London riots, discuss how people should behave and what you should do when riots happen.

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It needs to be understood that riots and mob activity can and quite frequently do turn violent. It is still very important for regular citizens just to maintain a heightened alert of situational awareness during times of civil disobedience. So what you're going to want to do is really keep alert as to what's going on through the news media.

You are going to obviously want to keep your eyes and ears open to see what is happening on the street outside your hotel or outside your residence or business. In a lot of recent riots including the London riot, there have been a lot of rumors that the protesters are actually using twitter and instant messaging and blackberries to coordinate their movements. If you can find out which twitter feeds that the protesters are using, that can allow you to really monitor where they're going, what their intentions are and that can also help you stay one step ahead of them and help you stay out of trouble.

If you are a foreigner you are going to want to make sure that you're connected with your government and with your embassy. A lot of governments allow you to register and they will send out either text warnings or email warnings to you that will let you know when things are going on.

One of the positive things about being registered with your embassy is that if it does become necessary to evacuate from a country - especially a Third World country that's kind of remote - it's nice to be on the Embassy system so they know you're there, they will be looking for you and they will account for you when they are looking for space to get you out whether it is on a ship or an aircraft.

If you are a resident in a city like London or you're just a visitor, the second thing that you want to do is to start looking at your contingency plans and your fly-away kit. You want to make sure that you have everything you need packed and ready to go in case you need to run.

It's also important to remember that most security measures and physical security measures were made to protect against one threat but not really the mob violence threat. Many times in a mob violence type situation, they can turn into a confining cage that can actually endanger you. If a mob has time and they have sledgehammers, pipes, they can break through bulletproof windows or bullet resistant windows, they can break through heavy doors and they can get into a facility given that time.

It may take a half-hour, it may take 40 minutes but they can get through those the security measures so just because you have good security at your site, doesn't mean that you don't have to be prepared to get out of there and to fly to safety.

One of the things after we've gotten intelligence on our eyes, once we examine our contingency plans and our fly-away kits we also then want to figure out exactly where our line is when we're going to want to withdraw, and this is going to be something that each individual is going to have to come up with themselves; when the rioters get to such and such an intersection such and such block, this is the place where I'm going to want to make my escape and get out of the area.

There are also different kinds of mob violence and it's important to remember that. In cases like London it's basically general, you have a lot of looting and some of this is really kind of a financially motivated. You have kids that are hitting sporting goods stores to steal sneakers, they are hitting electronics stores; it's not really directed against any one group or any sort of ethnicity.

However, there are other cases we've seen some past London riots, for example the May Day riots in 2000, we had a very anti-globalization campaign going on and in those kinds of riots multinational corporations and hotels and banks and restaurants were attacked just because they were a part of these globalized chains.

So really understanding what the riots are about, what's motivating the mob and who they are going to target is very important in creating your plan and creating your understanding of when you need to pull out of the area. Once the mob is attacking there's really very little that a person can do to defend themselves or their property and it's really at that point where you need to forget about the property and be much more concerned about saving life.

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