Readiness: Urban Unrest


The post I made at the beginning of the pandemic Go-Bags (Click Here)was making the rounds again last week via the CC blog. The post provides an overview of disaster preparedness and how to begin building a general level of preparedness. The last few months have provided a good opportunity to do so, especially the education and skill building portion.

I mentioned in my previous piece how step one of preparedness is to come up with a list of plausible emergencies you will be facing in your area. If you live in a major city, urban unrest is one of those scenarios that should be on your list, just like blizzards are on mine, and hurricanes would be on the list of someone who lived in Florida. This isn’t alarmist- I say this as someone who has lived in the suburbs of Minneapolis for 30 years now, if it can happen here, in the chill midwest, it can happen anywhere.

Okay, you may say. Great. It’s on my list (in fact, if I live in certain cities, groups have announced that I may be facing it tonight). Now what? What do I do to prepare for it? How much gear do I need to buy? When does the last helicopter leave Saigon and how do I get on it?

I want to preface the below with this: you and you alone are responsible for your safety and survival. I can give advice based upon my studies and training, but you need to take ownership of your preparation and decisions. We live in a society where we are used to consulting the “experts” but you need to accept the responsibility for your own preparation and decision making. You can do this- this is something humans have done for thousands of years, and you have it in you. There are times in urban unrest scenarios when the police, EMS, and fire and rescue may leave portions of the city to the rioters. That happened here last night. It happened for a long time in LA in the 80’s, and it’s happened several times in the interim, but you don’t need to be afraid, because you have thought this through, you are capable of surviving indefinitely without outside aid, and you can be clever enough to avoid trouble and get back to safety. Reading a discord post on the internet will not save your life. Making the decision to be responsible for yourself is a step toward doing so though.

The piece I wrote at the beginning of the pandemic gives you a framework to start with. I’d recommend checking it out if you haven’t already (it’s on the blog if you want to reference it). I’m not a prepper, and I don’t advocate being one- virtually every part of that post is recommended by FEMA as part of a national preparedness and resilience strategy. Assuming that we’ve done those things, the below is some considerations for preparing specifically for urban unrest.

The first question I would ask is, based upon my location, how likely is the unrest to affect my home?

One of my coworkers lives in downtown Minneapolis (I live in the suburbs). I called her yesterday and asked how she was doing, offering to help her find a place to stay if necessary. She was confident that based upon the geography of the city, that even though the riots were within 5 miles of her apartment, that the natural lines of drift and travel would carry them away from her. And, as the unrest spread throughout the city last night, she was right, which shows she has an excellent knowledge of her city and the lines of travel. She made a decision to shelter in place rather than risk travel, which is a legitimate decision to make.

But what if you decide that you are likely to be in the affected area?

You are responsible for your safety- you have to make the decision that is right for you and your family. That said, it’s my opinion that property can be replaced, but your own life cannot. If you find yourself in the likely path of oncoming urban unrest, it may be best to grab your gobag (remember, you do have a 48 hour bag of supplies with your id, insurance paperwork, and important documents in it, because we talked about that earlier), BEFORE things get hot. If you have friends and family nearby, this a great time to visit them. People like to help during crisis, so don’t be ashamed to ask your friends who live nearby if you can stay with them for a few nights as things blow over. Otherwise, consider finding a cheap hotel, air BnB, or taking a camping trip, silly as it may seem to suggest, especially if you have growing violence over multiple days like has happened in Minneapolis (or the LA riots back in the 80s). Remember- the more time you have, the more options you have. You are “left of bang” on the timeline of disaster and have lots of ways to avoid the problem. The closer you get to the problem, the fewer options you have and the more resources you have to spend to avoid issues.

What if that didn’t work?

Okay, so much for that plan. Either you read the situation wrong and wound up in the affected area or you don’t have the luxury of friends or family nearby to stay with for a few days.

What's next?

This is where things get squishy, because it’s going to depend upon how things develop. It’s usually best to stay put rather than risk the streets during this sort of thing. This goes back to having a couple week’s supply of non-perishable (but edible and inexpensive) food like pasta and canned goods, as well as a 48 hour bag with emergency supplies comes in really handy. If the streets are bad enough, you may be better off staying put, especially until day light. But if you saw the videos of Minneapolis and the high-rises on fire and cut off from EMS and fire services…. then you also don’t need me to tell you that staying put isn’t always possible or safe. Sometimes it’s best to bail.

Time to go. What happens if I have to move?

Earlier is better, as previously said. If you’re in an area with even a moderate level of risk and you decide to stay put, I would still have a contingency plan. Some considerations?

  • If I leave for a few days, what and who do I need to bring?
  • What do I need to stage to make sure that can happen with as little delay as possible?
  • Do I have all I need to go 48 hours off of the supplies that I have staged to grab if I need to leave?
  • If not, what do I need to do to fix that?
  • What is my primary exit route out of the city?
  • Does it involve me taking my car? Public transportation? Major highways?
  • If I’m taking my car, is the gas tank full? If it’s not, I should fill it up now. If it involves public transportation, I need at least two back-up plans.
  • Do I have a paper map of the city in case cell phones fail?
  • What is my secondary route in case my first route is either A – not feasible due to blockage of major roads (rioters were taking up positions over highways leading into and out of the city last night and dropping bricks on cars to try and prevent people from entering or leaving the area – good times), B –  public transportation failure (all public transportation was ceased the second day of the rioting) or C – the fact that it takes me through a dangerous area? With your secondary route, I would recommend avoiding major lines of drift- high traffic areas likely to be clogged by people and unrest. Think of this as your “sneak out of the city route.”

  • If I have to use a third route or an on foot route, what does that look like (this would be one of my last choices, but there are situations where I would bail on foot- you have to do your own risk assessment on this based on time of day, level of fitness, violence level of unrest, etc. Moving on foot through an area experiencing unrest should be avoided if at all possible, but sometimes you only have bad options)?

  • The people that I am moving with, do they know the plan? Do they know their jobs? Who is grabbing what gear and who is in charge of navigation when we move? If we get separated, what’s our communication plan? If coms fail, what are our rally points, e.i. where will we meet up if we get separated?

  • 48 bag wise, do I have what I need for a possible movement? Do I have a first aid kit in my bag? Flashlight? Mask (pertinent right now certainly) or respirator? Snacks for fuel? Water?


These are the questions I would review today if I were going over my urban unrest plan. I phrase them as questions, because the answer is going to be different for each person in each situation, but it should at least give you something to consider. Get a map (or download or print one off) and come up with some pretend movement scenarios. Make a note of your primary and secondary routes out to safety.

Talk things through with your group you may be living with. Make sure everyone is on the same page as to the plan and knows what to do if they get separated. I can’t stress this enough. I was at an urban survival class a couple years back with a pair of Army SF instructors. They taught us a bunch of techniques for various survival skills, and then gave us objectives we had to complete as different groups before escaping out of the city. Almost nothing went according to plan for my group. We immediately got split up and scattered as Green Barret instructors hunted us down to try and OC spray us. Despite nothing going according to plan, we completed our objectives and got out safely because we had planned together and were on the same page. We knew what the back-up strategies where, knew what to do if we got separated, knew where to link back up, and knew what routes were good, low profile routes out of the city based upon research earlier in the night. We made it out, undetected, and completed a link-up in a safe area. It was a cool experience, and a reminder that even though things rarely go according to plan, the planning process and making sure everyone is on the same page, is invaluable.

What’s great is, once you talk through the above questions with yourself (or ideally) someone else, you’ll find that you have less anxiety about the situation, because you have just gained some significant level of control over your own safety. Use this as an opportunity to increase your readiness and resilience instead of living in fear. You will sleep better knowing you have a plan and can handle whatever comes up. You don’t need to be afraid because you can be prepared.

Thoughts or comments? Questions I didn’t consider above? A few people reached out to me after Bible study to express concern last night about their situations in their cities, so feel free to discuss below if you feel comfortable. I’d love to hear about how things are going for you.
Any questions or thoughts?x

Lots of very good points, I just want to point out that it is important to think outside of the box sometimes, especially when planning "escape routes" Most people will only be thinking of roads (which is where the crowds will be), but you can also follow railroad tracks, atv trails, powerlines, etc. If you have access to a boat, just getting to a river can open up a lot of options as well.

VERY true, Nils!
Avoiding natural lines of drift like roads is a great way to move through an area with a low profile.

Would part of the "take drift routes" be considering what is a "targetable" area? I'm assuming even in the suburbs the store lots were the ones first hit.

Yeah, that would definitely be part of the consideration. The technical term for that is “proximic pull” but it really means – what is the crowd going to be attracted to? If they are angry at the police or the government, a route that takes me by the police station and through the state capitals parking lot would be a bad choice. Same thing with malls- even in the suburbs, rioters have started targeting malls, so now might be a good time to avoid them.

A natural line of drift is the path of least resistance to a destination. People, like water, take the path of least resistance. So in order to get to the target, they’ll take the easiest route (a road rather than climbing an unpaved hill). If something blocks that (like a police barricade for instance), they’ll take the next easiest route. Thinking of a mob like water that is traveling toward it’s target is a good way to predict it’s behavior.

Pets. Love to hear your gear and go plan for Zulu. I know some people choose to abandon, but there have to be more ethical options + survival advantages to having a good dog along. My excellent watchdog let me sleep at night in the winter of 2016 when there was danger of my RV being broken into. I still feel much safer walking with than without him.

Gear-wise, I have a month’s supply of dog food stored up at all times for her, so we could feed her if we got cut off from supplies. Go-wise, I have a bag with her meds, collar, leash, and a collapse-able dish for her. Most bail-out scenarios for me in the burbs involve a vehicle, so the dog having her own bag is good to go.

Dogs are a great asset from a security perspective. FBI statistics show that a house with a dog is 90% less likely to be broken into (that’s dogs of all types, not just dogs that think they’re cops like my dog). I would definitely do my best to take her with in a foot bailout scenario. I wouldn’t just grab a baggy of food and her collapsible dish, toss it in my bag, and that would be fine for 48 hours of movement. Abandonment would be a last ditch option- only done if human lives were at imminent risk, and I don’t see too many situations where it would be necessary.

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May 30, 2020 2:37 am

Thank you for this! And thank you, Ongurth, for raising the quality of CC’s blogs with such awesome content!

May 30, 2020 2:54 am

Thank you for the excellent article!

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