Civil Unrest And Riot Defense: How To Survive A Panicked Mob In A “W.R.O.L.” Scenario!

Jeff Anderson

Remember the Boston Marathon Bombing?

Immediately after that event, and several times after that, I've been asked about how to manage risk in a large crowd environment WROL (without rule of law).

Well, one answer is simple:

Unless you are absolutely required to be in attendance, AVOID large crowded environments.

Of course when there are times when you have limited choice and must venture into that environment, then use good habits of “situational awareness” and adopt a “bias towards action.”

Large groups of people will always attract a certain amount of risk.

Never underestimate the volatility of people in large groups.

Any significant event, even a “perceived” event, can result in a stampede.

People are injured and die every year during Black Friday Sales events when they become victims of a frenzied mob.

I talked to my friend Kevin Reeve, about this alarming subject, and here is what he told me about surviving panicked mobs.

Civil Unrest: How To Survive A Panicked Mob In A W.R.O.L. Scenario!

Civil Unrest: Survive A Panicked Mob In A Riot
Civil Unrest: Survive A Panicked Mob In A Riot
Kevin Reeve
Kevin Reeve

A fire, an explosion, an active shooter can all create a mob mentality that takes on a life of its own.

The KEY to surviving any event in a crowded venue will depend almost entirely on your ability to control personal panic, to assess the situation, and to take immediate action. If you panic, you drastically increase your odds of injury or death.

Here are a few strategies that will decrease your risk…

1. Maintain Your Awareness

Keep your eyes up, off the smart phone, and scan your environment.

This is can be challenging due to the large volume of people. But try actively scanning.

Look for “out of baseline” behaviors.

People moving upstream, against the flow, for example, are out of baseline.

People moving faster or slower than the baseline, or whose gestures or furtiveness do not match the event, may also be a risk.

2. Identify Specific Threats Or Behaviors

Look for menacing behavior or people who by their looks cause you to feel uncomfortable — and trust your gut.

There may be a valid reason why they make you feel uncomfortable.

If you are in proximity, move away.

As always, look for “orphans:” bags or packages without owners.

Alert security if you see them, but do not stand next to them waiting for security to arrive.

3. Identify Exits

Whenever I enter a room, or area, one of the first things I do is scan for exits.

  • Are there emergency exits?
  • Are they alarmed?
  • Are they locked?
  • What about windows?
  • Can they be opened?
  • Is there a heavy object like a chair I can throw through the window?

Most people will bypass emergency exits in close proximity to them to go back to the entrance they came in through.

This behavior has led to many deaths in ballroom and concert fires.

People who are panicking seek the familiar.

Don't fall into this trap!

4. Identify Cover

Cover refers to safety from fire.

A brick wall may stop bullets, but sheetrock walls will not.

Solid furniture may seem solid, but even a two inch thick oak table will not stop a 9mm round.

You must find something substantial if shooting starts.

The engine block and front axle of a car for example may provide enough cover for one person, but the car door, not so much.

Inside a building, there is generally not much cover, so it's better to head for an exit.

5. Carry Essential Gear

Essential gear for an outside event includes a water bottle, a first aid kit that includes a tourniquet, a knife, a multitool, and sunglasses (that also provide eye protection).

For an indoor event, add a small pocket flashlight (a smartphone light will not penetrate smoke and haze.

NEVER go out without essential gear.

It's all you will have on you in an emergency.

6. If It Goes Down, Get OUT

When everything starts happening, you need to leave, no matter what.

  • Pick up and carry children.
  • Have your family members, (spouse, others with you) grab a hold of your belt.
  • Move assertively towards the PRE-SELECTED exit.

Move with the crowd “downstream” but also in a diagonal direction, until can reach a wall inside, or if outside, the edge of the crowd, where you can better control your movement.

Do not be afraid to damage or destroy the fixtures or the building itself to get out, such as breaking open windows or kicking open doors, or breaking locks.

Timidity will not be helpful; your primary concern must be your family.

Once they are safe, you can decide whether to render aid to others.

It is impossible to anticipate every event.

However, most events will precipitate the need to MOVE. MOVEMENT to SAFETY will generally always be your highest priority.

If the event is localized to your immediate vicinity, then safety generally lies elsewhere.

The most important trait here is a BIAS TOWARDS ACTION. Take action to improve your crowd situation.

What Would YOUR Strategy Be If You Encountered A Panicked Mob?

Share Your Thoughts And Experiences With Us Now…

24 thoughts on “Civil Unrest And Riot Defense: How To Survive A Panicked Mob In A “W.R.O.L.” Scenario!”

  1. I watched the video of the shooting event in Colorado… or the Pot Event, which do I call it?

    Anyway, two single shots and 10,000 people in a sheer terror panic…

    You could see the actions of some of the people, they were just completely mindless.

    Was it the pot, was it the people they had allow themselves to become? Aren’t both of those the same answer?

    In any case, I enjoyed this article and already don’t go into a room that I don’t know two ways to get back out of…

    I watch and am aware of my world – this was great information.

    I think perhaps that there are a lot of people that would say that this kind of information is crazy stuff…

    But most of them are busy stampeding at the first sign of anything “scary”…

    All my best,

    Paul Darby
    How To Save Yourself And Others

    Reply
  2. Hello,

    Excellent suggestions.

    Having been in situations, may I offer one more suggestion: most people will stand and stare after an incident. If you want someone to do something, yell instructions at them. It wakes them up and gets their attention.

    An example: “Give me your belt!”.

    Just My Thoughts,
    Bill Moore

    Reply
  3. SITUATIONAL AWARENESS IS A BASIC SURVIVAL NEED IF YOU ARE NOT AWARE OF YOUR SURROUNDING THEN GET AWARE ITS THE ONLY WAY TO FEEL COMFORTABLE, VERY GOOD ARTICLE, EVENTS HAVE A WAY OF HAPPENING INSTANTLY, KNOWING YOUR ENVIRONMENT WILL BE OF GREAT ASSISTANCE!!!!

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  4. My wife and I were at a large event last night in a concert hall. As we came into the theater I was thinking of the Boston Marathon bombing, looking all over for abandoned bags, backpacks and the like. I was also acutely aware of our fellows in attendance at the event. I identified the nearest exit and the fastest path out of the building. My wife asked me, “What are you looking at so intently?” My reply, “Oh, nothing, but if trouble starts, just stick close to me.” She thinks I’m crazy. I may be crazy; but I’m not stupid.

    Reply
    • Ha! Your wife and my wife must be trading notes! LOL

      It’s good to see people being more aware of bags left alone. There was a time after 9/11 where this was at the forefront of many people’s minds. Now most have become oblivious. It’s a shame that two terrorists can set down backpacks in a crowd and walk away without any one single person raising an eyebrow and thinking that’s weird, isn’t it?

      Reply
    • Great tips! Since my deployment to Iraq, I’ve definitely increased my situational awareness, even while driving. A couple other things I do: I watch watch the people in my immediate area, where I sit, and what I could use for a weapon if the guy in front of me gets up and pulls a gun or knife. While driving, I’m always watching overpasses, normally adults don’t just hang out on an overpass. Love your articles!!!

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  5. Very good article, everyone needs to know this information. They said at the Boston bombing that is someone would have just noticed the two guys with backpacks and the way they were acting, they could have been stopped. Be aware people! Thanks!

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  6. Thank you for this blog and the good info.
    I carry a large bandana type handkerchef, clean of course, and can use it for a touniquet, an ankle wrap for a sprained ankle, a bandage wrap, an arm sling, a hat or neck sun shield, a wash cloth, a face mask from dust or smoke, a towel to dry off with, a filter to strain muddy water, a container to pick fruit or nuts, even a place mat for a picnic.
    In personal defense, a policeman would never only have one flashlight. I feel the same about a knife. I now carry a folding Benchmade combo edge with clip on my right side, and a smooth blade Benchmade deep in my left pocket. If I’m told to drop my knife, I still have a backup, and each blade is better for some tasks.
    I carry 2 or 3 1″ bandaides in my wallet, and give away more than I use, and always make a friend.
    Dental floss also has many more uses than just cleaning your teeth. You can probably think of some right now.
    On long driving trips, I used to play “idea” games with my passengers, like what would you do if…and see what answers come up. Very fun, and it reinforces the thought process on how to get by with less.
    This stuff works every day, not just in an emergency. Hope it is info you can use.

    Reply
    • Good advice old shooter! Something that I’ve started doing differently after the Boston Marathon bombing is to be especially conscious of how many tourniquets I can fashion from what I’m carrying. A bandanna works great… a belt is more difficult but do-able… clothing can be cut in strips with your survival knife… etc. At the bombing, with legs and arms scattered about, there was a need for as many tourniquets as you could find.

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  7. Concise and to the point, something all too often this kind of article does not have!

    Best two pieces of advice contained within are avoid the crowds, you never really have any control in a crowd.
    Make yourself and family safe first! Once you have the essentials taken care of, then you can consider just how much additional risk you are willing to take!

    A weapon is always a good idea to carry, if you cannot carry a weapon to the event, best to not go! Gun Free Zones are just considered killing fields by the bad guys!! 🙁

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  8. I remember being taught something to the effect of: Observe, Assess, Decide, Act.

    I try to practice this advise even in the most mundane of situations.

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  9. Just a thought, but what if you were to “shelter in place”? I mean if a panic exit starts, what if you did nothing but hunker down and wait some (if feasible) for the panic to die down. I’ve seen many videos of mobs stampeding and there is always someone who just hangs out, stays out of the turmoil and as it dies down, strolls on out. Comments?

    Reply
    • Come on Threebears!! Are you going to hunker down in a blazing fire-filled concert hall or a movie theatre when someone is shooting at you? You might want to think of the worst case that you might be in, and work backwards from there. Maybe what you are thinking of is something like running with the bulls where there are lots of lookers,and lots of people running and you could get run over, but nothing like Boston or the recent grade school shootings.Evacuation of you and your family can save your life.

      Reply
    • It’s very logical to think this ThreeBears. However, in most cases, any type of action is preferred to staying in place. As an example, active shooter scenarios have shown that those who hunkered down in their offices (or classrooms) were sitting ducks for when their turn came as opposed to those who made a run for it.

      In addition, it’s pretty common to have 2 bombs set – one to create chaos and another positioned in the area as a secondary device to blow up first responders and citizens coming to help the wounded.

      Again, each scenario is different but this is exactly why you want to be especially observant of your surroundings and constantly in the state of formulating an “exit plan” wherever you are. No need to be paranoid about it, but just make it a habit so that when something does happen, you already know which direction to head rather than getting caught up in the chaos of the crowd’s panic.

      Reply
  10. OldShooter, think about carrying your folder knife in front next to your zipper. It is accessible with your weak hand if your strong hand is injured. It carries easier, you have access while sitting, is recommended by personal defense network. I carry a CRKT M-16 or M-21, they have double locks to hold open and they open with your fore finger instead of your thumb again easier with your weak hand…….just a thought.
    Staying or running depends on the situation; a fire, run or crawl; an explosion maybe not. That may be the event to get you to run into the main ambush for greater body count. Gun fire you need cover, running makes you a target. Don’t lie flat, bullets tend to hug a hard surface so crouch.

    Reply
    • Rick, Sir,
      I’m sitting here trying your suggestion, but without a belt on. I’ll try with abelt later. I can see right away that it is eaiser to access with either hand. It will also be very obvious to me if it came out of my waistband as compared to sitting in a chair, and you hear this “clunk”, and it’s my knife that just fell out of my pocket onto the floor.Both of my Benchmades are the Barrage model, and are spring assisted with a button on both sides. Once the blade is on the move, it springs into full open. It’s not very quiet (good or bad I don’t know yet), but it works. One has an additional slide lock on the back bone between the scales that locks the blade open or closed, which can be tricky if it is in the lock position, and you want it to open. The othere Benchmade is also a Barrage,spring assist, but no slide lock as above.
      Thanks for your thoughts. OS

      Reply
  11. Most people, walking around with their smart-phones and i-pods, would literally TRIP over an unattended bag before they notice it!

    Using a belt as a tourniquet depends on the buckle. Nylon belts without holes work fine. Leather belts with holes may need to be wrapped around a limb 2-3 times, and/or tightened with a stick. Remember that a tourniquet is a LAST RESORT, used ONLY when someone will likely bleed to death without it. When applying a tourniquet, always place it as far as possible from the core; eg, if someone’s foot is blown off, place the tourniquet BELOW the knee.

    Which way to run…? It depends, and there’s no one answer that always works. In a bomb situation, you never know if there are secondary or tertiary devices… Are the “little bombs” used to get people moving towards the “big bomb”? Or towards the active shooter? Or towards the poison gas? Is a secondary device located to maximize damage to emergency/rescue personnel and first responders?

    It’s easy to discuss tactics from an arm-chair, but bear one important thing in mind about the Boston bombing: IT DOESN’T MATTER WHO DID IT! It doesn’t matter if it was an inside job, a false-flag, a terrorist group, a lone crazy guy… The results will be the same: Liberties will be “temporarily suspended” so the wolves can “protect” the sheep. Cui bono?

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  12. This is great common since advise. America can use some common since right now. Situational he awareness is the key to safety when ever we are in public; whether driving a vehicle, at work, walking down a sidewalk or just going outside to check the mail. Thanks guys.

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  13. You guys rock! I totally feel better with these to add to my thin safety net! As a 10 year veteran cop i always try to be prepared for others’ emergency needs, and am humbly able to keep folks out of hospitals through preparedness (it is amazing what you can do with simple sugar and salt packets and a ziplock baggie of water, for example.)
    Once a fight broke out very near us in a bar and my husband (and drummer) surged right towards it along with the crowd. I grabbed the back of his belt and dragged him forcefully away towards an exit. He was mad as you can understand -til the crowd surged -fast- right on and over where we had been! As he saw that, we were out the door and people inside were getting injured. He was not mad but he was impressed i took effective action quickly.
    As an extremely low income retiree without ‘benefits’ and with lots of medical issues, i especially appreciate the ‘free’ and really low coat items…and if someone wants to help me get arms sometime just let me know where to shop (couldn’t eat them but my Glock 17 was the laaaast to go..to a dealer who promised he’d sell it to a cop or military only! Peace and awareness go hand in hand more than most people understand!
    Thank you for all you do! (betting there’s an above average military and law enforcement readership here)

    Reply
    • Marti,
      Sorry to hear you lost you Lassssst. When first reading your post, I was thinking you were still on active duty, and I was wondering how much more of a comfort you would have felt if you were surrounded by law abiding armed citizens watching your back, and providing you with support?
      As Winston C. said, never give up, never, never! Make a bow and arrow system, make a spear, buy a bush knife and you can use it as a sword, just start using your experience and think what a bad guy would do, and make it better for you. Never give up! OS

      Reply
  14. Thanks guys! I like to throw out some imflammatory comments just to get the juices flowing. I know “sheltering in place seem like suicide, but it was interesting to comments that leaned toward sheltering due to the situation. It’s never good to only have one plan of action.

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  15. Other points to consider are lines of sight, what do the other customers seem capable of doing (an ally or an enemy), how many cars in the parking lot, and what is happening in the local area.

    Reply

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