civil unrest in america

In this Lesson – we will discuss 

Civil Unrest in America.


  • Discussion of Civil Unrest in America
  • What is Social Chaos / Civil Unrest
  • What are some of the causes of Social Chaos
  • The dangers associated with them
  • How to determine your RISK LEVEL of them

What is Social Chaos


It can go by many names:  Civil Disorder, Social Chaos, Riots, Public Demonstrations, Civil Unrest, Civil Strife….

It is a public demonstration by a group of people who want to send a message of displeasure to the government and/or the public overall.  These demonstrations can cause a breakdown of society and escalate into general chaos.

Bottom Line:  The people are not happy and they are letting everyone know about it.


Civil unrest is typically triggered by a combination of social and political problems resulting in public outrages, or protests, usually in the forms of: riots, strikes, uprisings, looting, street fighting, etc.

These types of situations can get particularly ugly due to the motives that drive it: hate, resentment and fear.  These motivators are emotionally driven and will make people think and behave completely out of the norm.

They feel that they have been let down by the government and society.   How can the government and society sit back and allow what ever situation that has developed – happen?

The government is suppose to be protecting and treating their citizens fairly.   The government  does this by setting rules – laws.  The general public (society) becomes collateral-damage by allowing the government to do what it does.

When the people who are protesting,  see (or believe) that the government and society are not abiding by the rules, or when the general populace and government are not being negatively impacted by the rules like they are  –  then the protesters feel that the rules don’t apply to everyone – and therefore do not exist.

If everyone else is not being negatively impacted by the rules like we are – then there are no rules or the rules are not fair.  This mind set results in loss of control:  Rioting, looting, destruction of property, personal injury and even the taking of life is all justified.  There are no rules – there are no laws.  The only law in place is – there are no laws.  There is only chaos and panic.


What are some of the causes of Civil Unrest:


  • Economic inequality. This is not a new idea; the Greek philosopher Plutarch wrote over 1,900 years ago, “An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics.”  Side Note:  A 1994 Harvard University Study: Alesina & Bocconi.  “Studied 71 countries between 1960 and 1985 and found that higher levels of income inequality were associated with increased social instability.  Their explanation was that unrest often erupts when a wealthy middle class is weekend.”
  • Unemployment levels and available opportunities.
  • Feelings of oppression, not being listened to, being ignored.
  • Scarcity of the Basic Resources: Water, Food, Shelter. Example would be the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
  • Sports Events example of when one country loses a soccer game. Or a football game.  The rioting afterwards.
  • The regional and national leadership that has influence on the demographics of an area: Ethnic, tribal, religion, sectarian and Ideology.
  • Effectiveness of a country’s [National, State, Local levels] Political and Internal Security Systems. Do they have the ability to control?  Can they control a situation?
  • Elections
  • Anti-War Protests.
  • Fiscal Austerity ProgramBudget Cuts by the government. Side Note: “A sample of European austerity-focused protests from 1980 to 1995 attracted an average of 700,000 people, while anti-War protest average under 15,000 people.”  The Economist, October 22, 2011
  • Increase in Taxes
  • Public Policy and Laws

Social chaos is dealing with the people you encounter and the dangers created by them.

The disruption caused by these demonstrations can impact:

  • Roads and your ability to get around (both out of an into an area)
  • Transportation Systems: Trains, Subways, Buses, Taxis, Airports
  • Utilities: Electric, Water & Gas Distribution
  • Food Deliveries
  • Communications: Phones, TV & Radio.
  • Emergency Response: Medical, Fire and Police.
  • School Closings


Social chaos can:

  • Happen in any country and in any environment.
  • Can range from a local disturbance to country wide to regions of the world.
  • Local: Occupy Wall Street
  • Country Wide: Egypt
  • Regions: 1989 Uprising against communism in Poland, Hungry, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, and Romania
  • Can range from nonviolent protest movements to a full blown civil war.
  • Can change and escalate very quickly.


Most civil unrest results from a buildup of tensions over a period of time.  Usually there will be some indications of things starting to boil over in the news.

It will be very important to stay informed and stay alert.  Be aware of current events and what is happening in the local environments.

This is where your situational awareness will come into play.  Be aware of what is happening around you and in your area.

The best way to protect yourself and family from these situations is to get out of the area before it has the opportunity to escalate.  Once you are involved – getting out can be difficult.


Examples of Civil Unrest through History.


1783 Pennsylvania Mutiny.  One of the earliest social protests in the United States happened in Philadelphia back in 1783.  This protest involved 400 soldiers of the Continental Army who were protesting not being paid by the federal government.  Ironically, this protest was one of the key events that eventually relocated the capital of the United States to Washington, DC.

1970 Kent State Shooting.  Kent State University, Kent, Ohio.  Ohio National Guard open fire on unarmed college students protesting the United States extending the Vietnam War into Cambodia.  Four students were killed and 9 were wounded.  Hundreds of universities, colleges, and high schools closed throughout the United States as 4 million students protested.

1992 Los Angeles Riots.  This riot was triggered when five police officers were acquitted in the Rodney King beating.  Fifty-three people were killed and 2,383 people were injured, more than 7,000 fires, damage to 3,100 businesses, and nearly $1 billion in losses.  The National Guard had to be called in to control the situation.

2011 Egyptian Revolution.   Millions of Egyptians protested and demanded the overthrow of President Mubarak.  The revolution was based upon several of the “Causes of Social Unrest” listed previously:  freedom of speech, political corruption, high unemployment, police brutality, a non-responsive government and a demand for a voice in the government.  Eight hundred and forty-six people were killed and over 6,000 injured.

2014 Ferguson, Missouri.  Triggered by the fatal shooting of an African-American, Michael Brown by a white police officer, Darren Wilson.  As with the other social chaos examples given, many of the causes come down to the list of “Causes of Social Unrest” detailed earlier in this module:  Excessive use of force by the police, feelings of oppression, citizens not being listened to, being ignored, police brutality, etc.


There are many reasons that can result in a social chaos situation developing.  The sociological, psychological and emotional details are beyond the scope of this module.  If it justified or unjustified really depends upon which group you are siding with at the time.  This is a very complicated and personal topic.

We at Practical Disaster Planning do not take any position in what is right and what is wrong behind the reasons for social chaos.  But– we must recognize that social unrest has been happening in civilization since the beginning of time and it will continue to happen again in our futures.  Therefore, we must recognize and address Civil Unrest in America as a potential threat against the safety of our family and plan accordingly for it.

What are some steps we can take to minimize our impact from Social Chaos events.


Be alert to what is happening in your area, any areas that you work in or may be traveling to, or any areas that your family may be in.

As stated in the discussion above:  The tensions in these types of events build up over time.  Monitor the news, listen to the neighbors and people in the area, and keep your “Situation Awareness” alert to what is happening around you at all times.

Depending upon your location; if you detect a situation having the potential to turn into an event, you must decide if you are going to “Shelter-in-Place” or to “Evacuate” to a safer location.

If you want to evacuate the area – give yourself and your family, plenty of time to get out before the situation becomes too dangerous.

If you decide to “Shelter-In-Place”, follow your “Shelter-In-Place Plan” which you will develop in a future module.

If you are caught in an event, try your best to blend in with the people in the area.  You do not want to bring any unwanted attention to yourself or to your family.  Find an escape route to a safer area and work your family over to that area.  Keep looking for progressively safer areas and working towards them.

The safest measure is:  If you become aware that the possibility for a social unrest event developing in your area:  get out of the area as fast as you can.  Go to one of your back-up locations as soon as you can.


Ways to protect yourself during Civil Unrest Events.


Social Chaos events are different from all of the other disaster events that we have discussed so far.  Social Chaos is dealing with people and mob issues.  People can be very unpredictable and very dangerous.  Remember:  Humans are the most dangerous animal on the planet.

As stated earlier, (most of the time – but not all of the time), there will be  a build up of tension prior to to the event.  It is very important that you monitor the news for any early signs that something may be developing in your general area.  If you get any inclination that something is getting ready to happenget yourself and family out of the area as soon as you can.  Avoid the area.  Evade the area.

If you do get caught up in a social chaos event (and the time to safely evacuate has passed) – the best option is to Shelter-in-Place.  If you are going to Shelter-in-Place, your inventory of: food, water, and other supplies are going to be critical to your survival.  Make sure you are ready if you need to Shelter-in-Place: Bothat home and at work.  These kits “Shelter-in-Place”, “Bug Out Bags”, “Car Kit”, and “Everyday Carry Kits” will all be discussed in more detail in a future lesson.

If you have the opportunity to evacuate, a Bug-Out Bag will be essential along with knowing exactly where you will be evacuating to and the route that you will be taking.  Don’t forget to have the good old fashioned paper map and a compass.

There is a good chance that all of your family members will not be together when the event happens.  Having a Family Communication Plan (which will include pre-arranged and pre-planned Meet-Up Places) in place will help to get family members back together.  Have a Family Communication plan in place for both a Shelter-in-Place and/or an Evacuation.


You want to avoid crowds the best you can.  Crowds can be very dangerous places.  If you do get caught in a rowdy crowd:

  • Don’t bring attention to yourself.
  • Do try blend with the crowd.  Dress like the locals.
  • Do stay calm.
  • Don’t run.
  • Don’t confront.
  • Don’t make eye contact.
  • Do stay away from the agitators and vocal people in the group.
  • Do avoid any temptations (curiosity) to go and investigate what is attracting or agitating the crowd.
  • Do stay away from the police and the emergency services people.
  • Do look for opportunities and holes in the crowd to get out and away from the crowd.
  • Do look for temporary safe havens; (stores, businesses, etc.) that you can get into and away from the crowd, even if it’s only temporary.  The rear exits of these establishments may empty into an alley or street that you can use to get away.
  • Do look to move yourself to the closest or safest edge of the crowd. Move with the flow and move diagonally towards the safe havens.
  • Do get up (right away) if you fall.  If you can’t get up – roll into a thigh ball and protect your head the best you can.


You may find out that you need to go out of your shelter into the crowd.  This is very dangerous, but it may be necessary.

  • You may have to go out and help get a family member inside.
  • You might have made the decision to move locations and the crowd turned ugly.
  • You need to get emergency help for a seriously injured family member.


Whatever the reason you may have to go outside into the danger zone, you want to make sure that your clothing not only blends with the crowd (remember you don’t want to bring attention to yourself) but also will offer the best protection from the crowd.

  • Minimum clothing is long pants and long sleeve shirts.
  • Preferable strong rugged clothing like constructions workers wear.  This type of quality will hold up to tearing, scraping, and some puncturing.  Visit our store for more options on what type of clothes to wear.
  • Good pair of gloves to protect your hands.
  • Good pair of boots for your feet.
  • Safety glasses (a good pair of safety glasses will look just like a pair of regular eye glasses) but will protect your eyes much better.
  • Consider swimmers goggles to also protect against any smoke or tear gas that may be in the air.
  • Clothing will be discussed in much more detail in a future lesson.


Determining Your Risk for Social Chaos


The first step is to determine our risk level for where we are located in the world.  The Economist list all of the countries in the world and has assigned a risk level to each one of them.

Find the country you live in, or you are researching, in the table below.  Note:  If you have trouble reading this table, you can visit the Economist website page by clicking on this button:  The Economist: Social Unrest



Give your location the following point(s) depending upon the listed “Risk Level of Social Unrest”.

  • Very Low Risk =  1
  • Low Risk =  2
  • Medium Risk =  3
  • High Risk =  4
  • Very High Risk =  5

So, if you are located in the Unites States, you give yourself 2 points.


The second step is what type of population setting are you located:  Urban/City, Suburbs, or Rural.  It is obvious that social unrest has to do with – well people.  So the more people that are around – the higher the risk of them becoming restless.

Give yourself the following points depending upon the location you live in:

  • Urban/City Setting = 2 points
  • Suburbs =  1 point.
  • Rural/Country =  0 Points


The third step is what type of population setting is your work location: Urban, Suburbs, or Rural.  Again, as with the previous discussion, we need to assess our work location for risks.

Give yourself – or any family member – the following points depending upon the location you or a family member work in:

  • Urban/City Setting = 2 points
  • Suburbs = 1 point.
  • Rural/Country =  0 Points


Now total up all your points and enter your Risk Assessment into your Risk Assessment Table.


This is what you should be taking away from this module:


  1. Discussion of Civil Unrest in America
  2. What is Social Chaos.
  3. What are the causes of Social Chaos.
  4. Social Chaos normally results from tension building up over time. Pay attention to the news so that you are not surprised when an event does happen.
  5. Importance of your “Situational Awareness” during times of potential Social Unrest.
  6. Some examples of Social Chaos.
  7. How to determine your Risk Level for being involved in a Social Chaos event.


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