Getting home, or even out of your office to the metro or rail, during civil unrest can present some challenges. Some are the physical danger from the protestors themselves, as recent news has shown, they are quick to attack anyone who opposes their view of reality.
There are a number of things you can do to protect yourself and things you should have in your get home bag (GHB) or vehicle that can help protect you.
From the standpoint of personal protection, if you are navigating the streets and get caught you need to protect your eyes. Safety glasses are available in multiple styles and colors these days, from clear glasses to sunglasses. If you are accidentally sprayed, or get drifting pepper spray in your eyes you will have extreme discomfort, but, more importantly, you will be severely incapacitated and unable to safely navigate out of danger.
You also want to protect your mouth and nose as spray can enter those membranes and affect you, so a dust or N95 mask will stop most of the spray. In addition to pepper spray, protestors have been using water bottles and other projectiles filled with urine. Therefore, protecting your eyes and mouth should be a priority.
Capsaicin is an active component of chili peppers and is an alkaline oil, so trying to wipe your face or eyes will not remove the oil, in fact it will probably make it worse. Trying to wash it off with water will spread the oil, also making it worse. Dairy products work to neutralize the effects of pepper spray, the fat in milk, sour cream and yogurt bind with the capsaicin oil to neutralize the effects.
If you get pepper spray in your eyes, or on your hands and you then touch your eyes, the effects are much worse. If you have contacts blink as quickly as you can to create tears and help wash the oil out. Some experts warn not to use milk because it is not sterile, but to use large amounts of water.
However, trials by medics using a 50/50 solution of antacid and water have been very effective. The trials use aluminum hydroxide or magnesium hydroxide based antacids such as Maalox (plain, not mint or other flavors). The solution can be used in the mouth and other membranes. Once the solution has been used to neutralize the effects in the eyes they should be rinsed with eye drops or sterile water.
This has been supported by a study by the University of California San-Francisco. Milk of Magnesium and Pepto Bismol are not recommended.
You could also encounter glass, whether it’s a windshield or side windows of your vehicle being broken, glass bottles being thrown or strewn across the roadway as a make-shift spike strip. Your front windshield is designed with a laminate so that while it will spider when impacted it will not shatter into sharp shards.
Most glass in side windows will shatter into small pieces, while not shards they can cut you and you certainly don’t want any in your eyes. If you’re in your office, then most office windows are thicker and will resist a number of hits, however they can still be broken as has been seen in civil disorder events in the recent past.
Obviously, safety eyewear as mentioned above will also protect your eyes from glass, and wearing them in any urban area when a civil disturbance is going on cannot be over stated as you never know when you might turn a corner and encounter a mob. Protecting your hands while removing glass, or knocking out the windshield so you can see, should be another ‘no-brainer’ but it is amazing the number of times we do things with our hands without thinking of protecting them.
We nearly always use our dominant hand to do things with. If you injure it, how many can draw and shoot a weapon with precision with our non-dominant hand? If you are carrying on your right side, can you even draw your weapon?
You should always carry a good pair of leather gloves in your GHB, and remember to use them every time you go to handle glass, rough wood, remove rocks or other debris. I personally carry several pairs in my vehicle and a pair of Mechanics Impact Pro in my GHB. These are leather with additional padding across the knuckles. I also carry a pair of Ironclad gloves which have reinforced finger tips. I’ve had these ever since I use to do search and rescue in Alaska as they provide good dexterity while protecting your hands and fingers. So, wearing gloves while hiking out of or navigating around the urban area is highly recommended to protect your digits.
General debris is another hazard you are likely to encounter during civil disturbances. As you have probably seen, anything that isn’t nailed down this a missile, in fact some stuff that is nailed down very well becomes a missile! Trash cans, bench seats, sign posts, bricks broken from walls, flower pots, anything and everything will be used. I was involved (as a LEO) in a peaceful picket years ago that suddenly turned violent, with no hint that it was going to, and lasted about 3-hours before we were able to disperse them. The next day public works collected up 4-tons of rubble, including bricks, pieces of concrete, scaffolding poles, signs, etc. All of it had been thrown at us.
While we have already mentioned protecting your eyes and hands, you should also think about your feet. Having to run away from a crowd or navigate over rubble, that could also potentially have nails in, in sneakers, dress shoes, heals, or worse, flip-flops, isn’t going to be fun and would almost certainly result in injury, whether from a puncture wound or twisted or broken ankle. While it might be difficult to use an injured hand, you always have the other one, but it is not possible to run or maneuver quickly on an injured foot (like trying to drive a car with two blown tires).
As we’ve mentioned in other articles, a good pair of hiking boots is essential if you have to consider walking home an option. While steel toes and/or steel shank boots sound like they would be idea for this kind of situation if you have ever had to wear them, you know that trying to hike any kind of distance in them will kill your feet, and be very painful after a while. Like all good boots you need to wear them in and wear good wool socks with them. Don’t just go and buy an extra pair and keep them at work “for emergencies.”
While on the subject of foot protection, we should also touch on your vehicle tires. Most of us don’t have, or can’t afford, run flat tires on our vehicles. If you are in your vehicle, try to avoid running over sharp object like signs and sign posts, wooden poles (at some disturbances “protesters” have been found with wooden poles with nails in disguised as flag poles) and other object likely to puncture your tires or get deflected up into your engine or other vulnerable areas on the underside of your vehicle. If you do get a puncture, keep driving until you are in a safe area.
While most tire repair facilities discourage you from using the emergency tire repair foam, this would be one of those times I’d use it. It’s quick and can get you back on the move fast. This would be preferable to abandoning your vehicle. If you do use it, get the tire replaced/repaired as soon as possible as it damages the rims.
Fire is another hazard you could encounter. If on foot, you can most likely walk another direction. However, if in your vehicle or office you should have at least one, preferably two, 5lb dry chemical fire extinguishers. Make sure you know how to use one, there are plenty of videos online but basically aim low at the base of the fire and sweep. You do need to get fairly close. As the powder can clump when left in an extinguisher, you should turn it upside down and tap on the bottom with a rubber mallet one a month or so.
If you are in your vehicle and encounter large debris that has been used as a barricade, you should try to change routes. HOWEVER, be careful that the barricade hasn’t been set up to direct you to take a route that is an ambush. Be aware of going down roads or alleys that leave no options for escape, i.e., a funnel. If you have a suitable vehicle and consider driving through the barricade an option of last resort, look for the vulnerable areas, such as the rear of a vehicle (lighter) or area where there are no overlapping vehicles.
If you are in a rural area, or your route home takes you through rural areas or unmaintained (dirt) roads you should be prepared for those kinds of roadways. In the winter, snow and ice could be a problem, so a snow shovel, cat-litter and other items to get you out of drifts, should be in your vehicle. If trees across the roadway could be a problem (this goes back to surveying all your routes), then an axe or better yet a chain saw would be useful. Using either of these kinds of tools should not be taken lightly, you should know how to use them safely, wearing eye, hand and, with a chain saw, hearing, protection is a must.
Many times, when we think of personal protection, we overlook the basic protections of eyes, hands and feet. If we injure any of these, we are less able to protect ourselves and become a liability to whoever is with us. If we are trying to protect our family, we will be less able to do so. On a daily basis think of this and protect your eyes, hands and feet as you go about daily tasks, yard work, car repairs, etc. Then, much of this will become second nature.