What to do if you get caught in a protest

  • Posted on: 12 February 2018
  • By: laila Akel

The world is an unpredictable quagmire of political turmoil, a country could easily descend into crisis within hours, as witnessed in Turkey in 2016. Even locals don’t exactly know what to do in such circumstances, let alone foreigners visiting for a few days; you can easily be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Civil unrest could be anything from a simple protest to a full-scale riot or public uprising. Despite its importance, having to deal with such situations is not common knowledge. Here are some points to keep in mind and use if you were ever caught in such a situation.


Section 1: Protests and civil disturbance


Stay up to date with the news, be it through TV, radio, twitter or a news App on your phone. Try to obtain your embassy’s phone number as they should be able to provide you with up-to-date information on current situations. 

If you hear about a demonstration happening close to your location, it is preferable to not leave your place of accommodation until it is confirmed that the situation has been brought back to normal. If you're in a location (street or neighborhood) where there is a heavy presence of police, security forces or military action, leave immediately, as it should indicate possible clashes.

When leaving avoid the area where the event is taking place, and don’t let your curiosity take hold of you. As such, it is recommended to have your phone on you with an internet connection in order to use Google/Apple Maps (or any accurate maps app) to help you find a way out in a new place. Even better if you have access to a security-optimized app that provides real-time updates (like the UNDSS’s ‘TRIP’ if you work for a UN organization, or RedCrow’s security App) and supports SMS-updates (in case of a shutdown/slowing of the internet). If none of these options are available, simply attempt to obtain a physical map.

If you are in the city/country on behalf of an organization, keep the organization’s security focal point aware of your itinerary at all times. It is important for you to understand and recognize that your passport or work status will not necessarily protect you.


Section 2: Wrong Place, Wrong Time


If you find yourself in the middle of a demonstration, you should remain calm. If you feel that you need help, you should ask a single individual to guide you rather than a group of people: asking for help from a specific person puts more responsibility upon them to react. Stay at the edge of the demonstration; If you find yourself caught in the middle, move diagonally with the crowd, but never against them; this way you will slowly slip out of the crowd. If you are swept by the crowd and begin to feel crushed by them, grasp your wrists and brace your elbows away from your body, creating some breathing room for yourself.

If you get pushed to the ground or get trampled, try to get near a wall and roll into a ball shape. More importantly, cover your head with your hands until the crowd leaves and remain clear of glass shop windows. If you see a nearby open building, alley or a doorway, you should first make sure that the building you are running into is unrelated to the demonstration (like a government building) then duck inside. Once you get away, never run; walking away draws less attention to you.

In case of shooting, the ground is your friend; drop down, cover your head and neck and lie as flat as possible. If you happen to get arrested, try to identify yourself as someone not related to the entire situation, but don’t try to escape or resist the arrest. If not released, peacefully go with them, and get in touch with your embassy.


Stuck in a car?


Take a breath, lock your doors, slow down, and try to evaluate the situation. If there’s room for movement proceed cautiously and slowly in an effort to find a breakaway route (preferably one that isn’t a main road).

If you are unable to move, get out of your car, lock it and continue on foot to look for a safe place to stay in (by following the advice given initially in the first section). If that’s not an option, stay in your car, lock the doors and remain calm. Never use your car horn at any point as you may agitate the demonstrators.


Section 3: Staying in


Some international organizations have particular hotels which their employees are allowed to stay in during a civil unrest. These hotels have up-to-date security measures and employees who understand how to react during periods of tension. Your in-house security council is likely to inform you of these locations, and it’s important for you to follow their advice. Unless you have to, do not leave the accommodation (Section 1). Contact your focal point and inform them of your location, if unavailable, contact your embassy/consulate. Lock your doors, draw the curtains and stay away from windows.

Lock all valuables and vital equipment in a safe or move them to a safer part of the room. If you are in a multi-room accommodation, move to an inside room (or one with no windows) to reduce any impact from explosions and gunfire.