Home Defense During Civil Unrest – What to do!

When society starts to collapse and civil unrest floods the streets, our houses are one of the most secure locations we can have.

Unfortunately, many of our houses are not built with defense in mind, and it is often our own responsibility to take the necessary precautions to improve our security. Consider doing things like gathering intel, using saferooms, making your house gray, using alarms, choosing personal defense weapons, securing front gates, doors, and windows, and more.

We’ll look at some of the primary vulnerabilities your home has and the steps you can take to protect your family during civil unrest.

What is Civil Unrest?

Before we look at defending against civil unrest, it is important to understand exactly what civil unrest is so we can respond appropriately.

Legally, civil unrest refers to any mass act of civil disobedience including workers strikes and peaceful protests. While this definition works, we are much more concerned about the violent forms of civil unrest that we have seen heavily throughout 2020. 

What makes these incidents so concerning is the rapid rate peaceful protests can quickly turn violent at a moments notice, often meaning police and emergency services are overwhelmed and unable to respond to threats of home invasion or assault.

This propensity for violence arguably makes civil unrest much worse than any natural disaster, as once violence starts, it has a tendency to spread rapidly throughout a protest, leaving our homes vulnerable to being over run without much notice.

Why Stay in Your Home?

As we just described, civil unrest can quickly devolve into violent riots leaving us at risk of either becoming trapped in your home or having your property breached by those looking to do violence.

This risk is admittedly higher in apartment buildings or in big cities, but even in the most remote locations, if a group forms outside of your home there is always the risk of becoming trapped inside, so why stay?

This is a question with no simple answer. 

For many, there may be no other choice to but to stay.  Bugging out often requires we have some destination in mind but unfortunately this is not always possible.

Other’s may feel a duty to stay in an attempt to defend their home after spending years working to build a place of their own. 

While this is a difficult and very personal decision, for most of us bugging into your property will often be the best option available.

Not only does it ensure access to most of your supplies, such as food and water, but it also keeps you off of the streets and in familiar territory.  You know your house better than anyone else in the world, and this alone can be a huge advantage should you need to defend your property during unrest.

What are the Biggest Vulnerabilities in your Home?

Knowing the layout of your home not only has tactical advantages but also allows you to make an honest assessment of your vulnerabilities.  There is no one size fits all solution when it comes to home security, so the techniques you employ need to be carefully selected to suit your needs.

Obvious considerations include any fencing you have around the property, doorways and windows, but these entirely depend on the type of property you have.

For instance, I spent a considerable amount of time securing the windows to the basement of my current property but paid almost no attention to the windows while living on the 5th floor of an apartment complex. 

Start working on the area’s you think are the greatest threat to your defenses and then work down to the less important considerations.

What is Your First Step in Defending Your Home?

Before you make any decisions about whether to bug in or bug out, one of the most important steps in defending your home is having accurate intelligence. 

By having the latest information regarding a protest or riot, you are able to make the most informed decisions about what you need to do to remain safe, or if it is time to evacuate and quickly get out of dodge.

We’ve covered how to source accurate intelligence in an earlier article, but you should be careful with the sources you select.  As New York Mayor De Blasio recently demonstrated, the media and politicians often have a vested interest in downplaying civil unrest. 

While mainstream news is certainly an option you can use, social media is arguably much more effective at getting the latest information regarding civil unrest, especially considering the number of people now livestreaming their protests to gain more attention. 

Wherever your information is coming from, you should aim to establish:

  • The size of a protest/disturbance
  • The direction a party is moving
  • The presence of any weapons/violence within the crowds
  • The motivation behind the unrest

With at least these 4 pieces of information you can begin making informed decisions regarding the potential threat your home will likely face and how much time you have before a protest reaches your location. 

Remember though, no matter what sources you use during OSINT, always attempt to verify the claims you are hearing.  We’re looking to make informed decisions during an emergency, and unverified intel just increases the risk we make bad decisions when they matter most.

How to Secure the Exterior of your Property?

We can’t publish this article without referencing the incident above!

For intruders to start attacking your home, they will first have to make their way through the exterior perimeter of your property.

If you are able to, a strong fence and gate surrounding your property can be a big deterrent from any group closing in on your position. 

Most looters aren’t targeting individual people, but rather carrying out attacks of opportunity. If you slow them down enough when they are attempting to get onto your property, there’s a good chance they will simply move on and find another victim.

Unfortunately, this is not always this case and we saw this just recently in St. Louis, Missouri as protestors breached a gated community with little resistance.

One way you can complement your fence is through a high-quality camera and lighting system.  Choosing where to place these can be difficult, but at the very least we recommend covering your doorways and driveway, as these are the most likely areas to be attacked.

It is important to be careful when setting up these systems as flood lighting can interfere and wash out a cameras night vision capabilities, meaning you may not always be able to get a good image of the people on your property.

Finally, the way your garden is landscaped can a very effective way to improve your home defenses. By placing bushes and trees on the perimeter of your property and near first story windows, you limit people’s ability to see in from the street, offering some important privacy.

These techniques are not perfect and if a group of protesters are determined, they’ll likely be able to easily breach the exterior of your property. At the very least these preparations can help slow attackers down allowing you to get your family to safety.

How to Make your House Gray?

When assessing the security risk to your home and its exterior, you also want to be careful to consider the message your home sends to passersby. This is largely because flags and signs can easily draw attention to your home unnecessarily.

For example, with the many calls this year to defund the police, flying a thin blue line flag in the middle of a protest is likely to only make your home a key target.

As a gray man, we’d normally recommend avoiding these identifiers in daily life, but in all honesty, I proudly fly a U.S. flag. Just be careful with what you choose to have on your property, and if things start heating up around your house, consider removing any potential identifiers.

Similarly, we don’t recommend putting out signs to try and appease any protestors. We’ve seen this approach a lot this year, but again this can just serve to draw attention to your home. When people take to the streets, even with a clear motivation, there will always be people willing to do violence for the sake of violence. 

Keeping the outside of your house gray will not always prevent an attack, but can at the very least help minimize the attention your house receives.

How to Defend Your Doorways?

If a group of rioters have decided to target your house, their first attempts of entering your home will likely be through a door.

When a door is attacked and fails, it is often a direct result of the doors hardware (hinges, strike plate, etc.) giving way.  This failure may be the result of either incorrect installation, or simply cost-cutting measures that leave your door improperly secured.

Luckily, these components are quickly upgraded meaning even under short notice, you can improve your homes defenses and security measures.

One of the first things I recommend with any door is replacing the screws used to attach it in place.  Most doors use 1” screws that only attach to the doorframe itself, however by increasing the length of these screws you can tie directly into the frame of your house, significantly reinforcing your doors strength.

An alternative approach can be to barricade the door.  This can be an effective strategy, especially if furniture is stacked horizontally allowing the door to be braced against the opposite wall.

The biggest thing to note when attempting a door barricade is to make sure it is a door you can seal and leave sealed.  Barricades cannot be removed quickly, so if this is your only means of accessing a room, blocking the door runs the very real risk of trapping yourself.

Finally, while locks are an important consideration when it comes to door security, any form of deadbolt and chain should be more than sufficient to protect against attackers. 

Most rioters aren’t going to take the time to pick a lock, so you’re better off directing your focus on defending against brute force attacks and reinforcing your door.

Check out this article for an expanded look at Door Security.

How to Defend your Windows?

If someone is set on getting into your house and your doors are sealed shut, the next most obvious way in is through your windows.

Windows are particularly concerning because short of investing in bulletproof glass, or installing bars over your windows, they can be particularly difficult to protect.  Whether they are using hammers, or even picking up rocks from your own property, civil unrest almost guarantees windows are getting broken.

So, what can you do to protect them?

Firstly, one of the most effective ways to protect them is by limiting access to your windows.  Personally, I’m a fan of using plants in this application but even trash cans and other large items can limit people from climbing up to your windows.

You may also choose to cover your windows with something such as plywood or metal sheeting, although installing this can be rather time consuming so you should be careful to make sure an attack is not imminent and that you have time to work securely. 

An alternative approach you may wish to take is to use tape and plastic wrap to cover your windows. This won’t stop people from shattering your window but can offer you some very important protection from shattering glass flying into your home, while also blacking out your windows to conceal any activity within the house.

Windows are arguably the biggest weakness your home has so it is worth investing in their security, even with how difficult they can be to protect.

Why Should You Alarm Your House?

No matter your best attempts, if a group of attackers is willing to put in the effort, it is almost guaranteed that they will be able to make entry (either through a door or window). 

Assuming you are not near the entranceway when this happens, it is important to have a way to determine that your property has been breached.

Commercial options to achieve this are available, such as from SimpliSafe and Yale which offer door alerts and camera systems. These devices are effective at covertly alerting you to activity within your house but can be a costly investment and are prone to fail (such as if your network goes down).

An alternative approach to commercial units may be to construct your own improvised alert system.

Various techniques can be used to create these systems, but one of the most effective methods can be achieved for only $10 with a personal safety alarm and a piece of paracord or tape. This alarm can easily be tied off to almost any door, making it a valuable system whether you are defending your home in the States or a random hotel room across the world.

Another valuable alarm system you may choose to take advantage of is that of your car. Most car alarms can be set off remotely, meaning if you choose to work with the other people within your neighborhood, they can be an effective means of quickly alerting others that you are in danger.

It’s important to note though, using your car in this manner almost guarantees that it will be damaged during a home attack as people move to try and stop the alarm siren by force.

While this is a small price to pay if it improves your chances of survival, you should be aware of the consequences, especially if you plan on later using your car as a means to escape if the situation continues to intensify.

These techniques can be very useful to scare off potential attackers attempting to gain access to your home during civil unrest, or call for assistant but let’s now look at some of the most important considerations once people have actually made entry into your property.

What Makes a Good Safe Room?

Once your door or window has been breached, your biggest concern should be gathering everyone in a single location you can use as a saferoom. Ideally, this should be in a defendable room that can offer you both cover as well as line of sight into your home.

Master bedrooms are one of the most common choices, as they are typically located at the end of hallways and have multiple large pieces of furniture that can be used to hide behind, although this varies significantly between houses.

Wherever you choose, deciding early on where you will locate has many advantages. Having a dedicated saferoom established before civil unrest starts to unfold not only ensures everyone knows where to meet during an emergency, but also allows you to store supplies ahead of time. 

These emergency supplies are particularly important as it is impossible to know exactly how long you will have to stay in the room. 

Personally, we keep enough food and water in our safe room for our family to last at least two nights, in addition to a fully stocked medical kit. 

Although it is admittedly unlikely home invaders will stay for more than a few hours or a few minutes, with something as important as home defense, it is always better to over-prepare for potential contingencies.

One final consideration when selecting your safe room is how you plan on entering and exiting the room. There is always the risk your primary entrance becomes compromised as intruders attempt to break down your door, so having a backup means of egress is critical. 

Wherever you choose to call your safe room, once everyone is inside, stay there for as long as needed. Moving around your house unnecessarily increases the risk of coming face to face with intruders, so attempt to bug in for as long as possible and only evacuate when necessary.

Should you Call 911 During Civil Unrest?

Once you have gathered everyone in your makeshift safe room and checked everyone is okay, one of the first things you should attempt to do is call 911.

Although you call for the police, it’s an unfortunate reality that law enforcement will likely be preoccupied with other things like containing riots and protests.

Even though there is a very real chance you will be left to defend your home and your family alone, you should still call 911 as a threat develops. 

After you call, place the phone on speakerphone and keep it with you at all times. This creates a secure recording of the events as they happen that can be entered into court and help to protect you legally if you need to use deadly force on a home intruder. 

Legally justifying shootings as self-defense is becoming harder and harder, and this step can prove critical in protecting yourself from any legal fallout from defending your home. Of course, nothing is guaranteed!

What Type of Weapon Should You Use for Home Defense?

Although a safe room can help protect your family, we often want to take the initiative and have some means of actively defending ourselves, but what is the best self-defense weapon you can have?

This is an extremely easy question to answer for most of us because the simple answer is a gun, for lethality and easy of use they cannot be beaten when used for home defense. 

With that said, as much as we would like to have a firearm on us at all times it is not always possible, so what alternatives are out there?

The first thought a lot of us have is the cliché example of a baseball bat or golf club, but impact weapons such as these are some of the worst items you can reach for. 

They can be deadly but to work effectively, you need a large amount of space not available in most homes. Not to mention, they quickly lose effectiveness if the threat closes in on you.

Instead of a bat, knives can “more” capable for home defense, especially when fighting in confined spaces such as hallways. They may offer some benefit, but won’t do much to scare an attacker out of your house or be much good if you are going up against a group of multiple people.

Using a knife in a self-defense situation is not as intuitive as it may seem. We’d recommend finding somewhere to learn proper knife fighting techniques, as training will be paramount.

What Gun is Right for Home Defense?

Finally, we come to one of the biggest debates regarding home defense, what firearm is best to defend your family and your property?

There are plenty of arguments to be made over what makes a firearm good for home defense, but most simply, the best gun you can use is the one you have. 

With that said, let’s look at some of the advantages and disadvantages each platform has, and why you may wish to use each style as your home defense weapon.


Shotguns are often listed as a staple for home defense as they are often touted as being easy to use, even when half-asleep in the middle of the night. Navigating through your home can be difficult because of their size, but length is not much different than most rifles unless you get into SBR comparisons.


Rifle can be incredibly powerful home defense options, but again their size can make movement in your home difficult. 

This is easily overcome through short barrel rifles (SBR’s), but even these have their faults, primarily because of the increased risk of over-penetration. There are ways to mitigate over-penetration and that is something you need to consider if you choose to go with a rifle.


Pistols are my platform of choice for home defense, as they are extremely effective on target while still manageable in confined spaces, making room clearing much easier.

Over-penetration can still be a consideration even when using pistol calibers, but their small size, high capacity, and ease of use make them a good choice for home defense.

While some recommend keeping a dedicated home defense weapon by your bed, if you choose to use a pistol then your everyday carry is more than sufficient.   

Personally, my EDC comes off at the end of the day and is placed on my bedside making it quickly accessible during a home invasion, although you may want to invest in a bedside safe if you children to be concerned with.

All of this is said to say, be familiar with the weapon you choose for self-defense, learn how to use it properly, and train frequently. Any of the above can be extremely effective when they are in the right hands.

In addition to choosing the proper weapon, the need to positively identify threats is paramount and a quality “light” is often the tool for the job.

Whether you choose a weapon-mounted light or a quality handheld, may sure it is dependable and has the juice to get the job done.

Should You Avoid Room Clearing?

We’ve talked a lot about room clearing should rioters enter your home during civil unrest, but we’re going to advise against it unless absolutely necessary. First of all, few folks are adequately trained to properly carry out the techniques needed for it to be successful.

Once everyone has gathered in your saferoom, unless you are forced to evacuate, bug in for however long it takes and try to stay put. 

Room clearing itself can be extremely difficult, especially if you are operating alone in your house, so leaving your safe room only runs the very serious risk of being ambushed by home invaders and injured.

Even those who are will often will more effective in defending a position of dominance rather than clearing a house.

Additionally, if you choose to move room to room and have to use deadly force, you may find it harder to argue self-defense as people attempt to claim you were “looking for a fight”. 

It’s unfortunate that we should need to consider legal arguments like this when defending against rioters and home invaders, but justifying self-defense is becoming more and more difficult so you should always be prepared.

Keep your weapon with you, and always have it ready, but remember it is your last resort at keeping your family safe.

Final Considerations

Civil unrest is arguably one of the worst-case scenarios we can face. The threat to our safety and uncertainty these events bring make it difficult to know what the correct course of action often is.

The fallout from protests and riots often mean it is impossible to know when a situation will resolve itself or when help will arrive. 

We always hope situations resolve themselves quickly, but as this year has proven, unrest can last for weeks or even months with little to no support from the police or other law enforcement agencies.

When no one else is coming, we are left only to rely on our preparations and skills to defend ourselves.

We hope you never face the threat of a home invasion, but the earlier you are able to take action and establish your plan of defense, the better your chances are when the mob comes to your door.

Cody Martin

With over 18 years of federal law enforcement, training, and physical security experience, Cody focuses his time nowadays on both consulting and training. He regularly advises individuals, groups, multinational corporations, schools, houses of worship, and NGOs on security threats while conducting customized training as needed.

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