Surviving a Tear Gas Attack While at a Political or Other Protest
There is no better item to have on hand in the event of gassing, other than a gas-mask, however most citizens do not have such equipment readily available. In that case, it's important to understand what alternative methods are available for supporting your personal health and effectiveness during a gas related event. Additionally, keeping your head on straight and using logic, will greatly increase your chances of successfully getting home unscathed.
Effects of a Gas Attack on Humans
Tear gas, pepper spray, mace, CS gas, or any of a number of other gasses are used as crowd control in the event of a riot or unauthorized gathering. The gasses all perform similarly, causing a high degree of short-term pain and discomfort. The good news is that the effects are temporary. The bad news is that from the time you are first exposed until the effects wear off, you will probably experience heavy tearing, burning eyes and throat, blurry vision, stinking of mucous membranes and exposed skin, choking and excessive coughing which will make you feel like you're suffocating, disorientation and a loss of your sense of direction, drooling, confusion, and more than anything else an intense and ever growing sense of anger and aggression. Basically the gas makes you incoherent, aggressive, and mad, however being nearly blind from the symptoms, most people are unable to mount a fight or counter-attack after being gasses and are easily subdued. Often times, the loss of sensory perceptions such as sight and breathing lead to small panic attacks or anxiety, which further degrades any defensive posturing.
Keep Your Wits and Get Out of the Area
Most people who find themselves in a riot or civil unrest are there by design. They intended to be part of the fight but are not always prepared for what they might encounter. Other times, perhaps in the future, these riots may be something positive, such as the citizenry demanding food or services in the event of a man-made disaster. Wars, terrorist attacks, food shortages, and economic collapse are not something most people think about on a daily basis, but they are a reality in this day and age. As the population grows, resources become more scarce, pressures are put on the food and clean water supplies, and those without get more vocal about taking from those with. Looting and rioting often go hand in hand, and the notion of taking undeservingly is a reality. Examples of this behavior are on the front pages of newspapers in cities like Baltimore, Ferguson, and Charlotte.
If you find yourself in a riot, either by choice or accident, your wits and skills may be the best defense you have. If you intentionally go to a riot or a large gathering where trouble may escalate, go prepared for a gas response from authorities. It's the most common and least impactful weapon in their arsenal, since the effects are temporary but the result highly effective. Understanding the delivery method of tear gas will be a huge advantage to you and might be the difference between escaping and a long uncomfortable night of coughing and crying.
Pay Attention to When and Where the Gas Is
Tear gas is usually launched with a projectile weapon, like a shotgun or small rude resembling a mortar tube. The sound of any gunfire should garner immediate attention and may cause those around you to hit the deck to avoid stray bullets. Pay attention to the vicinity moments after the shot sound and above all, do not panic. Tear gas grenades often explode in the air, above an unruly crowd, for maximum effect, but they may also fall to the ground before exploding. Number one piece of advice is to try and track the grenade visually, focusing on where it might land while also observing if it detonates while airborne. Immediately upon detonation, hold your breath and head the other way. If possible stay upwind from the air burst; fresh air blowing on your person is a natural deterrent. The gas will quickly settle on the crowd below and chaos will ensue. Do not hunker down, the heavy gasses will find you quicker than if you head for higher ground. The quicker you can be on the fringe or totally out of the crowd, the better your chances will be for pain-free escape.
Escape, Escape, Escape
Escape should be your first agenda item, especially if you are part of the demonstration. Better to come back another day and continue the protest than to spend the night incarcerated with a swollen and burning face and hands. If you find yourself stuck in the throng of incapacitated people, then hopefully you've taken time to prepare for such circumstances with your own DIY gas barrier. Luckily, these are simple and can be made at home with common household items and stored on your person with ease, often slipped in your pocket. These homemade gas barriers won't have nearly the benefits you could achieve with a regular gas mask, but they might just get you to safety.
DIY Defensive Gear
A large cotton bandanna can be soaked in cider vinegar, lemon juice, or lime juice and then placed in a zipper plastic storage bag. Double bagging is a great idea as some of the liquid is likely to settle in the bag itself. Place the soaked bandanna over your nose, mouth, and as much or your face as possible. The highly acidic nature of the liquid will minimize the effects of the gas, but only for a matter of minutes. Once you mask-up, it's critical to manage your time effectively to escape the area. This technique will not allow you time to rejoin the riot as an active participant. Another key thing to address is covering your eyes with something that seals out as much of the gas as possible but won't limit your vision too much. Swimmers goggles are one of the cheapest and easiest items to use for emergency eye protection. Try to find the tightest fitting pair you can and practice putting them on with your eyes closed, simulating actual conditions as close as possible. Lastly, think about exposed skin. Hooded sweatshirts, long sleeves, heavy shoes, and gloves can collectively combine with the eye and mouth coverings to complete your kit.
Another Day, Another Time, Another Place
Again, it can't be stressed enough, that getting out of the area is the primary and only objective once the gas starts raining down. Stay upwind if possible, avoid law enforcement who might target you just because you are "too prepared" looking. The planners of many of these events are themselves prepared, and law enforcement might associate you with them. Upon reaching safety, remove all clothing and launder separately, twice if possible, to neutralize the gas effects. If you've been exposed to the gas and are experiencing health symptoms, seek immediate medical care from a trained provider.