How to survive tear gas attacks by the police in Bahrain

In Bahrain, public safety is not a given.  As has been reported by journalists worldwide, peaceful demonstrators, journalists, and even bystanders have been beaten, arrested, tear-gassed, and shot at with bird shot pellets, rubber bullets, tear gas canisters, and live ammo.

The Bahrain Coordinating Committee joins every major human rights organization in the world in condemning the abhorrent practice of the excessive and indiscriminate use of tear gas against Bahrainis.  The extent and nature of these well-documented attacks is almost beyond belief.  As this seasoned reporter says in this interview with Dan Rather, “I’ve never seen so much tear gas.”

Even if you are not involved in a protest, you may be injured as a bystander.  Riot police routinely, sometimes daily, enter neighborhoods and shoot tear gas indiscriminately in the streets, and sometimes directly into homes (see video below).

Fatalities associated with tear gas in Bahrain

The elderly, young children, babies, pregnant women, people with disabilities, and people with breathing disorders have been especially vulnerable to the effects of exposure to tear gas.  Physicians for Human Rights reported in March 2012 that at least 34 people, ranging from infants to 73, had died in Bahrain as a result of tear gas exposure over the period of a year.  One 14-year-old boy, for example, died  this year, after his lungs collapsed when tear gas canisters were shot directly into the home of his family.  In April 2012, the same organization issued a press release warning of severe health implications, including miscarriages, if it continues.

Preparedness tips for possible tear gas exposure

If you live in Bahrain, or are planning to visit Bahrain, it’s important to plan for your personal safety, and the safety of your friends and family. Tear gas exposure is a real possibility, even a likelihood, so learn what you can do to minimize its impact.

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, and I have not experienced these kinds of situations.  Please obtain the advice of medical professionals and experts.

Know what to expect.  Tear gas is used because it causes pain, discomfort, and confusion.  When you are exposed to tear gas, your eyes tear up and your vision becomes blurry, and your nose runs. You may choke, wheeze, and find it difficult to breathe.  Some people feel sick and vomit.  If your skin is exposed, it may burn or hurt.  You may get a rash or burn from where the tear gas comes into contact with your skin.  People tend to become very angry and upset when exposed to tear gas, so it may be hard to think rationally and take the steps you need to protect yourself and others (which is why advance planning is so important).  The effects may be even worse on children and the elderly.  Try to avoid exposure to tear gas, if you can.  I know that is not always possible.

Serious side effects associated with prolonged exposure to tear gas (an hour or more) or excessive amounts of tear gas (such as are routinely used in Bahrain) include blindness or death (because of damage and burns to the throat and lungs).

Prepare an escape plan for tear gas attacks in your neighborhood.  If tear gas is shot into your neighborhood, or worse, into your home, you will need to evacuate to a location as far away from the tear gas as you soon as you can.   If it is shot into your home, do not hesitate: leave immediately.  Discuss your escape plan with your family and trusted friends.  Select two places to meet, if you are separated from each other while escaping from tear gas: one immediately outside of your home, and one in another location, such as the home of a friend or a public park.

Practice your escape plan.  As horrible as this is, you need to practice the drill so your family automatically knows what to do if you must evacuate because of tear gas. Practice at least two escape routes in case the first option is blocked (e.g., the front door).

Pack a small go-bag, such as a backpack or duffel bag, and keep it in the bedroom or wherever it can most easily be reached, so you can pick it up, collect your family members, and be out of the house in seconds.  Everyone should know where it is.  You will not have time to pack anything in a tear gas attack, because it is essential that you minimize your and your family’s exposure to the tear gas, and get to a location where you can decontaminate yourselves.  Do not make this bag so heavy, you cannot carry it (or run with it).  Distribute the contents among family members in separate bags, if needed. The contents will vary according to your family’s needs, but include in this bag

  • Some cash
  • Cell phone
  • Flash light and batteries
  • Identification papers, licenses, insurance cards
  • A small first aid kit; may want to include eye drops
  • A bottle of water for each family member
  • Prescription medicines and asthma inhalers
  • One current photo of each family member
  • A small hygiene kit, including soap (to wash chemicals off skin)
  • Bandanas or towels to put over your mouth while escaping
  • A plastic trash bag you can seal (for contaminated clothing)
  • A spray bottle of water and baking soda solution (for skin)
  • Indispensable personal need items (such as diapers, baby food, glasses, etc.)
  • Comfort items for children (small toy, hard candies, stroller, etc.)
  • Special needs items for disabled or elderly family members

If you are exposed to tear gas, and cannot get immediate professional medical attention, apply first aid measures.

  • Get away from the tear gas. 
  • Don’t touch or rub your eyes with your hands; it may make it worse.
  • Flush eyes with water or saline solution until they stop burning.
  • Wash exposed skin and hair with soap and water.
  • Remove clothing and put in plastic bag, seal, and wash with soap and water later, separately from other laundry.  It’s better to cut off the clothes than pull them over your head in some cases.  If you’re helping someone, or yourself, use vinyl or latex gloves, if they are available, to protect your skin.
  • If you have breathing problems, try to get medical attention, and oxygen.  If not available, asthma inhalers may help.

If you are planning to attend a peaceful demonstration, take steps to protect yourself from harm.  Be aware that riot police may likely attack any demonstration — or any gathering they perceive as a demonstration, which means any kind of group at all, including funeral processions — with tear gas.  Theefore, it’s important to plan ahead for tear gas exposure.  Be sure everyone knows what to do if the police use tear gas against your group.

While marching, be alert and vigilant and think about escape routes you see, as you go.  If you hear a shot from a tear gas rifle, look UP and see where the canister is falling and get out of the way.  They explode, and people have died in Bahrain after being hit with canisters in the head and body.  Never touch or pick up a tear gas canister on the ground.  It’s hot and it may explode.  Get away from the tear gas, when you can, and get upwind of the gas.

If the police arrive, confront you, or start shooting, it’s time to make your escape.  Do not confront the police.  I would work under the assumption that they will hurt you if they catch you, based on their past record of behavior.  Some advise you to move with the crowd, until you can find a side street, doorway, or other escape route.  If you can, walk, don’t run.  This will make you less conspicuous and may make it easier for you to get away.  Some people advised that in a protest, you move along on the sides of marchers, rather than in the middle.  The middle can sometimes bring you some protection against being shot, but it’s also easier to get trampled there.

Children and teens do go to marches. So, if you are young, or small in size, you may want to stick to the sides, so you can escape more quickly.  Or, if you are under 18, and this is just my opinion, as a mother 🙂 consider staying home and helping the cause in other ways.

What you wear, what you do, and what you bring along may help bring you relief if you come into contact with tear gas.  Gas masks are the most effective protection, but not everyone has a gas mask.

If you are planning to attend a demonstration, 

  • Wear long sleeved clothing and pants, to protect your skin from chemical exposure.
  • Wear sturdy shoes you can easily run in, if needed (not sandals or flip flops).
  • Do not wear solid navy blue pants and shirts, as you may be mistaken for riot police in a panic.
  • Do not wear oil-based sunscreens or moisturizers on your skin where there may be tear gas.  The chemicals in the gas will stick to your skin.
  • Try to wear earth-toned colors or colors that blend in. You do not want to be a moving target for a shot gun.
  • Wear cotton, instead of polyester, if you can. Synthetics react more to the chemicals.
  • Don’t wear anything that can’t be washed.  You can wear jewelry that can be removed and washed, but think twice about a watch.  If you come into contact with tear gas, everything on your body will have to be removed and washed with soap and water.

Before you go to a demonstration, bring along the following items, which may help protect you (and your skin, lungs, and eyes), in case the situation deteriorates:

  • A bottle of water to hydrate you and flush your eyes and skin, if needed
  • A plastic, seal-able bag containing wet bandannas or small towels (you may need more than one).  The moist bandana goes over your mouth and will help protect your lips and lungs from tear gas for a few minutes.  The bandana will soak up chemicals so you will need to change it, if you can’t get away fast enough.  Some people advise soaking the material in water, or in a solution of water and lemon juice, or water and baking soda, to neutralize the burning agents in tear gas.  Put this over your mouth while you are getting away from the tear gas, and change as needed.
  • If you have swim goggles, bring those. They may protect your eyes.  Even sunglasses are better than nothing.
  • Don’t wear contac lenses. Wear glasses, instead.
  • A plastic spray bottle containing a solution of water and baking soda, or water and antacid ( Tums, Pepto Bismol, or Milk of Magnesia).  This spray may help neutralize the chemical agents that can come into contact with the eyes, nose, and skin during a tear gas attack.  Some also say cut lemons (squeeze juice on skin).  Ask your doctor.
  • A pair of surgical/first aid gloves (to protect your hands while removing contaminated clothing from yourself or others).
  • A few pieces of hard, sugar candy.  The adrenaline associated with a crisis situation can cause a drop in blood sugar, and some people even pass out.  The candy can help.

Let’s hear from you!

How did this blog post make you feel about what is happening in Bahrain?  Have you, or has someone you know, experienced exposure to tear gas in Bahrain?  If so, what have was tried to minimize its effects?

Please leave a comment, and thanks for reading, and sharing this post.

Resources

Tear Gas Related Deaths in Bahrain, Physicians for Human Rights

Tear Gas Exposure: How to Deal with Tear Gas

Tear Gas / Riot Control Agents, New York Public Health Emergency Preparedness

How to Survive a Riot, Wiki How

Journalist Security Guide, Committee to Protect Journalists

About Mary Fletcher Jones

Mary Fletcher Jones is a mom, teacher, and blogger. Her blogs include Autumn in Virginia, Cool Yule Blog, and You Can't Make This Stuff Up, among others. She is also the creator of "Living Well With Autism," an online resource for caregivers of children, teens, and adults with autism and related special needs.

Posted on June 6, 2012, in Human Rights in Bahrain and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on How to survive tear gas attacks by the police in Bahrain.

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