Tactical Map Usage and Scouting, by Robert B. in North Carolina

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Know your environment - getting the maps ready now

In a world full of google, yahoo and portable navigators, the art of using maps kind of gets lost. In a SHTF situation, you will probably not have much of a technological tool kit for navigation, or planning. Knowing how to use maps from a tactical perspective then becomes critical skillet. Sand tables are not the most portable item to help identify and understand a terrain, but using plastic layers over a map can be very portable, and useful for viewing an environment. The layers I talk about below are a starting point, you can add whatever you want or remove those that are not important to you.

On a side note the Army has an excellent manual that contains instructions on mapping: Combined Arms Operations in Urban Terrain (ATTP 3-06.11/FM 3-06.11) don't let the title fool you, "Urban" to the Army is a settlement 2,500 people or more.

  • Using maps and clear plastic layers
    • Map Basics
      • Start with a basic terrain map of area; if you are in a rural or homestead area include one of nearest town. 
      • I recommend hard copies for all, but you can start using downloads from google/yahoo maps, and using the terrain and other options. This map should have both land elevations and man made structures on it.
      • Also available are software tools such as Visio, OmniGraff, and some near free diagram generating software programs, if you choose to create your own maps from a computer first.
      • Don't forget to think three dimensionally - subways, sewers, basements, high-rises etc.
      • When mapping out layers, it is key to have an index including category (layer name), location (grid, street, landmarks), common name, and supplemental information for that specific item documented and easily referenced.  Having a number next to the item on a map will also aid in the lookup.
      • Check colors for map layers against your chemical light sticks, or your red or blue flashlight filters - make sure you can read them at night [under a poncho].
      • Mark layered items with icons based on categories: triangle for first responder buildings, x'ed boxes for restaurants, etc.
      • Have a map protractor to help identify distance, and bearing 
    • Creating overlapping layers
    • Use clear plastic layers for each of the following to aid in area understanding. Using plastic layers allows for easy removal or adding, one onto of the other, to gain a better understanding of the environment, and to remove clutter from information that is not currently important. For neighborhood resources you might want to think about not using a corner to corner overlay, but for known locations this might not be a high risk.
      • Infrastructure layer - highway, streets, service roads, hiking paths, fire breaks, electric line easements, bridges, dams, main water pipes, electric power lines and sub stations, water towers and primary connection pipes, and local/state evacuation routes. 
      • Subterranean layer - If town, urban or congested: subterranean infrastructure such as water and drainage pipes, location of manhole covers, underground garages. If marking subterranean infrastructure and you do not know if two manhole covers are to the same pipes use a different line from known when mapping. 
      • Areas of Gravitation layer: these include any stationary location where you think people might congregate during a SHTF. Remember, in the world of google maps, many of these locations will have a street view. For high risk/high congregation areas you might want to include a side folder of street view images.
        • First Responder locations: local fire stations, police stations, hospitals and clinics, national guard posts
        • Food distribution centers:  supermarkets, restaurants and other stores
        • Fuel: public gas stations, public works fueling locations
        • Hardware and tools: Home Depot/Mom&Pop hardware stores, automotive shops, electrician shops, etc.
        • FEMA (possible and known): state fairgrounds,  sports centers, high schools, large fields, etc.
        • Population centers: apartment buildings, townhouses, high density neighborhoods, etc. 
      • Wild Game layer - location of game, type, time of day and time of year where spotted. Animals tend to move in cycles, so keeping note throughout the year is a great reference point. Don't just go by location during hunting season for post SHTF.
      • Environmental layer -  including time of year changes for common drought and flood locations, seasonal water holes, streams, marshes, and ponds. Also mark down farms, ranches, common hunting areas, etc. Also any area with a clearing of more that 100m square (potential helicopter landing site). If possible, note changes in background colors, locations of good concealment and at what time of year.
      • Neighborhood resources -see "Neighbors skills and immediate neighborhood resources" below.
      • Technology layer - using both google/yahoo maps and a car navigation system place the starting point on the major highways around your town, and see what routes it will take you to your local hospital, supermarket, and police station. If traffic stopped, how would you expect to continue on foot? These are bound to be hot roads and short cuts.
      • Keep blank layers - also non-permanent markers for use with the blank layers. 
      • Remember, when using a hard copy of a map on a table, you can use other items for mobile reference points, and adjust as they move.
    • Using maps to generate "hot zones."  
      • Depending on population you may choose to adjust the distances for red, orange and yellow zones, however I recommend using rifle ranges, likelihood of population congestion and probability of violence as the main lines of demarcation.  Remember, in a city and congested suburban, line of site dictates rifle range, not always ballistics.
        • Red Zone:  draw a circle around any object in the "areas of gravitation" layer. Depending on your environment, it should be around 700 meters to 1 mile. Do the same around highways, streets, and other areas of traffic out to 200 meters on both sides of the road. If roads have a line of site from them to any item in the areas of gravitation layer, mark those red too, out to 200meters on both sides of the shortcut. Remember, when people are walking, they will take shortcuts. 
        • Orange Zone: these are the areas that people start 'grouping' together on their way to or from an area of gravitation - easements where power lines are, should not be forgotten. Also any potential helicopter landing sites not covered in a area of gravitation layer. I map these out to 2 miles from any red zone. 
        • Yellow Zone: this is basically anything not covered in Red or Orange.
        • Personally, I color coordinate these areas based on Jeff Cooper color code, that way when planning movement, it is clear what alert level someone should be at.
    • Identify possible areas of interest and possible scouting routes
      • For areas where you might not have a choice, but to go to, it might be best to outline potential ingress/egress routes, ORP's, location for security halts, all within the context of "hot zones". At least in a pre-SHTF environment, you can print out pictures of possible routes ahead of time. Having a layer for each objective could be very useful. Most common areas to map out a scouting route are:
        • Hospitals/Clinics
        • Food distribution centers
        • hardware and tools
        • Fuel
        • High ground / observation points
        • Around your retreat


  • Neighbors skills and immediate neighborhood resources
  • Most of this is more applicable to suburban landscapes, however knowing ahead of time who has what experience will aid in any kind of SHTF organization. Each of these items and locations should be on a map layer. I really want to be clear on this though. The intent is to identify key people for skill set training and possible organization and consolidation of efforts.  
    • Identify neighbors skill sets
      • including location/address on map being marked.
        • Medical: nurse, doctor, dentist, veterinarian, pharmacist, health care workers 
        • Electrical 
        • Automotive
        • Engineer  
        • Green thumb; raise livestock; gardens - even just ornamental gardens.
        • Hunters/Fisherman  
        • Hikers, campers, those used to living without normal public services
        • Prior Service (ex and current military/law enforcement)
        • Armed to various degrees
        • Teachers 
        • Canning, and non-refrigerated food preservation skills
        • This list could just keep going on, but those are the main points
    • Identify neighborhood resources
      • Location of private/public wells, rivers and other water sources including pools
      • Location of common areas for cultivation
      • Natural food sources: fruit and nut trees, berries, etc.
      • Natural barriers for use in defense
      • Manmade barriers 


Collecting information post SHTF

Future "current" information is the one thing you can't stock up on. Deciding on when and where to collect information from your surrounding area, and what risk it is worth, is bound to be a major area for debate. OPs only let you know when someone is about to or has discovered where your group is. The only way to really avoid the "detection" is to put small teams out at a greater distance.  This also allows for possible flanking maneuvers, or spoiler attacks, beyond the immediate defensive location. It also requires an exceptional level of stealth, and perseverance. Far from complete, here are a few tips on scouting/ reconnaissance: 

  • Post SHTF Map updating considerations
    • When updating maps post-SHTF, mark any changes with a date/timestamp - even if it is on a notepad only. Historical changes may present a pattern over time that will be useful. 
    • For defining routes, keeping historical records becomes even more important. Over time you might loose track of previous routes and start creating a pattern of action that becomes easily predictable by the op-for.
    • Identify the following while planning a route: security stops, objective rally point, should the objective rally point (ORP) be compromised or team dispersed a fallback rally point, return path different from initial ingress, and extraction points if applicable (with redundant positions). Also, identify bearings/distance between different points. 
    • Document using a range card from an identified point. Each team member should do this once observing the objective. This allows for comparisons between different scouting trips, and changes during sleep cycles.
    • When scouting an area and observing people use the S.A.L.U.T.E. format:
      • S - Size - how many people
      • A - Activities - what they are doing - what direction are they moving? is a guard moving between two points and if so how often? etc.
      • L - Location - grid location or other reference points you are using
      • U - UNIT - if applicable, unit, uniform or other group identification
      • T - Time and date
      • E - Equipment - weapons, personal gear, and vehicles
  • Post SHTF Scouting Rules 
    • Never use goggles/scopes/binoculars with the people being observed between you and the sun - (always try and have the sun either directly above or behind you). Glare off of the glass may give away your position. Keeping at an angle or using a KillFlash can be good, but I wouldn't bet my life on it. Just be careful not so silhouette yourself.
    • Know your pace count: for slow movement, normal and fast walking
    • At night, try not to look directly at something being observed with the naked eye, there is a night blind spot that will interfere with looking at an object if you stare at it. Look at the objects sides and around it to see the object more clear.
    • Also at night, always give yourself at least 30min to get used to the lack of light before moving around.
    • If it looks good to you, it looks good to someone else too: a bush next to a thick tree is more likely to have someone behind it than a bush by its' self. Note that professionals understand this - so that could be a cat and mouse game.
    • Never observe from the crest of a high point, this will create a silhouette 
    • After identifying an objective to scout try and see if from a defensive viewpoint - where would you be worried about someone approaching? Where would you place the highest number of people in a defensive perimeter? What area would you think only a nut would try and move through? Then as long as it isn't a vast open field, be the nut.
    • Cary what you need, not necessarily what makes you comfortable - weight makes long walks harder, short runs much slower, and in time you will focus on your overloaded pack more than what is going on around you.
    • When scanning an area try and look deep into the shadows, scan very slow. Look for the slightest difference. Start with a rapid scan, for the obvious: left to right up to 100 meters deep then back to the left in a S formation. Then the same for the next 100 meters deep, and so on. Followed by a slow scan: same process but much more time is spent on each pass - looking for items out of place.
    • Always move from one position of cover and concealment  to another. Know your next position before you take your next step.
    • Always know where you are and how to get out. Egress should be planned with positions of defense along the way.
    • Always use camouflage from the immediate area. Don't rely on just generic patterns such as BDUs or Multicams  
    • Someone must always be awake and alert (three person minimal is best)
    • There is no downtime on a patrol
    • Birds will give you away: avoid nesting and perching birds
    • Know your rifle inside and out: know how to range with your glass and front site, know your drops for your ammo, have basic gunsmith skills at least for the rifles you own.
    • Know the military movement techniques and use them (bounding and traveling overwatch, ranger file, rolling egress, etc)
    • Develop good hand signal communication with your team
    • Crossing lines - i.e. leaving and returning to your location where friendlies are on watch, is one of the most dangerous tasks for a patrol, scout or otherwise. Practice this, and have a proper challenge and response with identified return routes known to both sides of the line (that change per patrol).  
    • There are two really big give-aways when scouting: sound and movement. Consider a deer. God didn't make them in a camouflage pattern yet can still be unnoticed with it's counter-shaded brown even against a green background. Chances are, you noticed it because a tail flicked or light reflected from it's eyes. Our eyes are designed to be attracted to movement more than from any other giveaway that is natural in color. Slow, graceful movement, and lack of sound are the two most critical methods of not being detected; it's even more important than camouflage and counter shading. 
    • No glass on a rifle used for scouting - flaps make target acquisition too slow, and glass reflects light. Use iron sights or [deeply hooded] binoculars. [JWR Adds: A Killflash sleeve requires no flap.]
    • Remember the time-honored Rules of Roger's Rangers.
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This page contains a single entry by Jim Rawles published on September 23, 2012 3:00 PM.

The Art and Science of Situation Analysis, by Judy C. was the previous entry in this blog.

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