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Preparedness Skillset: The Area Study

I am sure that I’m not the only person who has been thinking lot about personal security lately. We know there’s been record-breaking gun sales over the last year, on top of ongoing uneasiness about the economy and growing civil unrest. My imaginary “Scenario X” that originally appeared while writing about ways to carry gear suddenly became a whole lot less imaginary over the last year.

With that, I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of “red teaming.” If you aren’t familiar, this is where you  think deeply about how you would plan to defeat yourself if you were the bad guy. This is a common practice in the business world as well as in the military. In 1980’s, Richard Marcinko made a name for himself doing this with his “Red Cells” breaking into secured areas to highlight their vulnerabilities.

A lot of the things I need to work on are pretty standard, such as my physical fitness. But one unexpected item came to my attention from a community member, C.J. He mentioned Area Study and its importance for defensive situations.

My interest was piqued, and then he posted a video from Forward Observer. Samuel Culper, the owner of FO, is a former intelligence analyst and runs his site as a subscription model. This isn’t a plug, I’ve never subscribed and I just want to be clear about who he is. 

Before I get to the rest of the article summarizing a lot of points, I’m just going to repost the video.

Why You Need an Area Study, and How to Do One

One of the most important elements of this is that you should be doing these activities before the problem actually happens. If you wait until after the disaster strikes to start researching what’s going on around you, then you’re way behind the curve if you can get it done at all. My own experience with natural disasters tells me that the internet is one of the firs things to go during such events.

The more information you have at the beginning, then the better decisions you are able to make when the pressure is on. In contrast, more uncertainty leads to much greater risk. 

In an emergency, your ability to survive often depends on the quality of your decisions. Since your ability to make those choices depends on the information you know about the situation, it’s not a far jump to say that your survival very well depends on knowing more than your adversary.

Defining the Area Study

Sam makes an excellent point in the video (around 7:20 if you’re watching) by distinguishing what it is the average “prepper” is actually preparing for. While they might say they’re preparing for a hurricane, earthquake, or some other event, what they’re actually preparing for is the follow-on effects of the event.

For example, if I know a hurricane is approaching, then my direct hurricane preparation is really about hardening my home against high winds and debris. Those are the direct effects of the event. But if I’m also storing water, food, batteries, weapons & ammunition, and connecting with other local amateur radio operators- then what I’m really preparing for is the risk of power outage, water supply disruption, lawlessness, and emergency services that also tend to come after a powerful hurricane strikes the area.

One of the most important reasons to do an Area Study of where you live is that it allows you to better analyze and predict what these second, third, fourth, and fifth order effects might be.

An area study has the following sections:

  • Area of Operations (AO) Overview
  • Area of Interest (AI) Overview
  • Route Maps of AO/AI
  • Physical Terrain & Weather
  • Human Terrain
  • Critical Infrastructure
  • Politics & Governance
  • Military, Security, & Law Enforcement
  • Economy & Finance
  • Threat Overview

I don’t want to rehash the entire video with all of Sam’s definitions, as you should probably watch it to hear him explain it. The most important thing to remember is that you need to know more information about your area than anyone else who might be coming into it to challenge you and your community.

Your survival very well depends on knowing more than your adversary.

Key Takeaways

After defining terms, the first two things Sam points out that you should do is start a neighborhood watch and identify the things you don’t know. This is red-teaming all over again, because if you can identify that it’s a gap in your knowledge than you know that it is something an adversary could exploit. 

Close the gaps.

When it comes to your selected AO and AI, it’s time to understand the natural patterns of day-to-day life in those areas. How much traffic is there? What important landmarks are there? What does daily life look like? This is important for setting a baseline, which allows you to look for indicators that something is different than normal, which could be a sign of bad stuff.

It’s also important to know the physical terrain and lines of drift. Where and how to people get around the AO/AI? Are there natural chokepoints? Is there a point of high elevation ideal for setting up a stealth radio repeater or observation post?

This pattern continues through human terrain, critical infrastructure, and the other elements. An important point is to make sure that you’re being honest and objective with your assessments.

Trying to do this by yourself is difficult, so leverage the members of your community and neighborhood watch.

Wrapping Up

I’ll finish with Sam’s final four points for why to start doing this right now.

  1. Intelligence drives decision-making
  2. You need to know what to prepare for
  3. You’ll have it when you need it
  4. This isn’t just about you

That last point is important. This is not just about your personal preps and stuffing the binder on a shelf along with your list-of-lists. This is an opportunity to gather and share information with those around you in times of need. 

Build a tribe today, so you aren’t caught alone tomorrow.

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Matt is the primary author and owner of The Everyday Marksman. He's a former military officer turned professional tech sector trainer. He's a lifelong learner, passionate outdoorsman, and steadfast supporter of firearms culture.


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