In the last post, I covered why you need an Area Study and left you with a practical exercise. In this post, we’ll start looking at the Operating Environment.
First, we need to begin by identifying the boundaries of our Operating Environment. We call this the Area of Operations, or AO.
Defining the AO will help us focus on this area specifically. Your AO might be your home and property, or your subdivision or neighborhood. Wherever you expect to operate during an emergency should be considered your AO. Identify your expectations: do you plan to stick close to home, will you patrol your neighborhood, or will you be traveling to a bug out location? In short, where ever you will be during an emergency is your AO.
I’m often asked, “How far away from my home can information still be relevant?” Answer: If it’s in your AO, then it could directly affect you and it could very relevant.
Outside your AO is your Area of Interest, or AI.
Your AI is the area where things can indirectly affect you. During an emergency, what happens in my AO is my primary concern, but I’m still interested in what’s happening in my AI. That’s the difference with these boundaries.
Important Note: You’re going to define these areas on a map or, preferably, a map overlay. Draw out the boundaries. They could be circles, squares, or some odd shapes, but we want to define these boundaries so our teammates understand this concept. Your teammates may be your preparedness group, your neighborhood watch, or your neighbors during an emergency. If you want to be squared away and you want them to know that you’re squared away, start with defining your AO and AI boundaries on a map.
Next, we want to start looking at the significant characteristics of the AO and AI.
Specifically, we’re looking at the six layers of our Operating Environment. You’re going to want to identify these characteristics specifically. These are all the things that can affect you during an emergency, which is why we want to identify them and their effects before the emergency occurs.
Physical Terrain: The Physical Terrain includes traditional terrain features — mountains, hills, valleys, lakes, rivers, etc. — and man-made features like roads, houses, buildings, fences, etc. Weather is often grouped in with physical terrain, so we’ll cover weather and climate patterns, as well. Understanding how these factors could influence future events, developments, and/or conditions is an intelligence task.
Human Terrain: The Human Terrain includes the people, along with their attitudes, beliefs, behaviors, and customs. From a community perspective, identifying all the elements of the Human Terrain helps us to identify security partners and potential threats and foes, especially if disaster were to strike. The better we understand the people who surround us, the more accurate expectations we can have about the future.
Critical Infrastructure: Critical Infrastructure includes the facilities and people who provide access to food, water, fuel, electricity, transportation, commerce, communications, and the internet; all of which are critical to the average AO.
Politics/Governance: Politics and governance includes elected officials, political appointees, government employees, their institutions and facilities, and their political and ideological beliefs. The better we understand how local political and governance works, the better informed we can be of their potential future decisions, especially during a protracted emergency.
Law Enforcement/Military/Security: Police departments, sheriffs’ offices, National Guard and Reserve components of the military, and private security corporations all take part in security and emergency operations. Understanding these organizations or units, their personnel, and their capabilities goes a long way in staying informed of what they’re likely to do in the future.
Economic/Financial: And finally, the economic and financial drivers of a community matter, especially if these systems are disrupted. Disruptions to economic and financial factors have very significant second- and third-order consequences, and understanding how these factors will affect the community is critical.
Practical Exercise #2…