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…
The intelligence guys at Forward Observer have an introduction to the area study posted. Having knowledge of your area is critical in any emergency situation. Being familiar with your area is more than just knowing a few streets along your normal routes. If you’re worried about a pandemic, some questions you may have might include: how many doctors are in my area; where are all of the medical facilities near my home/work; who will enforce a mandatory quarantine in my area; does my work/city/county have a pandemic response/preparedness plan;can you continue to work if you are quarantined to your home? If you wanted to be ready for political civil unrest, you may have an entirely different set of questions for your area study.
Chances are good that you and I have a lot in common.
We’re both concerned about the future of this country. Natural disasters, a financial crisis, economic decline, disruption to the power grid, a pandemic, political violence, a full-on Boogaloo… the list goes on and on.
From a risk and intelligence perspective, all of these are very valid concerns.
Americans purchase and acquire a lot of things in order to prepare for these events, but information is often overlooked as a critical component of preparedness.
I’m here right now to convince you of one thing: the absolute need for localized intelligence when any of these events occur.
The stuff you own isn’t going to produce intelligence for you.
No amount of beans, bullets, and band-aids will allow you to collect real-time intelligence during an emergency.
No amount of beans, bullets, and band-aids will reduce your uncertainty about what happens in the future.
No amount of beans, bullets, and band-aids can drive your decision-making during an emergency.
Only intelligence can do that.
Only intelligence can give you a more accurate picture of what’s happening now and a more accurate expectation of what could happen in the future.
And when we have accurate expectations of the future, we can be better prepared.
So what’s the best way to get started with local intelligence?
The Area Study.
During an emergency, we’re going to have blind spots. Another term for blind spot is an “intelligence gap,” or something that we don’t know but need to know. You are going to have lots of intelligence gaps.
One of the best things about doing an Area Study is that we can identify these intelligence gaps before an emergency event happens…
Yesterday I heard about a guy who lost over $100,000 in stored food and gear because his underground doomsday bunker flooded. Ouch.
It reminded me of some recent feedback from a student…
“I’m working on my Area Study and am shocked that the county Emergency Management Operations Plan identified my street as in a hazard zone for an upstream dam failure, post-earthquake. I now need to move all my preps up-slope since my basement will flood. Do your Area Study, folks!!”
In the event of a disaster, this information is a GAME CHANGER for this gentleman and his family.
There’s a good chance that your county has an Emergency Management Operations Plan that you can get your eyes on. You should read over it, if you haven’t already. Add it to your Area Study.
The Area Study is absolutely foundational to security and preparedness planning. It outlines the fault lines and vulnerabilities of an area, and enables you to make plans to mitigate those risks and threats.
We’ll be running our last Area Study Live Course of the year starting on 12 November.
Take this opportunity and get your Area Study done –> Area Study Live (Online)
You can find the All Hazards Mitigation Plan for the following counties through the following links as a step on your way to completing an area study:
Benton County, WA 2019 (pdf)
Franklin County, WA 2005 (pdf)
Klickitat County, WA has only begun preparing their Hazard Mitigation Plan. You can get a copy of the county’s 2013 Emergency Management Plan here.
Walla Walla County, WA 2018 (pdf)
Yakima County, WA 2015 (pdf)
The Hazard Mitigation Plans tend to identify all of the known/likely hazard scenarios that the county expects. These hazards may not be spelled out the county’s Emergency Management Plan, which instead lays out which departments are responsible for various area of disaster response and what the over all plan for recovery and response is.