Security during camps is largely unnecessary, but it can be excellent practice for emergencies. Avoid the pitfalls of learning about camp security ‘on the fly’.
Recently, Offroad Republic did a really good article on “Campsite Security“… there was only one problem with it: It wasn’t really about security, it was about mission planning, which they acknowledge early on. The article got us thinking that we really haven’t seen a detailed guide to security when on the move, and with the ‘planning’ aspects well established, it might be a good opportunity to discuss how to adapt some convoy security protocols to the citizen’s world.
In terms of ‘mission planning’, there’s plenty of options or templates. The Military uses the Acronyms “METT-TC” and “OCOKA” to plan missions and movements. A route plan, rig roster, communications plan, and environmental analysis define a sort of “minimum”, while a more detailed template that includes driver and vehicle responsibilities, exact distances and stops, and equipment load-outs relative to vehicle positioning might be indicative of a better organized expedition. It always sucks when the chainsaw is stuck 7 vehicles back.
In any case, Off-Road Republic did a great job lining up boxes to check when you’re in the planning phase of the trip, but we figured it might do to talk about the actual physical security aspects of moving as a convoy when you’re stopped for the day. If you haven’t read it already, we have a series on driving that includes tactics and planning, basics of off-road expeditions, and defensive tactics around immobilized vehicles that may act as a good frame to hold up the details of this article.
Camp security is a great example of a “skill bridge”. As we discuss in “Collecting Hammers“, we define 5 broad categories of skill development:
- Urban Environments
- Primitive Environments
All of these categories have sets of skills within them, and often those skills “bridge” – for example, tactical medicine (CoTCCC) naturally pairs with the fundamentals of protection; good tactics, marksmanship, fitness, and having the correct tools. Connecting these bridges as much as possible is one of the cores of the Responder Zero and Tier None concepts at ISG.
Camp Security, then, bridges mobility, protection, and primitive environments – and in some cases, urban environments.
Before we go on, let’s touch on something crucial:
Securing a camp for your convoy in the ways we’ll describe is bordering on paranoid delusions right now in the west. The overwhelming majority of people you meet on the backcountry roads in the U.S. are friendly and hospitable, and out there for the same reasons as any of us; adventure, exploration, and a bit of nature.
However, as we discuss in “Bugout Vehicles“, there are absolutely times when this isn’t true – and our future looks to be straddling continuity and oblivion, so having the skills BEFORE the emergency is always wise, and done right, this guide will help expand the vehicle based camp to foot patrols and some crucial tactical skills.
Warning: this is going to be a long article.
The first major questions that need to be asked are “Who’s with us, where are we going, and why?” The site you select if you’re bailiing on a flooded city by yourself will be very different than if you’re moving five vehicles with vulnerable people mixed in. It’ll change the amount of space you need, and the demands for resources, so start with an analysis similar to what Offroad Republic did: look for natural hazards such as flood or firebreaks, dead trees, natural barriers (such as waterways, which also impact your ability to listen for approaching vehicles or people), and terrain that gives or takes advantages from you – such as high ground.
Essentially, you want it to be as difficult as possible for threats to get to you, whether natural or man-made. Generally, we can say this is higher ground, proximal to water, surrounded by foliage that’s healthy, and has natural barriers that slow or stop entry, such as ditches, rivers, or debris fields.
It’s also good to have a decent amount of distance in open terrain that one would need to walk in order to get to your spot. Look to use roads, fields, or other open areas as a buffer between your site and anyone who might try and work their way into it.
As well, be thinking of escape routes! You don’t want them to be obvious, or give access to someone approaching (where they could block you off with a vehicle or downed tree or the like), and ideally you should be able to use them on foot or by vehicle in the case of emergency.
While this describes the “ideal” location, life rarely throws us the perfect scenario – and we just have to be fine with reality. EVERY spot will have vulnerabilities, which is why we aren’t finished once we’ve selected our site.
The next two segments go hand in hand – but we’ll start with vehicle orientation since it’s likely the first decision you’ll be required to make. The pioneers used to “circle the wagons” when in fear of hostile attacks from Native tribes – and the phrase has come to mean ‘to take a formation and fight together for a common purpose’, and this principle still works well for a static site today.
We want the orientation of our vehicles to be such that we can:
- Egress quickly
- Shield an interior space from casual view
- Create a barrier to entry
- Create a 360 degree ‘wall of light’ that prevents people from seeing in or using NVGs
- Allow access to the interior space and supplies from the drivers side (inward facing)
So, with standards lefthand-drive vehicles, you want to establish a counterclockwise rotation for the vehicles. Arranging the vehicles like this, you’ll be able to quickly access the drivers side, which gives access to ignition and lighting, radios, and prevents having to run outside the vehicle perimeter, which can risk exposure and hand anyone looking in free information.
If you’ve got two vehicles, they’ll form a line (or a V, depending on the terrain) – one vehicle pointed in either direction, or each vehicle pointed out at a 45 degree angle.
With three, you’ll want to form a triangle, with each vehicle’s headlights just past the next vehicle’s rear bumper (for light projection).
With 4 vehicles, you’ll orient in a square again pushing the headlights just past the next rig’s bumper.
With 5 or more, a circle shape should do.
So, again, perfect arrangements are rare, so in principle, here’s what we’re after:
- The ability to access the vehicle quickly
- Denial of information to anyone outside the camp.
- The ability to quickly access lighting and radios for communications.
- Limited points of entry that create either funnels or transitional environments (discussed below).
- A protected inner space in which your party can camp, cook, and has access to shelter, medical, and clean water.
These aren’t hard and fast rules, and if you are limited in space, you can form up in a “U” shape as well, so read the terrain and remember that the main goal is efficiency. As a pleasant side effect, there’s also some psychological comfort that comes from having a clearly defined boundary, which discourages critters as much as people.
If you’re prior military, this one will probably hit home. When setting up anything expeditionary, we want constant site improvement and minimal down time. As citizens in emergencies, this might take a slightly different shape, but it will absolutely play into the safety and security of your expedition.
As we discussed above, we have some ‘tactical’ considerations, such as restricting points of entry, but we also have concerns such as cooking and mess, sanitation, access to clean water, medical/triage, and cooking, fire, and shelter.
As the time you spend in a location extends, you want to have these items continually assessed and improved. So, while our initial “Circle the Wagons” might make access more difficult for weirdos, let’s look at a workflow for site improvements:
->Running paracord from front bumper to rear bumper of some of the vehicles will create a transitional space that forces said weirdos to interact with the environment before they can make it inside your perimeter. They’ll have to change their movement patterns, which allows for internal security to challenge them.
->Stringing some glass bottles to the paracord can make a sound trap.
->Using different bottles (or cans with rocks, etc) can help produce a different audio signature for different locations, allowing internal security to quickly locate trespass.
->Creating additional barriers outside these control points (such as down trees with foliage barriers) means it’ll be harder to see in, and harder to see those defenses.
Similarly, we might start camp by…
->Establishing a fire pit and hanging a bag of water.
->Assign details to pump clean water and bring it back to camp, keeping necessary reserves topped off.
->A bin might then be established for freshwater to cook and clean.
-> That graywater may then be used to dilute a latrine.
The objectives here (and necessary site improvements) can’t follow a script, and this is why so many people pay lip service to “critical thinking”. In reality, experience drives critical thinking so when you start to improve your site, think “what can I do to improve our situation tactically, technically, mentally, and physically”. This might mean war-gaming your camp’s defenses and finding weak points.
Creating a camp in which people are hygienic, well-rested, reasonably secure, and have access to critical resources such as water, food, medicine, and shelter is crucial.
Lighting and Noise Discipline
Probably the single most difficult issue you’ll face is light and noise discipline. If you’ve got people who are under stress, they’re going to want to cut loose and relax a bit. If you’ve got children, they’re going to play and fight and generally make noise.
For citizens working towards security while traveling, the idea isn’t “turn your family into prisoners in an armed encampment”, and if we’re being honest, camp security in this context isn’t going to work against a professional fighting force hell-bent on taking what you’ve got, and in the age of drones and hellfires, a military would probably smoke the party while yawning in front of a computer.
With that said, we still want to deny information to passerbys and troublemakers. Being overly fortified might send a message that you’re knowledgeable, well provisioned, and tactically proficient – how outsiders interpret that is going to depend on if they have motive, opportunity, and capability to make demands.
A few things you can do:
- Keep dome lights off on the interior of your vehicles.
- Park vehicles on slightly higher terrain, which helps create a sort of wall.
- If you need to get into the vehicle, make sure you don’t hit the brakes (or if things are really serious, black out your lights with gorilla tape).
- Dig a pit for your fire and build rocks up around it.
In this way, while traditional military tactics try to limit the amount of noise and light a bivouac gives off, on the citizen side of things, we need to think more about establishing some protocols. So, try and avoid making yourself a target by being a big, rowdy, loud campsite that looks well off. Still, we should plan for…
The concept of a firewatch is deeply rooted in military tradition. Essentially, sentries are posted to cover the nights and ensure that fires don’t destroy the camp, ship, or barracks. This has continued through the ages for good reason – being surprised by catastrophe in the middle of the night sucks, and fires produce embers and sparks that can cause massive damage from the inside out.
Establishing a firewatch is pretty simple. Find a couple people (if you’ve got enough) to cover a few hours of the night (usually 1-6) and have them overlap until dawn when people start waking up.
Firewatch can take up a position where they can see potential fires, approaching contacts, or greet returning members of your own camp. As importantly, the firewatch team needs to be able to be mobile, have the appropriate equipment (water, fire extinguishers, medical kits, firearms, etc).
Keeping a firewatch as a team makes it easier for the sentries to stay awake, and the spot they occupy to stand watch shouldn’t be comfortable. You don’t want them sitting in the warm cab of a vehicle with reclining seats, for example. The conditions should encourage them to stay awake and alert.
A log book and foot patrol can be a part of this to keep them focused on the tasks. Recording anything suspicious with the time it occurred can help establish patterns, as well.
Contact with Unknowns
Invariably, contact with people outside your group becomes a matter of concern. It might be people in the same position as you looking to swap goods or information, or it might be a drunk, stumbling from camp to camp looking for women. It might be authorities… that may be good (health and welfare checks), or not-so-good (breaking up camps).
How you address these issues is something you absolutely want to have nailed down BEFORE you have to address it. Oftentimes when overseas, you’ll be facing language barriers, and people who don’t know exactly what you’re doing – but they want it anyway. They could be collecting information, and how you react to them will say a LOT about who you are and what you’re doing. So, let’s look at a few basic concepts, and some “dos” and “don’ts”.
- Establish one person whose job is interacting and one person whose job is overwatch. This can rotate. Having people talking over each other or unsure of who should be talking, asking, or answering questions looks sloppy.
- Establish known areas of responsibility – even for people who are NOT on watch. They may need to wake up and mount a defense or look for trouble.
- Establish a method of calling people to their areas of responsibility (a whistle, horn, or bell). Codify the significance of a single blast, vs multiple or rapid blasts of sound. This will help communicate the urgency to those scrambling to come to their senses.
- Establish rear security and not letting everyone get hyper-focused on the contact.
- Establish a duress word with anyone in your group who leaves camp – this is a benign phrase that when spoken in casual conversation doesn’t sound out of place, but let’s anyone guarding the perimeter know that things are NOT ok – for example, most of us will never say the word “superduper”, but it’s not exactly weird if you do. If that’s your duress word, and whoever is on guard challenges the returning party and they say “It’s just me, trip was superduper”, the person on guard will know something is wrong and can have a lead time on trouble.
- Do not have multiple people scrambling forth to negotiate, talk, or trade. Compartmentalize these tasks: First, talk. Then discuss internally. Finally, render your group’s decision to the approaching party.
- Do not allow the approaching party to know how many people you have, or what provisions you have. Treat ALL information about your camp’s security as private. It can be difficult if people want to trade or swap info – but remember – it’s easier to ease up if someone proves themself trustworthy than it is to try and play a hardass after you’ve been welcoming.
- Do not let people into your camp. Discuss anything that needs discussion outside the perimeter.
- Do not fall for pathos – this kind of ruse is the oldest trick in the book. There is a place for helping others, but remember to ensure your own groups safety first.
Contact with Knowns
More ordinary, but just as important, is expecting the return of one of your own.
Normally, this is a pretty simple process, as you’re able to see them, but at night without NVG, it can be substantially more difficult. One way of addressing this is having someone (usually a pair, see: Firewatch) posted to challenge anyone who’s approaching. Simply calling “Halt!” is sufficient, so don’t overthink challenging someone who’s approaching. It could be someone just wandering around or someone non-threatening.
If they want to talk, that’s when you need to find out who they are and there are a couple ways of doing that:
Challenge and password – The challenge and password is a set of phrases that only people inside your camp know. Ideally, only the people who will be guarding and leaving will know. Challenge and password doesn’t have to make sense, like a duress word. In fact, the more obscure it is, the harder it will be for outsiders to lock on.
This is a simple procedure:
Let’s assume our Challenge is “What is the nectar of the Gods”, and the Password is “Glenlivit 21”.
The guard stops anyone approaching. If they leave, make note of the person and any details about them (which can be difficult if you can’t see well). If they stop, you simply say the first line, or the “challenge”. So if you ask “what is the nectar of the Gods?”
…and someone answers incorrectly, let them know this is a private camp and to leave. If they answer correctly, you can allow them to enter. If they answer with a duress word “such as ‘Coffee is superduper'”, you know you’ve got a problem on your hands.
Numeric password – The numeric password is a very similar process, but instead of having a sentence, you establish a number, let’s say 21 for this example.
When someone approaches, you give them ANY NUMBER BUT 21! Let’s go with 16.
They need to respond back with a number that is equal to 21 – so they correct response would be “Plus five.”
If the guard gives them a higher number, say 28, the correct answer would be “Subtract seven”.
This establishes that the person returning is a “known” in a way that’s easy to validate, provides for discreet tipping off if things aren’t all good, and can be changed easily.
“But what if…?”
What if it’s a cop, or an authority of some sort?
Well, I’m sorry, there’s no one correct answer. This will largely be based on local knowledge and the situation, but think on your feet. Inform the officers you’ve quarantined the camp because your group is very ill and you’ll talk, but it’d probably be best not to risk exposure.
Keep in mind that bluffs can be called, and the more ya lie, the harder it is to keep track of what you’ve lied about. Simple, plausible, and non-specific methods are best. Don’t go saying there’s a specific disease, “ill” should do fine. If they press the question, you’re not a doctor, even if you are.
Guys, this is sooooo super low probability that it’s bordering on absurd – but, this kind of stuff does and did happen.
Local militias in the surrounding parishes set up checkpoints after Hurricane Katrina, and they stopped and interviewed (and occasionally shot at, or shot) people passing through their neighborhoods – which is either prudent or racist, depending on who’s publication you read. This is very important not only from the perspective of the people passing through those zones, but as the people trying to establish and hold those areas.
Keep in mind that most emergencies blow over and you are very likely going to be accountable for your actions. Also keep in mind that perception is fact in these instances, and when things break down, the truth melts like ice cream.
Establishing an LP/OP and Communications
The logical outflow of the above is that you want to push the perimeter of your camp outwards. The military uses “LP/OP”, or listening/observation posts. These are small, fortified areas which allow your firewatch to observe anyone approaching well before they get to the camp. Generally, in the context of the citizen refugee, this will be along a main route of travel, so that the firewatch team in the LP/OP can issue challenges and passwords before anyone gets close enough to threaten the main camp.
Layering this – if the manpower and necessity is there – means having a second team at the camp monitoring radios who can quickly react to assist the LP/OP, and alert the camp to immediately take up defense.
Again, we’re trending so close to the absurd that I hesitate to even write this, but with all the people going to the range and double-tapping 15 yard targets with rifles and thinking they’re being ‘tactical’, the industry could really use a reality check: This is tactics, those are individual skills.
Tactics forces us to have plans and work together against an opposing will. Shooting cardboard lacks the opposing will, and really isn’t tactics or tactical.
So, give this some thought.
Chances are you will never have to do this, but be aware in the most severe situations, it absolutely could make the difference, and tactics are difficult. If you have fun and feel validated by courses billing themselves as tactical, they probably aren’t. Tactics will be humbling and painful, just like actual emergencies.
So here’s where we come to the thing everyone will want to read about: how do I defend my position from rampaging hordes of zombies or bikers or whatever.
Here’s the answer: you do the work, you have people stay awake, and you rehearse the drill of getting everyone to arms and covering their area of responsibility. This isn’t fun stuff, and most anyone who served in Viet Nam probably won’t read far enough to agree because most would rather close History’s Book of Infinite Dead and forget this kind of horrible stuff. As might the Confederate soldiers at Five Forks, The Boers, or the 30,000 dead at Tyre, who thought their defenses impenetrable. If you don’t wanna read all those, at least take a look at the lessons learned from “In Defence of Duffer’s Drift“, which is still fairly relevant text on guerrilla campaigns against static fortifications now.
For a small isolated post and an active enemy, there are no flanks, no rear, or, to put it otherwise, it is front all round.
“In Defence of Duffer’s Drift”, Major General Ernest Swinton
To successfully mount a defense of this sort, you’ll need more than an article. You’ll need experience running battle drills, experience leading your people under duress, and you’ll need them to have decent levels of physical fitness and individual skills. You’ll need thorough preparation and discipline… the kind of which is rarely seen until after it’s become apparently necessary.
As the rest of this article, the time to see to those things is waaaaay before you need them. Remember – this isn’t the military. Every tribe has its artisans and farmers, in addition to its braves and chiefs.
Preventing hostility before it happens with good planning, good site selection and improvement, good security (and perhaps a ruse or two) might seem like a cop-out, but anyone who’s lived an expeditionary life can tell you – those things make or break you if hostilities DO break out.
Well, hopefully we’ve articulated how and why this is important in the context of the citizen who is forced to leave their home in an emergency. Most of the time, it’s not so good that you get to keep a vehicle, a group of well-picked friends, or a safe location. History’s diasporas have sent refugees from their homes with no more than the clothes on their backs and a vague hope of finding something resembling safety.
As with most of the industry LARP, very few people want to focus on the minor details that prevent situations from becoming so severe you need to initiate this kind of security protocol, but I suppose if we look at it as an “up to and including this worst case scenario”, anything less should be a breeze.
As a final thought, a lot of this can be rehearsed by just getting out and camping with your friends. You can discuss some of the nuance with the other braves, and let the others know that if there was ever some unexpected Type 1 embedded in the Type II that forced you out, that you and the boys have established a safe area within the camp, and you’ve at least thought about it before hand. If you are able to take it to the next level and coordinate responses, you’ll be ahead of the times.
Like most preparedness, modern people look at the discussion and say “Pshhhhaw, that’s without precedent.”
But that’s not really true, is it? It’s true in the here and now, but history is the story of the evolution of ways of staying alive, and tactics are an important part of that history.