Route Planning and Analysis by Steve Powers

Route Planning and Analysis

Developing a Vehicle Ambush Counter Measures Program

by Steve Powers

An ISDA Note – This article was written by ISDA member Steve Powers approximately 15 to 18 years ago. 

A protective movement is the process of getting your principal from Point A to Point B in a timely and safe manner. To do so in a vehicular motorcade, it is essential that a vehicle ambush countermeasures program be developed specifically addressing all aspects of the vehicular movement. Historically, a target’s greatest vulnerability is while in transit between work and home while in a vehicle. The terrorist will know where a target’s journey will start and end. In doing so, they know at least two points where an attack can take place. With surveillance, they can establish a target’s routine and route between these two points. Establishing this expands the potential attack points significantly. The most common advice offered to executives and high profile targets is to vary your routes. Seemingly meaningful advice, this is usually seriously flawed. As one security expert stated and Tony Scotti concurs, “You can change your route to work each day, but when you drive out of your driveway, you’ve got to turn either right or left, and the terrorist knows this too.” If you are dealing with an ambush at this point, it is too late.

Since the route the intended victim takes is so critical to the targeting process, a vehicle ambush countermeasures program must include thorough route planning and analysis. Unfortunately, experience, lack of time, and sudden changes to the protectee’s schedule all contribute to route planning and analysis being neglected. Proper route planning conducted in conjunction with proactive and alert counter surveillance will provide the ability to adjust routes and timing in a meaningful way to avoid an attack. In hostile overseas areas, which just cannot be avoided, route planning will provide the protective team with the knowledge to dominate the terrain and remove the element of surprise from the attacker.

1 – The essence of the plan is developed by:

Planning primary and alternate routes.
Analyzing the routes for choke points, danger zones, safe havens, and the zone of total predictability.
Documenting the analysis and route development.
Establishing immediate actions to be taken in the event of an attack at critical junctures in the route. These actions are counter-ambush drills composed of a combination of evasive maneuvers and achieving fire superiority over the attacker.
Plan your routes through a map reconnaissance. This can be done through a paper map (Mapsco) or the numerous mapping software programs available (Street Finder, etc.)

2 – Analyze the route and identify the:

  • Zone of Total Predictability

Is that part of a route where you must go that way. Examples: a single road into a cul-de-sac, a single road that must be taken to get to a highway, a dead end street.

  • Check Points

Something in the terrain that is visible day or night in any weather. Examples: skyscraper, cellular tower, a railroad crossing, and a large bridge.

  • Choke Points

Areas where vehicular movement is restricted, and you are forced to slow down. Examples: a bridge, a tunnel, an s-curve, one-way street, construction zones, traffic lights, stop sign, rotary, and blind curve.

  • Observation Points

An observation point is a location such as a dominant terrain feature where covert observation may be conducted over a critical portion of the route. This location may be a building, a hill, or even something overt such as a sidewalk café.

  • Danger Zone (DZ)

Similar to a choke point, a danger zone is an area where movement is not only restricted but additionally, you may have to stop due to circumstances not under your control and concealment is offered to a potential attacker. If obstacles are present (fixed, as in construction, an accident – staged) or (mobile, as in a vehicle) this becomes a point of likely ambush. A choke point can become a danger zone when the above factors are present.

  • Safe Havens

A safe haven is a place that is ideally open 24 hours a day or if not, is open when we drive by, there are people around, communication means (telephones, radios) are available, and medical assistance is available. Examples: Police and Fire Stations, Hospitals, Acute Care Centers, Truck Stops.

3 – Every destination your principal goes to should have a primary and alternate route. In high threat situations, more than one alternate route should be planned. The results of your route analysis should be documented in a crisis management binder that accompanies the driver(s). On one side are the written directions while on the opposite page is a strip map of the route with both danger zones and safe havens marked. Addresses and telephone numbers for the safe havens should be obtained and updated. All members of the protective team should be familiar with the contents in the event, duties change in an emergency. This includes the principal.

4 – Drive (run) your routes and determine through observation what is normal activity for that area at that time. This is called Surveillance Detection Route (SDR). When performed by an advance agent, it is counter surveillance.

A good technique to use is to note all activity verbally on a voice-activated tape recorder as you drive. Times and distances as noted on the odometer should be recorded as well. The results should be transcribed.

5 – An advance agent should check the route to be traveled before the protective movement, looking specifically for pre-incident indicators, factors out of the ordinary that lead one to believe that an attack is about to occur. This is your early warning capability.

6 – In long-term or high threat situations, a counter-surveillance team should be established and routes checked on a regular basis.

You can reach Steve on LinkedIn – Click Here

Full disclosure, I (Tony Scotti) am prejudice when it comes to practitioners like Steve. He is one of those ISDA members that is the poster child for success in the profession. Steve works in the Global Security Security Department for Starbucks Coffee Company as a senior protective services specialist and has 23 years of experience.


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