The Science of the Omar García Harfuch Ambush and Lessons Learned

The Introduction to The Science of a Vehicle Ambush – Vehicle Ambush 101

For nearly half a century, ISDA’s founder, Tony Scotti, has been leading the way in understanding the “how” and “why” of vehicle ambushes. Since the mid-’70s, Tony has been conducting forensic analysis of vehicle attacks and distributing his findings to the Ep and Secure Transportation community.

So, in June of 2020, the Omar Garcia Harfuch (OGH) vehicle ambush was not the first time Tony has gone through the painstaking process of accurately analyzing a lethal ambush targeting a high-profile, at-risk individual. However, the Omar García Harfuch “OGH” ambush is one of the first vehicle attacks that was videoed as it was happening. 

Adding the Vehicle Dynamics Institute team to the testing process created unprecedented results in the data collected and the lessons learned. 

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The combination of the live video and the ability to use google street view allowed us to track the OGH vehicle as it drove into the ambush. The ability to see what the driver of the OGH vehicle was seeing and measure time and distance increased the level of accuracy of the analysis exponentially.

By capturing images from the live video and aligning them with Google Street view, we could create an ambush timeline measured in tenths of seconds and distances in inches and millimeters.

ISDA measured – distance – speeds – braking points – the all-important Decision Sight Distances (DSD) points – lateral forces vehicle, and braking forces acting on the SUV. When all the data is combined, we can determine a win–no–win timeline with reasonable accuracy. 

The information gathered is used to develop scenario-based exercises and lessons learned. 

An Overview of The Attack on Mexico City’s Secretary of Public Security Omar García Harfuch

At 6:35 on the morning of June 26, the armored Suburban carrying Mexico City’s Secretary of Public Security Omar García Harfuch was traveling along the Paseo de la Reforma through the heart of Mexico City’s prestigious Lomas de Chapultepec neighborhood of Mexico City.

As the vehicle approached the intersection of Monte Blanco, a public works truck and a white Suburban suddenly pulled in front of Secretary García Harfuch’s Suburban, completely blocking the corner of Paseo de la Reforma and Monte Blanco. A group of eight men popped up over the side of the truck and opened fire on García Harfuch’s vehicle with heavy caliber weapons, including .50 caliber rifles. 

The second group of gunmen jumped out of the white Suburban and opened fire on the vehicle.

From the time the truck came to a stop, it took 2.5 seconds for the shooting to start. The shooting lasted approximately two and a half minutes.

Omar García Harfuch survived the attack, but the attackers killed his driver and bodyguard. 

Vehicle Ambush 101 – Steps one and Two – Collecting Data and Creating Metrics

The first step in analyzing a vehicle ambush is conducting a forensic analysis of an attack. The analysis’s product is data, which is separated into Data Points.

The definition of a data point is a single fact or piece of information collected from the ambush analysis. An ambush, like a car accident, is a process; it is a sequence of events that are a group of single pieces of information. Once events are aligned with the conditions that caused them, they form a timeline and develop lessons learned – and from lessons learned, create scenario-based exercises.

Once we put together all of the information, they accurately present what and when it occurred. We can then recreate the incident. 

As a side note, this may seem like advanced science but scientifically recreating a vehicle incident is a decades-old procedure used daily by Law Enforcement. The LEO’s accident reconstruction team collects the data from the accident scene to determine the cause of the accident. 

Here are some OGH Data Point examples.

Data Point – Radius Of The Curve Preceding The Ambush Location

The definition of a Radius – A radius is the path the car takes when the steering wheel is moved. The more turning of the steering wheel, the smaller the radius. 

The dimensions of the radius measured in feet or meters plus the handling capability of the vehicle measured in Gs will give us the vehicle’s speed as it exits a curve. 

Av. Paseo de la Reforma, which was part of the route driven by OGH, included a curve. The radius of that curve was one of the characteristics that determined the speed of their vehicle as it entered the Decision Site Point. 

Data Point – Determine Decision Sight Distance 

The Line of Sight or Sight Distance is defined as the length of road surface a driver can see and have an acceptable reaction time. In the US, the people that are responsible for designing our highways, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), have guidelines concerning “line of sight,” and from those guidelines developed the all-important Decision Sight Distance (DSD)

AASHTO defines DSD as the distance needed to recognize a problem and complete a maneuver safely and efficiently. And according to the scientists who have done an enormous amount of research on driver reaction time, the “average” driver needs 2.5 seconds to complete the “recognize a problem” part of the DSD.

Decision sight distances and time are the geneses of the forensic analysis; it is the place on the Av. Paseo de la Reforma, where the driver’s decision-making process begins.

Ensuring Accuracy of the Lessons Learned

To ensure our recreation is accurate, we handed over the data to Joe Autera and the Vehicle Dynamics Team. Joe and the team took the data and accurately replicated the vehicle ambush. 

The VDI Team recreated the numbers collected from the analysis in a hands-on test scenario. 

The team recreated the distance from the kill zone, KZ entrance speeds, Decision sight distance, and times. The team also used vehicles with the same handling and braking capabilities and Advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) equipment (they used the VDI B6 Suburbans). 

The VDI team used drivers with various levels of skill level and experience. They then measured all driver inputs and reactions plus vehicle characteristics via an onboard computer. The data collected was measured second by second and foot by foot. 

Once the VDI Team collected the data, the hard part became interpreting the results to determine the event’s cause – was it avoidable or not? Then comes the moment of truth does the recreated OGH scenario data match the data collected via forensic analysis? 

While conducting the OGH analysis, we collected ten Data Points. The VDI team tested almost all of the data points. One of the most surprising and significant was when we looked at the attempt of OGH’s driver to back out of the ambush. The forensic analysis showed that the driver stopped as soon as it was apparent that the truck was blocking the intersection. The driver immediately put the armored Suburban in reverse – it took two and half seconds from the time the driver put the SUV in reverse before it started to move backward. 

The best way to answer that question is to go through every one of the data points collected on braking.

Data Point Reversing Out of the Kill Zone 

Lessons Learned

Our forensic analysis indicated that the driver attempted to back out of the Kill Zone. A video and photos showed that the SUV initially stopped 20 Feet/ 6Meters in front of the blocking truck. 

Other images and videos show that the Suburban’s final resting place was 66 Feet/ 20 Meters back from the truck, which indicates that the driver moved 46 Feet/14 Meters in reverse before the SUV stopped at its final resting place. It also suggests that, at that time, the driver was still capable of putting the car in reverse and backing up.

Further analysis indicated that at the 20 Foot/ 6 Meters mark, there was an approximately 2-second lag from when the driver put the SUV into reverse before it moved backward.  

The question is – why the delay?  

To answer that question, the VDI test team recreated the scenario matching the dimensions developed in our analysis. In the process of conducting the tests, they discovered a vehicle characteristic that explains why the vehicle sat there for approximately 2 seconds before moving backward.

What Happened In The Kill Zone?

The VDI team had drivers with varying levels of *experience and skill drive into the OGH ambush recreation. The team used a target speed of  40 MPH/64.4 KPH. The 40 MPH/64.4 KPH is the speed determined from the analysis to be the Suburban’s speed entering the kill zone.

They found that the average time it took for a driver to get the vehicle moving backward was about 2 seconds.

The team concluded that the cause of the two-second delay was due to the vehicle’s Advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) Transmission Control Module (TCM) system.

The TCM is an electronic mechanism that collects data and processes signals within your transmission to regulate the transmission’s gear shifting.

The team discovered that if a driver releases the brake before shifting to reverse, allowing the vehicle to roll forward, it will cause a delayed engagement of the reverse gear due to the Transmission Control Module (TCM) functionality.

The TCM systems can create a severe issue when attempting to backup up quickly.

Reversing Lessons and Recommendations

Training Providers

Training providers must determine if the student’s operational vehicle is equipped with a Transmission Control Module. If it is, they need to discuss the effects of TCM on reversing.

Those who train students working in a high-risk environment need to examine the reversing characteristics of the operational vehicles. 

Security drivers need to know the vehicle’s characteristics while driving in reverse.

Keep in mind that all new vehicles have speed limiters, preventing the vehicle from reversing quickly. 

This is another example of why protective driver training instructors must grasp the concept of ADAS in vehicle algorithms.

Training to reverse the vehicle from a dangerous scenario cannot start with the vehicle being stopped. The training exercise has to begin with the student driving into and then backing out of the exercise at a predetermined speed.

Security Drivers

When backing up in an emergency scenario, there was a very good chance that due to the ADAS systems, there was a significant delay from the time the SUV was put into reverse to the time they backed up.

Test your vehicle reversing characteristics. The time to know that there is a limiter on the vehicle that prevents you from going faster than ten mph or, worse yet, that there is an ADAS system that delays the vehicle transmission from shifting into reverse is not when you are facing a problem.

Since backing out of the kill zone is a necessary skill for a security driver, the driver must find a safe place to drive their operational vehicle at a speed that fits the environment they move through. Also, stop the vehicle quickly, put it into reverse, and experience its reversing characteristics.

There very well could be a time when the vehicle’s algorithm is deciding to maximize safety; it may be putting the security of the principal and the driver in harm’s way – that is the difference between a security driver and a chauffeur. 

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If you have an interest in going much deeper into this type of topic, I invite you to check out the International Security Driver Association’s website and consider joining the only organization dedicated to supporting the advancement of professional Security Drivers and other protection practitioners with data-driven research and other professional development tools.

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