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The Survival Environment
The environment you find yourself in a survival situation or prepare yourself for will play a major role in training, weapon and equipment selection and the level of preparedness you can reasonably maintain. In modern life, it will also determine to a large degree what vehicles you use, what clothes you wear, where you sleep, and what your food and water comfort levels will be.
Climate and weather conditions:
The overall climate in your area of interest plays a major role in what you may consider reasonable preparation. While most parts of the world have seasonal changes, these seasons are usually predictable and the challenges they pose will have unique effects on your activities. Weather conditions will also play a major role in steps you must take to preserve and transport weapons, supplies and equipment.
Cold and wet - This environment necessitates extra steps be taken to preserve equipment and food. Operating in this environment is often not as physically taxing as others. Water and mud easily damage equipment and can compound safety hazards. Hygiene and sanitation are major challenges but my experience is that mud, rather than body odor is the main dirt challenge. Expect to have very few usable daylight hours that you can work outdoors. Use those hours wisely. Energy consumption at night can be fairly high so it is common for people to wake up hungry and need nutrients before embarking on a day's work. Watch out for contamination of food supplies, rust on vehicles weapons, and equipment, and corrosion shortening the life of batteries and battery operated equipment. Vermin will usually seek shelter in this environment, which means you can have a vermin problem in your quarters if you are not careful. Personnel will usually benefit well from large, regular hot meals. Avoid excessive water intake in this environment and watch for hypothermia related injuries.
Unnecessary vehicle maintenance should be avoided in this weather since contamination of components with mud is so likely and can do more harm than good. Personnel responsible for vehicles should endeavor to keep mud from building up on critical components. Stay on the road whenever possible unless you have a well equipped off road vehicle and are confident in its abilities.
People generally will not want to go out at night in this environment, and visibility with even high grade night vision equipment is not so good in a cold rainy environment. Operating vehicles on muddy or slippery roads is usually more dangerous in this environment, so that adds to the danger of doing a lot at night. I have also noticed that people will sleep heavier in cold and wet environments, and require more of that sleep. That, combined with the likelihood of needing to stay indoors a lot can lead to "cabin fever" and depression. Hypothermia is also a significant threat for those living outdoors or in primitive conditions in this environment.
Arctic cold with wind and snow - The need for adequate shelter is paramount. It is easier to keep things clean and preserved in this environment. Operating in this environment is not particularly fatiguing, but the effect on unacclimated personnel can be unpredictable. Days can be very long or very short, depending on the seasons. Energy usage at all times is considerable. Most people need extra food in this environment. You will also expect to use a lot of energy for heating and traveling. Temperatures can drop very quickly at night and immobilize night time work activities. Staying still in one spot outdoors in this environment can quickly lead to a freezing death. One should never ever fall asleep unsheltered in this environment - especially children. It is unfortunately common for children out playing in a sub-zero climate and succumb to the urge to take a nap in the snow - then freeze to death. Small children should never be allowed outdoors unsupervised by an in this environment. Dehydration and hypothermia are both dangerous in this environment, with dehydration being less than obvious until it may be too late. Overloading your system with water can lead to sweating in your clothes, and then the cooling sweat can lead to hypothermia, so be careful with water intake. It should generally be in frequent small amounts. Personnel will benefit from frequent calorie intake in this environment, IE, energy bars, protein shakes and high calorie snacks to fuel the body's natural ability to produce heat. Again, frequent snacks and small meals with relatively small servings.
Vehicles must be equipped to deal with snow and should be in good repair. Performing vehicle repairs and maintenance in this environment is difficult, but not particularly dangerous except when parts become brittle from the cold. Always monitor fuel use and warm up vehicles before putting them to work or going on a trip. Fuel of various kinds is extremely important in this environment since extra energy is usually required to produce heat, whether in your quarters or in your vehicle. Vehicle condition can mean the difference between life and death since being stranded even a short distance from home or a safe haven can mean being trapped in a cold and dark place. Skilled personnel can usually survive quite well in this environment once they have specialized training.
Cold and dry - Actually a fairly easy environment to operate in as long as you bundle up. This environment is also pretty easy on stored goods and equipment. Most people manage to function at their optimum in this environment. Hypothermia is a danger in this environment at night, as is dehydration. Calorie intake is likely to be higher than average. Generally similar to the arctic environment, but to a lesser degree. Personnel can become acclimated to this environment fairly well and then will develop a tolerance for the cold and require less clothing. Do not discount the need for non-acclimated personnel to have warmer clothing.
This environment is fairly easy on vehicles, and should not be any unusual challenge to vehicle operation or maintenance. Many high performance vehicles perform their best in this environment. Insects and vermin often just don't live in this environment much, so it is easy on food storage. That is a good thing since you will find people wanting to eat larger meals and burning a lot of calories.
Nights tend to be a time to seek shelter and lay low in the cold and dry environment. Note that night vision equipment is often going to operate best in this environment, so technically advance military units tend to operate at night a lot in this environment. Social and economic activities are also commonly done at night in this environment as long as they take place in a sheltered and heated location.
Moderate (temperatures in the 70's to low 80's) - An easy environment to operate in. Most people enjoy activities in moderate temperature environments. There will always be agricultural activity in this environment and an active economy. The moderate environment can still have some challenges, primarily when you are dealing with people who may have been acclimated to other climates. Expect to be somewhat prepared for both cold and heat related challenges in a moderate environment that is warm in the day and cold at night. That means you need to have some preparations for both cold and warm times. Layer your clothing accordingly.
Warm and sunny - Another fairly easy environment to operate in. People are usually going to be active in the daytime and equally active at night, especially in the evening hours. The temperatures are still likely to drop at night, so it is important to be prepared for lower temperatures from around midnight to just before dawn. Vehicles and equipment normally do well in this environment. Most people will want to spend time outdoors in this environment and that carries over to a lot of activities at night.
Hot and humid - People who get used to a hot and humid environment usually enjoy it. That is, people who get acclimated. Hot and humid environments are usually desirable places to live and have lush plant and animal life. This makes the environment relatively easy to survive in, but still can have its challenges. You find this sort of climate in most of the southeastern US and southeast Asia.
The easy climate is also attractive to many kinds of plants and animals that can make life hostile and uncomfortable, including all sorts of venomous snakes, lizards and insects. Diseases and parasites are a constant problem in hot and humid environments, including the infamous sand fleas I became familiar with in South Carolina. Another challenge of hot and humid environments is commonly unpredictable shifts in weather, with lightening storms and thundershowers that can happen with little warning at any hour. Care should be taken to protect electronic equipment from lightening damage and keep things stored in a way that they will not be damaged in a sudden rain.
Vehicles, weapons and equipment usually fare well in this environment, but you have to keep an eye on the potential for rust and rod. Humidity can also be a real challenge when using optics because you get a lot of "fogging" from humidity when there are temperature differences around lenses. This seems to be the case on everything from eyeglasses to rifle scopes and binoculars.
Watch your food supplies very carefully for parasites and vermin, especially insects and insect larvae. Food storage is often a real challenge in hot and humid environments as nasty critters can bore through even modern "sealed" packaging.
Hot and wet - A fairly uncommon climate that you will find closer to the equator. This environment is usually fairly easy on people, but very very harsh on gear and equipment. All fabrics and leather will become vulnerable to jungle rot, and all metals will become vulnerable to corrosion. While climate related injuries will be very rare, disease and infections can be a very serious problem in hot and wet environments.
Personnel will benefit from cold meals and snacks, with a calorie intake tailored to the activities performed. Most importantly water and electrolyte replenishing drinks should be available in abundance. People doing strenuous activity in a hot and wet environment may even have problems eating solid food, so high water content fruits and protein drinks should be available.
Vehicles, weapons and equipment rapidly deteriorate in the hot and wet environment while the human body can survive quite easily in "going native". Watch out because this environment usually breeds the worst in infectious disease, insects, parasites and even larger predatory animals. Hygiene becomes a major important challenge in this environment. Rust, rot and deterioration are constant enemies. Equipment and food supplies must be frequently checked, maintained and secured from damage.
Hot and dry - Your basic desert environments like what are found in the southwestern US. Sand and dust are major challenges, as are sunburn, accidental fires, and heat related injuries can be a danger. A real killer here can be dehydration, because you can dry out and get used to it as part of the acclimation process. The problem then happens when people then get into physical activity. The normal reaction is to sweat, and people then think "oh, I am sweating, I better drink water". yeah, that is good and fine, but then there is the "no sweat" attitude. No sweat, no problem right? Wrong. Chances are that your body is losing water anyway and the sweat is simply evaporating before it builds up on the skin or clothes. Thus, the effects of heat injuries can often appear sudden instead of gradual.
Another problem is with vehicles and equipment getting hot in the sun and heat. Electronics can heat up and be damaged, especially radio transmitters and similar equipment. Metal tools and vehicle bodies will absorb and retain heat. That can make equipment difficult to handle. Plastic can get hot enough to melt or warp out of shape, over time, plastics can get brittle in this environment and deteriorate. You usually also have a dust problem in hot and try environments. Note that this type of weather often causes human activity to "shut down" frequently and will stifle social and economic activity.
Really, one of the better ways to deal with the hot and dry environment can be to do more of your activities at night and during the early morning hours. Using lights, night vision equipment and just learning how to move about in the moonlight will be important. So will be the utilization of good shelter. Most desert dwellers figure out that stone and concrete are easier to keep cool, as are caves. Barring that option, shade shelters get to be important - especially the kind that block or limit the sun, but allow wind to flow through.
Food requirements can often be fairly low in the desert environment, with dehydration limiting a person's ability to digest large complex meals anyway. Hot foods are usually not desired and people will generally prefer cold foods. Food fried in grease and fat is usually going to be a no-no in the desert.
Note that this type of weather often causes human activity to "shut down" frequently and will stifle social and economic activity.
Terrain and Topography
Big city, major pre-automobile metropolitan area. This sort of urban environment pre-dates the modern widespread use of the automobile. Much of Europe is set up like this as are older more established cities in the United states. Typified by dense population centers, multi-story buildings positioned close together, and narrow streets. Modernized cities often have wider streets, parks and larger built-up areas. Social interaction is most often at very close distances. Combat in big cities has in the past been assumed to be primarily at close range, but studies have later shown otherwise. This is largely due to differences in police versus military operations. In either event, survival involves bringing supplies in from outside the city and distributing them inside the city. The activities of a survivor may be relevant to both and or neither. Not that I am trying to confuse the reader as more will be added on this later, but some things here will give you another view of it no matter what your existing ideas of urban operations are.
Modern cities engineered around the automobile: These cities are less dense, and are usually built of more sturdy buildings that are spaced farther apart while being built taller than those cities built by Roman and medieval city planners. Thus, most North American cities are built on this format. These almost always include superhighways and train systems that go both around and through the city. Travel through these cities is usually quite easy by foot, but due to the distances involved, people end up traveling by car.
Cities can actually be quite secure if your opposition has limited access to heavy weapons and large numbers of people. Cities, by their nature have an immense number of "places" crammed in a relatively small amount of real estate. The main reason for this is vertical expansion, or building taller buildings and structures. In lower threat level scenarios, it is particularly easy to secure most city buildings because they have a limited number of access points. It is that understanding which leads to most of the doctrine in urban security.
The basic theory of urban security surrounds limiting access to particular spaces and areas in order to reduce the number of threats and unpredictable factors while providing the most efficient access to economic activity, that being agriculture is not normally conducted on any significant scale in the city. Obviously, the two most common economic activities in the city are trade and manufacturing. Apart from that is tourism and entertainment. The reasons most people live in cities are economic and social, with both such opportunities quite often outweighing other risk factors. Even though cities can become quite dangerous from the human element, city management has largely developed over the centuries to deal with most natural hazards and disasters. Cities usually control the political interests of states and nations which means in circumstances where government maintains control, city dwellers will be the most likely to be influenced by government for better or for worse. This includes access to government services but also government taxes and restrictions.
Some assumptions and realities about cities:
Assumption: Most engagements are at close range - This assumption is based on the fact that most conflicts in a city happen within individual buildings and around the entrances to those buildings. It is still important to understand the dynamics of close combat and room clearing and securing techniques.
Reality: For police and self defense engagements, yes. For military combat and survival operations, not necessarily. Studies of Beirut, Somalia, Sarajevo and Grozny show that military engagements in this type of environment tend to be at long range, often the maximum effective ranges of the weapons involved. The larger buildings to the right (Beirut) show signs of heavy fighting and multiple hits from artillery. Only very large bombs will be capable of destroying a building this size. Attacks on buildings such as this are survivable. Persons not actively engaged in the defense of the building are well advised to evacuate to ground level or to the most heavily re-enforced building in the area which will often be a multi-level parking garage (which is also a safe bet during major fires). Fighting inside of buildings in some of the more recent conflicts has involved extensive use of automatic gunfire at very close ranges, often with the combatants shooting through thin walls at each other without even seeing their targets. Parking garages are usually built of heavy steel re-enforced concrete and do not contain enough flammable material to endanger occupants. Note that a fire in large modern buildings may not bring the building down, but occupants may sill be killed from toxic smoke produced by burning plastics used in other parts of the construction. Firefighting preparation measures must also include dealing with the likelihood of toxic smoke.
This picture of a typical street in SanFrancisco shows that targets could be engaged up to a half mile away. In fact, engagement distance might be even longer than typical woodland environments. Movement by foot is actually fairly difficult to control in this environment, but movement by vehicle is influenced by road and traffic conditions. Authorities there frequently demonstrate their ability to channel and restrict movement through the city with the use of barricades, roadblocks and checkpoints. Movement by alternative methods is available such as bicycle, motorcycle and public transportation. The use of "survival" vehicles like ATVs would probably not be an option in lower level scenarios but can provide a lot of options in a higher level scenario. As it is, Police and gangs both find that motorcycles often provide the fastest rapid transport around a bustling city but there are inherent dangers from other motorists and even pedestrians. If you are the target of a sniper in this environment, notice that the longer the range, the easier it can be to dart from cover to cover before he can get a shot off at you. Consider that if the average high power rifle bullet takes just under a second to go a mile, and a person can take three to five full strides in a second if the are at a run before they break from behind cover, then consider the distance and reaction time of the sniper, and you can get an idea of what "danger areas" can be crossed in relative safety at a distance from hostile gunfire. Most larger machineguns have an even slower reaction time because of the delay in firing that accompanies an open bolt design. Citizens of Beirut and Sarajevo developed an instinct for this and it has been known as "Sarajevo Shuffle" in the 1990s, and of course, the "Beirut Shuffle" in the 1980s.
The nature of the modern city changes drastically at night. Most larger metropolitan cities will have an active nightlife which keeps people on the streets and active until around 2:00 AM. Law enforcement will most likely be highly active from around 10:00 PM to about 3:00AM. Travelers should be especially wary from 1:00 AM to 2:30 AM because people will be leaving drinking establishments. This often means drunk people and cops looking to catch drunk people will be out and about, with the half hour following the typical bar closing time being of the most dangerous periods you can be out. Beatings, traffic accidents and hostile encounters with the police are most common during these hours. Cities tend to have the least amount of activity on the streets from 3:00 to 6:00 AM and this is typically the time that homeless people will improvise places to sleep with the least amount of fear. Part of the reason many homeless people will appear fatigued is the relatively short safe sleep period available at night and one reason they can be found napping throughout the day.
Commute hours tend to peak at 8:30 AM and 4:00 PM. Growing cities with insufficient infrastructure will have longer commute hours which can make movement very difficult. Any planned activities need to take into account the load on infrastructure during this time. This includes cell phone use, roads, public transportation, and even public accommodations such as restrooms and gas stations.
This photo taken during a "block battle" in Lebanon shows how this engagement was at a fairly long distance for what many would consider "urban". It is a common misconception that all urban engagements are at close distances that are sufficiently covered with pistols and submachineguns. Typically around 150 yards until one group or another attempted to assault and take over a building. This would then transition to brutal close combat. Interestingly, the individual who supplied this picture remarked about the relative inefficiency of handguns in this environment against well equipped shock troops. The main reason for this became the more common use of body armor by troops on all sides of the Lebanon conflict. Normal personal protection and security situations in lower threat level scenarios are probably sufficiently covered with shorter range weapons like pistols, shotguns and submachineguns because it is extremely difficult to determine hostile intent until an adversary is fairly close. While "flack jackets" would not protect much against full power rifles, they would protect fairly well against handguns and submachineguns. Even multiple hits from an assault rifle would not guarantee that a wounded and dying combatant would be unable to return fire before he succumbed to his wounds.
Assumption: Black is the appropriate tactical color:
Reality: Black may be the most popular tactical color, but the most common low profile colors are going to be the grays, browns and tans. Identity of friend and foe may play such a great role in urban conflict that camouflage may not be an issue. Furthermore, it may be necessary to resort to using bright colors in order to identify friend from foe in a mixed environment. Gangsters in the USA generally identify themselves with bright colors when on patrol "in uniform" in order to more clearly identify allies and adversaries as quickly as possible. Newer law enforcement uniforms are also gravitating toward bright colors and reflective tape in order to enhance identification. Survivors designated as security personnel might want consider methods and clothing for easy identification if they are going to be in a high risk urban environment. People who are primarily concerned with personal survival tend to go with plain drab colors.
Assumption: Food, water and shelter are readily available
Reality: Shelter from the weather is readily available, but sufficient bedding may not be. You may also have problems finding climate controlled or sanitary places to sleep in extreme environments. The primary survival tool in this environment is going to be money. Money can usually buy all necessities in the city almost regardless of other conditions. Pricing may fluctuate, but almost anything will be available to persons willing to spend sufficient money. If you are in the city and lack money, you can have problems regardless of what other preparations you have made.
The building shown here to the right was obviously situated at a point that was in dispute several times during the Lebanese civil war. Notice how buildings made primarily of stone will not burn down, but internal walls and staircases will likely be damaged and could still be unsafe. Buildings like this can remain standing for centuries, or collapse overnight. It is probably a smart idea not to sleep or park in or near them, but sometimes you choices might be limited.
Communication equipment can be very unpredictable in the city environment. large buildings, especially steel frame and concrete buildings, can interfere with radios and cell phones to greatly reduce the functional transmit range of a user. Communication and navigation are critically important in city environments. This means having a working knowledge of the phone system, "dead spots" where there is a loss in cell phone coverage, and the behavior of radios in certain places. A smart survivor will also familiarize with the internal phone systems in buildings where they frequent, and points of Internet access.
Also study traffic patterns, parking locations, access points to public transportation and the various fees, tolls and checkpoints that may exist in a city where you will be living in or traveling to. I highly suggest trying out the public transportation in your area and learning at least the major routes. Gain some knowledge of local traffic choke points and alternate routes in case these points become the target of a terrorist act, roadblocks, or cordon operations. Cordon operations are usually done to isolate an area where a military or police organization is going to conduct a search or raid. The cordon involves the establishment of an internal and external perimeter. The internal perimeter is set up to stop the infiltration of targeted items or personnel, while the outer perimeter is set up to stop the infiltration of re-enforcements, weapons or support for the targets of the search or raid. A competent military or police organization can set up a cordon and search or cordon and raid operation very quickly and this will always disrupt the activities of the regular inhabitants of the area. A survivor should have a plan for infiltration and exfiltration of any potentially hazardous area with minimal contact with potential hostiles.
Learn the locations and routes to major highways, airports, sea terminals, hospitals, police stations, and places that will stay open 24 hours. Especially any stores, bars or restaurants that may have round the clock service. I also find it useful to learn the locations of the local libraries, major government buildings (city hall, court houses), major shopping centers and points of supply. In reconnoitering points of supply, learn the locations where black marketeers may frequent and make some tentative contacts in case you need to use them later. Learn the locations of any gun shops, sporting good stores or other sources of weapons and ammunition. If any of these seem to be unreliable sources of weapons and ammunition, you must consider establishing cache points that will contain what you need.
In touching on locations of black marketeers, it is important to have a working knowledge of the "underworld" in any city you may be living or traveling in. Contacts can often be made in places where used or home made goods are sold and traded for cash. This includes flea markets, pawn shops, fairs, carnivals, gambling establishments and auction houses. Internet savvy survivors can also inquire in public forums about contacts in a given area. This can be risky, but often proves to be quite helpful to those who are new to a town or travel a lot. Underworld connections will also probably be more savvy to which places are more or less safe to travel in hopefully you can make some contacts that will be truthful with you. Law enforcement may or may not give honest answers to these questions, but it is possible. Either way, it is important to quickly get a working knowledge of what parts of a city are the working ground of various types of criminals.
Find out who the players are and conduct risk assessments based on any proximity to the criminal element you may have in work or home. While law enforcement personnel may have access to the best information about this, I have found that they will often jealously guard this information but it can be coaxed out of them with some effort. You are likely to get better information from local real estate brokers, private security personnel, and private investigators. Contractors can also be a decent source of information.
Regardless of the threat level scenario, social interaction in city environments is going to be frequent and unavoidable. Study the social interactions of people in a given urban environment and adjust your behavior accordingly. You will find that assuming different roles (not identities) in your interactions will produce different results. From the very poor to the very rich, skill at interacting with various people in different situations will affect how well one can survive in a city environment since nearly every survival activity from getting a meal to moving down the street is determined by social interaction.
Take some effort to understand how the nature of the city will change in the different threat level scenarios because this will often make a major difference in how you assess various threats and deal with them in the city environment.
The mountain environment:
Here, is a typical mountain scene in a temperate zone. Hot in the summer and cold in the winter, the mountain environment offers unique challenges. It is probably the most physically demanding environments to survive in. Food can be difficult to obtain, water can be impure and natural dangers such storms and fires can pose very real threats to the survivor and the retreat.
Roads are very important in mountain environments because there are so many natural obstacles to vehicle travel. There are invariably numerous foot trails and small roads in mountains that can serve as an alternative to main roads, so knowledge of alternate routes of travel becomes very important. In higher threat level scenarios, control of key chokepoints becomes a factor of constant concern.
Most mountain communities can enjoy a level of self sufficiency but at the cost of isolation. Isolated mountain communities can represent a tremendous resource and or a tremendous danger to the survivor. In most cases, these isolate communities have some people who are intimately familiar with the surrounding wilderness. The people will also be aware of local resources for food, fuel, and supplies but the question will be whether or not that knowledge will be shared with you.
Weather patterns can shift quickly in the mountains and vary a lot across short distances. Likewise, weather and topography can have a nasty effect on the performance of radio based electronics like GPS units, cell phones and two way radios. On the subject of cell phones, those networks that utilize analog systems seem to perform far better in the mountain environment. Unfortunately, this is often at the cost of COMSEC. Anyone with a well tuned scanner can eavesdrop on the conversation.
Fighting in the mountain environment covers the gamut from short range to long range, but is rarely at very close range. Survivors may want weapons to be lightweight, but they need not be compact.
Mountain terrain often presents a mixed environment due to rapidly changing weather conditions and proximity to built-up areas. Encounters can be from close to long range. Note, however, that non-military encounters at longer range will almost never necessitate combat action. Note, however, there are plenty of spots where you can observe things that are going to be well outside the range of small arms.
Survivalists tend to favor locating retreats in mountain country like this. It is lush with well watered trees and vegetation while most of the hilltops give good observation points of the surrounding area. The view from this point on a fairly out of the way mountain trail shows a small city around ten miles distance. One other notable importance of such hilltops is that they usually provide the best vantage points for radio reception and transmission which includes cell phone coverage, HAM radio use, and emerging wireless Internet. Control and or access to strategic hilltops like this is an important consideration when survivors set up in an area. Some serious danger to consider is the "fire season" in the summer where fire can sweep through the pine trees at alarming rates. This is why many land management companies and the park service will restrict access to these lands during periods of fire danger. Always consider the level of fire danger when setting up a campsite or building a retreat in this type of terrain.
The bad side of locating retreats in this lush forested mountain country is that you are vulnerable to seasonal fires, and don't even think that the environmentalists really care if you get burned out or not. Many of the seasonal fires in the Pacific Northwest are allowed to burn through areas where people have set up survival retreats and the authorities have little real empathy for those who lose their homes and possessions in these fires. Even worse, allegations about where these fires mysteriously start in areas where they will do the most damage to pot growers, subsistence hunters, and survivalists who have established retreats. You can fully expect to have a fire "burn through" an area while the firefighters and National Guard personnel will simply stay at the crossroads "coordinating" your evacuation as they watch the flames. If you want your retreat defended against fire, you will have to make a lot of effort to make sure your retreat is defensible against a forest fire. This means having areas near buildings cleared of underbrush, keeping large amounts of water available or on hand, and having pumps available for pumping water from ponds, streams, lakes or water tanks to protect your property against fire.
More to come...
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