EVACUATION: Bugging out by motor vehicle
by Team Training Systems
Reprinted from American Survival Guide
Most individuals have included “bugging out” in their emergency response planning. This is correct, as evacuation may be necessary for many reasons. Most plans make the assumption that major highways will be open and passable. The individual or group will likely be part of a mass exodus, complete with panicky, desperate drivers, vehicle break- downs, accidents and other traffic-tangling conditions.
The military has priority on the interstate highway system, and the military may close the interstates at any time compounding the confusion. We need only to examine the evacuation prior to Hurricane Opal, where 60 percent of evacuees remained in place due to “grid-locked” highways, to see that an alternate evacuation plan should be developed.
While mass evacuation in the event of a natural disaster or hazardous materials incident is normally a well-planned and practiced event, evacuation in the event of mass civil disobedience is not. The Historical Response to such events has been curfews, travel restrictions and restrictions on the sale of gasoline (Remember the riots of the 1960’s?)
The ability to travel by tertiary roads, or no roads at all, will be invaluable under chaotic conditions.
This article is intended to serve as a primer or basic introduction to cross-country evacuation by motor vehicle.
We will discuss route find- ing, traversing obstacles, security and communications. Operation will also be discussed.
ROUTE FINDING-Prior reconnaissance is an absolute must for successful use of teritiary roads, trails and utility rights-of-way. A large scale atlas, or better, USGs grid maps will prove invaluable and save time. Power line and particularly pipeline rights-of-way are kept reasonably clear of brush for inspection purposes and are frequently the most direct routes available. Be advised that utility rights-of- way are private property, and frequently include steep grades and side- hills that may be impassable for less capable vehicles.
Abandoned railroad lines may offer another usable route. Grades are shallow and curves are wide even by modern highway standard. The road- bed was designed for far heavier loads than any four-wheeled vehicle is capable of moving. The roadbed is packed so tightly that very little vegetation grows. Here in the East, abandoned logging and mining rail- roads are frequently encountered and are usable by even low-capability vehicles. The principal drawback is that bridges over both ravines and water obstacles may be collapsed or removed entirely, creating what may be a near-impassable obstacle. Even so, if an abandoned railroad grade appears on the map, it is worth investigating. Never, except under the most dire and immediate circumstances, attempt to travel on a “live” railroad track. An oncoming train could produce the most horrible consequences!
Even direct cross country travel is not impossible, if the terrain is not too heavily wooded. Most government owned woodland is well covered with maintained fire fighting trails. Open terrain may be crossed on a compass heading, the only drawback being the tracks left by the vehicles.
OPSEC AND CONVOY OPS-Most individuals and families concerned with emer- gency planning have formed groups with others of like mind. There is safety in numbers, particularly when traveling. Risk exposure is high- est when on the move, and the risk is compounded when only a single vehicle is involved.
The type of vehicle is also a risk factor. While not to belabor the obvious, a standard passenger auto or minivan would be a poor choice. Road bound and with poor hauling capacity, this type’s virtues are limited to improved high speed capability and greater fuel economy, when compared to the average four-wheel drive. Consider also that a full size four wheel drive usually has sufficient power to drag almost any man-made obstacle out of the way. Choose accordingly.
The first step in preparing an evaculation plan should be predesignation of an initial assembly or “rally” point.
This should be a central location for all parties, enroute to the designated area of operations. Ideally a point with a fairly high elevation providing to the degree of cover and concealment should be located. The higher elevation will assist with radio communications, and concealment will be necessary as not all group members will arrive at the same time. Make no on the air reference to road or places names, landmarks, etc., as such radio traffic may assist undesirable elements in locating the group. If the route is over 50 miles or so in length, or passes through several small towns, then intermediate rally points should be designated, using the same criteria as before.
Second, the order of march should be designated. First in line should be the lightest and least capable vehicle, carrying the forward secur- ity element. If the first vehicle crosses obscales unassisted, then the rest of the convoy should cross also. The heaviest and most capa- ble vehicle will proceed second in line, carrying towlines, chain saws, axes and other vehicle recovery and road clearing equipment. In the event of a stuck vehicle or road obstacle the equipment forward security element will be positioned for most rapid deployment. Next in line, in third and fourth position, should be the supply vehicles and non- operational personnel. The trail vehicle should be a near duplicate of the second vehicle and carry equipment to create roadblocks as well as the rear security element. Open trucks would be ideal as the lead and trail vehicles: the security elements, riding in the open cargo area would have maximum visibility and fields of fire.
Third, while on the march, maintain maximum safe interval between vehi- cles. Each vehicle should remain within sight and small-arms range of the vehicles immediately preceding and following. Avoid the tendency to “bunch up”, particularly at obstacles or other ambush points. Minimize exposure by maintaining interval at temporary halts.
Fourth, radio communications between vehicles and security elements elements can not be overemphasized. Work out some simple codes so that voice transmissions will be minimized. Keying the mike will produce a spitting sound as the radio breaks squelch. A simple “one” for stop, “two” for go, “staccato burst” for dismount and take cover will suffice for most work. Such short bursts will greatly reduce the effectiveness of direction-finding gear, and will give no clue as to what the group is doing.
Fifth, when making prolonged halts, the vehicles should be “laagered”- dispersed in a rough circle, under cover and/or camouflaged. Two sentries, circling the laager in opposite directions will be sufficient to keep watch on the laager and each other. Maintain light and noise discipline while laagered. Sound travels for long distances in unpopulated areas, and light is visible for many miles, even in daylight. If group plans include an overnight halt, the same criteria for selection should be used as for the initial rally point.
FORDING OPERATIONS-If road travel is be avoided for security reasons, then bridges over water obstacles are to be doubly avoided. Water crossings have been recognized as natural choke points and ambush sights since armed conflict began. Intentional destruction of bridges has been used to deny mobility since ancient times, and more recently, obsolete bridges on tertiary roads frequently are not replaced when damaged. Fortunately, most of these tertiary roads date from horse and buggy days when the only way to cross water obstacles was to ford them. Note the number of waterside towns with -ford in the names (Chanceford, Chaddsford, etc.) that usually indicate an old creek ford.
Once the fording sight is located, the next step will be determined by the tactical situation. In a high threat environment, the security element will have to proceed on foot and secure both the far bank and both flanks prior to sending the vehicles across. If the perceived threat level is low, one or two lightly armed scouts on the far bank will be sufficient.
The ford element should proceed across at wheel track width, inspecting the bottom of the creek for deep holes, large rocks, mud, or other obstacles. On reaching the opposite bank, the ford element should continue for at least 200 meters under cover and evaluate conditions. If passable, one of the ford element should return to the ford and direct traffic at the ford itself.
Park the heaviest, most capable vehicle nose-on to the creekbank to one side of the ford. Connect the front of the most capable vehicle to the rear of the least capable with a towline and send the least capable vehicle across first. The towline should be long enough to reach across the entire obstacle, if possible. If not the heavy vehicle will have to follow the lighter vehicle across in order to maintain slack in the towline. If the first vehicle does not make it across, the recovery system is in place to pull the vehicle out without having personnel wading in the creek in order to hook up the towline.
In the event that the convoy contains low capacity vehicles such as passenger cars, different procedures are in order.
These vehicles are not capable of fording more than a shallow stream, and most likely will have to be towed across. If there is any possibility of submerging the engine, the air intake opening should be sealed and the vehicle towed across (dead). Bear in mind that a passenger car will float in relatively shallow water and that it may be necessary to open the doors and puncture the interior trunk floors to prevent the auto from drifting downstream, pulling the tow vehicle with it. It may even be necessary to use a second vehicle and towline as an anchor on the near bank.
Once across, the first vehicle should stop only long enough to discon- nect the towline, then immediately proceed in the direction of the ford security element. Each vehicle should cross in turn, maintaining inter- val and extending the line. The vehicle operators should not attempt to crash through the obstacle. Proceed slowly and steadily, maintaining control of the vehicle. Use extreme caution when operation in still or muddy water. Depth is hard to determine, and wandering offline could result in a swamped vehicle, or worse. If the water is deep enough to impinge on the radiator fan, the fan belt should be loosened or removed to prevent the fan from revolving. A rotating fan may bend forward far enough to damage the radiator when the fan hits the water.
The anchor vehicle then picks up the rear security element (if deployed) and crosses last. The convoy should immediately proceed to a secure area at least one kilometer away and halt to inspect all undervehicle components for water vehicle contamination. Do not omit this step if the water is more than axle deep. The convoy may return to normal road march after the inspection is completed.
DEBRIEFING NOTES: Team Training Systems-Creek Fording/Convoy Ops Training
Several of the photographs used in this article were shot on a Team Training Systems training op. We identified several weaknesses needing remediation:
1. Communications. Due to the late arrival of one of the operators, the pre-op briefing was greatly shortened and several operators did not “get the word.” Several crossings were required to set up the photo- graphs properly.
2. One vehicle had no two-way radio. Due to the short briefing no hand signals were designated. The operator of this vehicle had no idea of what he was expected to do, other than follow the vehicle in front.
3. Perhaps most important, five large vehicles traveling together on roads that normally see only two or three vehicles per day attracted a tremendous amount of local attention. While no legal authorities were contacted, we found ourselves explaining our presence more than once. This attention would likely be magnified under chaotic conditions. Maintain the largest possible interval between vehicles that reliable communications will allow. Keep weapons and other survival gear out of sight. Camping gear would make a good cover story, as would a large toolbox, hard hats, and a stack of unusual looking electrical parts. Make vehicle halts in parking lots and other public locations.
In conclusion, prior planning, reconnaissance, identification of obsta- cles, and several dry runs will be necessary to identify and correct problems.