December 7, 2021

Knowledge is Power: The Value of an Area Study – Part 2, by Viking4

(Continued from Part 1. This concludes the article.)

Human Terrain

This section of the area study deals with the people who live in your Area of Operations (AO) and Area of Interest (AI). Data for this section can be a little harder to find depending on where you live. For my first area study I was able to search voter rolls to determine party affiliations. For my current area those records do not exist, though I was able to find more detailed political party details relevant to the AO.

Data to determine and document the human terrain include:

• Names of the people living closest to you (neighbors) and their political affiliations
• Demographics for the population of the AO
• Socioeconomic data for the population of the AO
• Attitudes, beliefs and behaviors of the people in your AO
• Who are the influencers of opinions and actions in your AO

Local GIS data can provide information on who owns properties nearby or in any part of the AO you wish to drill deeper in to. Simply performing a web search on your area name and the keywords “demographics” and “socioeconomics,” along with the latest census data will provide a wealth of information.

The websites for the political parties at the local level will provide some insight into the general trends for the AO. Elected officials and statewide political data is posted later in the study.

I find that determining the influencers in the AO takes the longest time to acquire. From a general standpoint teachers, small business owners and pastors among others have a good sized influence at the local level. I’ve had good luck with just speaking to neighbors, friends and business owners to pick up who are the movers-and-shakers in my AO. The barber shop is one of my best eavesdropping sites (remembering OPSEC of course)!

Critical Infrastructure

I find that determining and documenting the critical infrastructure in the AO and AI takes the second longest amount of time. Again, depending on where you are some parts of this section may take a considerable amount of digging to acquire.

The primary data points for this section include:

• Energy and utilities
• Hospitals and trauma centers
• Schools

Depending on your location, the number of electrical energy providers may be one or many. Rural areas may have an electric cooperative (Co-Op) while suburban and urban areas may have a single large power company. Regardless, the infrastructure that provides the power to your AO and AI is composed of miles of power lines and potentially dozens of electrical substations. Rural areas may have this infrastructure spread out over a large area, while more densely populated areas might have more of them in a smaller area.

I found it easier to start at the macro level during my information search. There is GIS data to locate the largest electric power transmission lines here. From this map you can drill down into your AO and AI to gather the information you need. Understand that these are the major feeder lines for the larger area. There are many miles of minor lines in a given area that cover the “last mile” getting the electricity to individual homes. These are not covered on this site.

Electrical transmission lines connect to the electrical substations. A similar GIS site located here will allow you to determine the locations and capacities of the substations in your area. Clicking on the locations will bring up the relevant data.

Other electrical power generation information to gather would include hydroelectric plants (locations and capacities) and nuclear power plants (locations and capacities). Include large solar plants if applicable.

Propane and natural gas services in the AO and AI are accounted for next. Finding the regional and statewide gas lines is usually quick. Drilling down to the county level may take a bit of work.

Water treatment facilities should also be located and information noted in the study.

Finding the hospitals and trauma centers in the AO and AI is, again, a rather quick search. Each individual care center website can list the services provided and, in the case of trauma centers, the level that they are certified to.

Locations of schools is easily found using the school district websites. Remember to include private, charter and religious schools in your listing. These facilities are important as they are commonly used as shelters for emergencies.

Politics and Governance

In this section of the area study we look more in-depth at the politics and governance of the AO and AI.

I’ve had good luck starting at the macro level of the political parties active at the state level and working my way down to the local level. State political organizations have decent websites that provide you a variety of information, including the names of the officials at that level. How many of those officials live in your AO or AI? Those people will usually have an outsized influence on the local level. Knowing the stated mission and beliefs of the state and local party machinery can be helpful when judging the honesty of the politicians in your area.

Working down to the local governments, be sure to include not just city or town, but also the townships and county levels. Who is the county sheriff, and what political party does the person identify with? How about the township supervisor? Who is your local county commissioner? Is the local town council dominated by one party? Are there any “career politicians” in your area? Knowing all of this information can assist in your planning processes.

These days it’s not uncommon for most politicians, government officials and the governments themselves to have dedicated social media sites. Include information from your search of those sites in your area study as well.

Military, Security and Law Enforcement

It should be easy to gather a lot of the publicly available information regarding the military forces in your AO and AI. In my own area studies I have also included units that could influence the AO and AI even from a distance, for example Marine Corps and Air Force flight assets. Organizations to detail include:

• Active, National Guard, and Reserve units from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps
• Civil Air Patrol
• State guard, volunteer defense and militia units
• Coast Guard units

If possible, break the units down by combat arms, combat support and combat service support. Note the equipment that the units possess. If there are any training areas in your AO or AI note those, as well as what kind of training can be conducted at each location. Unit websites can provide public affairs information to flesh out basing and unit data.

The history and use of state guards (not National Guard), volunteer defense units, and state militias should also be included.

I begin the law enforcement section of my area studies at the local level. County sheriff and city or town police departments will usually be the most prevalent in your AO and AI. Most of these units have public websites where you can gather pertinent information. Always include local radio frequency lists for each entity. One of the best sources for these is here.

State law enforcement agencies include not only state police/patrol units, but also special units related to specific missions. Ensure that you capture information on these units as well. Knowledge of the location of posts should be added as well.

In this section I also include information regarding prisons and jails in the AO and AI. Information such as location, capacity and security measures that keep their local communities safe should be documented. A check of the local and state press websites can also glean information regarding things like escapes and personnel shortages/changes.

Note any security firms that operate in your AO, their locations and the services that they provide.

Economy and Finance

In this section of the area study you will enter information related to the economic and financial state of your AO and AI. City, town and county websites can provide data regarding major employers and types of industries in the area. Many times these listings will contain the number of people working in each industry, and again the latest census data can be used to note trends.

State and county unemployment data should be entered, including any plans by government and non-government entities to improve the employment numbers. Welfare policies should be documented.

Economic disparity data, including items such as income levels, poverty statistics, housing information and other labor profile statistical data should be entered. If the area has economic development plans that information should be included as well.

Threat Overview

The threat overview breaks down into four areas:

• Conventional
• Irregular
• Catastrophic
• Disruptive

The conventional threats will usually revolve around armed invasions, incursions or some form of “peacekeeping” operation. These forms of conventional threats could conducted by military forces, government agencies (DHS and FEMA come to mind) or a global organization like the United Nations. Conduct an honest assessment of the ability of your AO to meet these potential threats.

The irregular threats include gangs and their activities, criminal activity, organized crime as well as the possibility of mobs and looters. Gang data is available for most cities and towns, and many states have dedicated law enforcement units to work on gang-related cases. These locations also have volumes of crime statistics that will allow you to assess the threat from everything from cybercrime to murder. Larger cities, states and the federal government compile data on organized crime, and again that wealth of information should be combed for applicable data. Lastly, the threat of and by mobs and looters needs to be assessed. I am sure that more than a few readers of this blog have already conducted this part of the assessment.

Catastrophic threats include an Electro-Magnetic Pulse (EMP) attack, disablement of local power supplies, an incident at a nearby nuclear power plant, a forest fire, flooding, or an economic reset. Assess your vulnerability to EMP attack in light of your vicinity to targets in your AO/AI, as well as from a national level. Data to assist in planning security operations to safeguard local power infrastructure (electrical, gas, etc.) that may not have been captured previously can be added here. The U.S. Forest Service has excellent websites that summarize the state and national forests and detail their efforts to minimize wildfires (we will not talk about the west-coast states). Flooding risks can be documented from local insurance companies and the National Weather Service.

Two items that I call out for more specific information include an incident at a nuclear power plant and an economic reset.

All nuclear power plants are required to have emergency plans documented that are available to and have been communicated to the public. These Emergency Planning Zones (EPZ) are two sizes – 10 mile and 50 mile. Maps displaying these zones will be in the emergency planning documents, as well as shelter and evacuation information.

A communication plan will also be part of the emergency documentation, and this should be entered into your area study. Local press articles can be useful for gathering any historical data as well as any recent incidents that might warrant attention.

With our country carrying over $25 TRILLION in debt as of the date of this posting, assessing the ability of your AO/AI to withstand an economic reset is vital. I will not go into detail on the scenarios of such an event as our esteemed host and many, many others have been warning us of this for a couple of decades. In the case of my area studies, I have used this section to assess emergency availability of food and water supplies and the ability of the AO/AI to contend with catastrophic shortages. This pandemic has been an especially valuable test run for what is still to come.

Finally, the disruptive events include short-term grid-down scenarios, tornadoes, hurricanes, ice storms, snowstorms, and a pandemic. The susceptibility of the AO and AI to each of these disruptions should be assessed and documented. Most of you have most likely already done this as part of your preparedness regimen.

This concludes my posting on how the completion of an area study allows that knowledge to power a variety of contingency and security planning efforts. I hope that this is helpful and wish all of you the best for the future. Work hard, pray hard, keep your powder dry and God bless you all.

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