How to Understand the Security of an Area Using your Tracking Skills

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by Kyt Lyn Walken

Happiness has many roots, but none more important than security.”

E.R.Stettinius Jr.

When a SHTF scenario is rapidly unfolding, we need to resort to a solid base of knowledge to make our way to a safe place. Constant alertness, adaptability, operational flexibility, self-reliance, and endurance are qualities inherent to a successful mindset.

Although it seems like modern technology can detect and record every single movement we produce, we can still count on the reliability of “old-school” skills and techniques. This is especially true when we need to understand the security of a place to bug in. Some of these old techniques continue to be valid to this day.

Man-tracking, for example, plays an essential role when it comes to reading tracks left even on the toughest surface.

It’s a skill we can use if we must determine if someone sneaked into a location, outdoors or indoors.

When should we put this skill to use?

When, for example, a potentially dangerous situation (natural or manmade) has occurred or is unfolding, like:

• a public imminent threat

• an individual necessity dictated by specific reasons

• a matter of your or your family’s personal security

This article will cover the application of man-tracking skills to find safe places in an urban environment, from small villages to bigger metropolitan areas.

Risk Analysis

Perform risk analysis regarding any potential bug-in or bug-out location.

Any bug-in decision should always be accompanied by evaluation and planning (when possible), specifically, if you live in a metropolitan area.

It goes without saying that risk analysis occupies a place of extreme importance in your bug in scenario.

People usually react in two opposite ways to evaluate every single situation and, consequentially, to take decisions and actions.

They refer to:

– Intuition: fast, massively influenced by previous experiences, emotional, and pretty much automatic

– Analysis: pragmatic, effective logic

Risk analysis may favor the second one because it can lead to more valuable long-term results.

A detailed individual bug in plan should include:

• drills to work through in case of emergency evacuation

• selection of the ideal routes to take

• gear set up and maintenance – including a detailed paper map of the area. Navigation devices can fail, or you may run out of batteries.

• set up halfway sites where you can recover

off-grid shelters

The above elements are in addition to the following:

• escape routes (above, on, and under the ground)

• exfiltration methods

• evacuation techniques

You must be able to complete an accurate risk analysis every time you cross through a relevant scenario (indoors or outdoors). By doing this you can establish:

• the features of each – exposure, vulnerability, materials, and so on

• potential escape routes

• potential bug in locations

• presence of any useful objects, which could help you:

defend yourself

– break down windows and doors

– leave no trace of your transition

By evaluating the consequences of every single action above you can develop and formulate a pretty accurate bug in plan to reach a safer location.

How to understand the safety of a place: put your skills into action

When planning and putting into action a bug in, you must consider mainly two different levels related to the scenario. Above and on the ground.

The whole analysis should be consistent with the reliability and exposure of all the surfaces you are traveling on.

Above the Ground

Reaching an elevated bug in location means moving from one roof to another. This is not just risky, but also quite naive and even dangerous. At a minimum, you may be quickly noticed by other people.

Additionally, the prevalence of drones and other electronic surveillance equipment makes it more likely that you will be spotted. They can easily spot even your footprints left in exposed areas covered by dirt and pollution. Nevertheless, if this is your best way to go to make your way to a temporary bug in location, look for signs left in semi-protected areas. Rooftops and big water tanks usually provide some good shadows. This means good preservation of tracks. Check carefully to assess a possible recent transition.

Checking tracks left in exposed areas covered by dirt and pollution.

On the ground

Searching from tracks left on the ground level is definitely easier in the great outdoors but, on the opposite, can be extremely demanding in an urban scenario.

Nevertheless, they both move from one fundamental point: any person who crosses a “space” will leave behind a systematic amount of evidence. We need to take advantage of these precious amounts of information to identify the security of a place.

By putting together the pieces of the puzzle we can assess if a location, like, for example, an abandoned building, has been recently used by someone else.

This body of evidence can be both macro both micro.

Inside a city, due to the tough nature of urban soils (asphalt, concrete, etc.), every detail counts when you are tracking the presence of another human being.

Even the smallest details, like discarded material (cigarette butts, food remnants), any lost items, bodily fluids, dog and cat droppings, and/or any sticky material or liquid you can step on (for example, paint on pedestrian zebra lines) can turn into indicators of your activity.

Besides that, some areas of soft soil like clay, sand, and wet ground can capture the details of the soul of a shoe (“Pattern” in Tracking). “Track Traps” in man-tracking terminology.

You can easily run across them in:

• the sides of roads

• public or private parks & gardens (where you can see also dew and spider webs)

• flowerbeds and flowered spaces

• slopes to drainage

• dirt-covered spaces

• private access to properties

• parking lots (where you can find oil or other liquids)

• burned-out building (ashes are perfect to retain tracks!)

• run-down buildings or even entire areas: concrete can crumble and become thin powder

By resorting to these elements, you have several good chances to detect footprints and to understand if anyone made use of the area before you decided to bug in.

Aging tracks are one of the toughest things to analyze due to the massive contamination of the soil over long periods. Keep in mind that wind and pollution play a huge role when it comes to making marks appear older. If you still can identify the sole design of a shoe and its borders, this means the track itself is relatively fresh. But, as said before, humid and naturally protected locations can have the same effect. Don’t rely on just a single sign or shoe-print, but look for others to connect all the clues together.

If man-tracking is applied with accuracy and consistency, even the finest detail can be relevant in understanding if we are bugging into a safe location.

A good tracker’s mindset

By developing and maintaining a good tracker mindset you will be able to take advantage of sound situational awareness. Additionally, it will also provide you the ability to create a mental database connected to the places you see and where you are considering bugging in.

A tracker is always moved by persistence, acuteness, effectiveness, the ability to gather critical data, and cleverness. Having such a mindset is a great benefit when it comes to understanding the security of a place.

Using flashlights indoors

Once you are closer to a potential bug-in site, you may want to take some time and collect/analyze any information from people who may have accessed your site before your arrival.

How much time has passed?

How many people bugged in?

How much time did they stay?

Were they carrying guns? 

By looking for different shoe pattern designs you will establish the number of people. By the approximate age of tracks, you can give them a duration. Odd marks on the ground will tell you about possible butt stocks and so on.

In pitch black conditions, using a flashlight and particular angles of light (approximately 30° from the source) can help you analyze soil to detect any potential traffic in poor light conditions.

Remember that to capture the largest amount of details from the tracks you are analyzing, you need to respect the golden rule of tracking, by keeping the track between you and the source of light.

Final considerations

Understanding the security of a place can be successfully achieved by the application of man-tracking in an urban scenario if combined with scouting and by the effective employment of common sense.

Sticking to these considerations will enable you to carefully look for the safest bug in location you want to stay in before making your way off-grid.

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About the author:

Kyt Lyn Walken is Official Representative and Instructor for Hull’s Tracking School (Virginia) and Antipoaching Certified Ranger for Conservation Rangers Operations Worldwide Inc. (Colorado).

She’s a long time Prepper and Survivalist and she wrote several articles and essays on this topic.   

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