Moving By Vehicle in High Threat Environments

The intent of this article is to act as an introduction with some thoughts and primers for moving your family or group in high threat environments. It is not intended to give all the answers and that would be beyond the scope of this short piece. The type of environment envisioned is a post-collapse situation where there has been a breakdown in law and order. To clarify, this article is not concerned with the sort of ‘bug-out’ movement that families may conduct in response to a localized natural disaster, where you have to get in your car with some basic equipment and move out of the impacted area. Rather, this is directed at those who find they have to move locations after a significant societal collapse has happened. 

As background it is clear that to read the conventional prepper wisdom to survive any coming apocalypse you need to be in a fortified self-sustaining retreat somewhere out in the boonies, with three years of food in the basement and the ability to grow food plus animals. This is the gold standard; you will be really well positioned if that is where you are with your preparations. The reality for many is that they simply do not have that. For whatever reason, they may be in an urban or suburban environment. They may have nowhere else to realistically ‘bug out’ to. They may have a goal to achieve the retreat, but not be there yet, or have bug out land that is fairly basic and requires them to move to it following a collapse. So there may be a reality gap between those that have achieved the gold standard of location and preparations, and those that are not there yet. What I am really concerned about here is a collapse of society, the veritable ‘TEOTWAWKI’, where it all goes to chaos, the ‘SHTF’. For most of us who are not at the ‘gold standard’, we will be left to survive where we are, in our suburban homes or whatever applies to you. Now, it is true that some will be better set up than others. Reasons include location, such as an inner city one bedroom apartment versus a big house on several acres in a sub-division, or the amount of preps that you have: food supplies etc. 

Everything depends on the situation and the threat that emerges, including your own personal and family situation and preparations. One key thing is not to make assumptions now, but to remain flexible. My advice is not to ‘head for the hills’ by reflex, because unless you have somewhere to go you will be out there with the rest of the refugees in the chaos. If you even have a minimal amount of preparations at home you should shelter in place and make do the best you can. This should be a low profile shelter in place where you set yourself up to draw minimum attention to yourself as the waves of chaos pass. You may be sheltering in a basement with your family, for example. Of course, if the threat changes, then you will need to adapt to it. An organized gang of well-armed marauders going house to house in your neighborhood would be an example of when to make the decision to bug out. Be flexible and don’t go the opposite of the ‘head for the hills’ mentality and die in your basement simply because you did not want to pack up and go. However, I think that it is given that for anyone sheltering with supplies in this way there will at some point come one or more challenges such as home invasion from outside groups. This will also probably apply to those in rural retreats at some point as the horde fans out looking to survive. Be ready to respond and defend yourself against these challenges as necessary. Think of how it will likely be after the event, not how things are right now. Those in the rural retreats will probably have a rude awakening when they realize that the horde has reached them and the demographics have changed! 

I think that there are two main things that you have to achieve, phases if you like, in order to survive in the long term: 

1) Have enough stores, firearms, tactical ability and numbers if possible, as well as a covert location in order to survive the event and the initial chaos and disorder. This is a short to medium term goal. 

2) Long term, you will need to be able to live in a protected sustainable community. All prepper stores will run out in the end and the only solution to survive and thrive is to be able to produce food and protect your people and your resources. 

So, unless you started in a sustainable protected retreat, you will have to survive where you are until such time as you can get to one. Remember that in a full TEOTWAWKI scenario there will be mass panic and chaos as people try to find food and survive. There will be a huge population die-off and there will likely be a delay of a year or two before food can be produced. You have to survive from the one to the other. Even after the die–off there will still be good and bad guys out there. Good guys probably living in those sustainable retreats or locations, bad guys marauding and living off what they can loot and pillage. There may be other complicating factors, such as civil war or foreign invasion.

So, if you survived the event and were not already in that ideal retreat, you then have to move. Did you hide and protect your bug out vehicle with a supply of stored gas? Are you going to have to walk, or use other modes of transport? The key thing is that your group will have to make it to somewhere where they can be accepted by a current sustainable community, or move onto land where they can create one. This will involve travel of some sort and also the ability to defend your group while moving from A to B. If it is true TEOTWAWKI, then it could go on for years and you may have to travel to establish a farm somewhere. If you are going to be taken in by a community or small town that is sustaining itself, then you have to show your worth in some way. This can also become relevant to those who find themselves in the ‘gold standard’ prepper retreat location, because some of the factors may change to make that position no longer tenable. So, at some point it may be relevant to all that they will have to move in vehicles in a post collapse environment. Some good feedback that I have received is about communities in good defendable locations and the potential to take in good people after a collapse. The reasoning from one prepper was that although the community needed to be defended, good people could be screened and admitted and lodge with some of the elderly folk who have land but lack physical muscle to get things done. It smacks of a return to an older model of society where communities and villages mucked in together, children were looked after, while others worked the land. 

If you have to conduct vehicle movement in a post collapse environment then you will need to assume an extant threat. Such a threat will take the form, in simple terms, of armed groups and individuals who will seek to impinge on you and your family’s freedom, property or life for their own ends. There could be road blocks, ambush, mobs, tricks and all sorts of threats. You will also have to consider the extent that any law enforcement remains active, which could also include emergency or martial law. For example, if you are moving you will have to assess the situations as they appear and decide whether you are facing a legal checkpoint (i.e. military/law enforcement) versus perhaps an illegal roadblock with bad intent versus perhaps an ‘illegal’ one with simply defensive intent, such as one set up by a community militia to defend a town. Of course, that military /LEO checkpoint could also be illegal, depending how far down this path of tyranny we go….) The types of threat are numerous and to fully define them is also beyond the scope of this article; suffice to say that the means (firearms) are out there and the intent and motive will exist for the ‘bad guys’ to wish to do you harm. This is particularly true if you are moving with supplies in a collapse situation. Therefore, you will need to consider the adoption of defensive tactics and capabilities in order to mitigate against the threat. 

Please put out of your mind any assumptions that you may have already about how you will move in this kind of environment. I am not advocating the use of children as ‘shooters’, the open display of weapons out of car windows, or even the positioning of a ‘shooter’ in a sunroof. In short, this is not about going ‘Mad Max’. You will need to consider the ‘profile’ that you adopt, which means how your vehicle packet appears as you are moving along the roads and at halts, and will also have implications for the professionalism that you display. You can adopt either a ‘high’ or ‘low’ profile (or posture) and I would advocate that in this situation, as a family or group of civilians moving in a potentially hostile post collapse environment, that you adopt the lower end of the profile scale. This does not impact your defensive capability, and it could be said you make you a more inviting target if you look ‘softer’. However, you do not want to incite action against you by hostiles and there may well still be elements of military or law enforcement working out there and you don’t want to find yourself arrested or engaged by these elements because you yourselves are seen as a lawless threat. This is not a discussion about creating tactical teams or quick reaction forces, which I have written about elsewhere and will be useful in other circumstances; it is more about mitigating risk to a family or friends group moving cross country. 

Consider how you can maintain a defensive capability while also presenting a low profile. For example, consider your vehicles. Families often have minivans. These are not seen as cool or tactical at all, but if you put the seats down in the back you have a huge cargo space. Loading this with supplies would allow you to carry them while not making it look so obvious, less obvious than loading a pick-up or a trailer for example. Wear your load/ammunition carrying equipment in a way that is comfortable for sitting in a vehicle but less obvious – perhaps putting a shirt over top of a load carrying vest, and keeping weapons down but accessible. If you have to get out and stand by your vehicle you can do so with your weapon in a ready position, but you can also leave it on the seat next to you and readily available, depending on the situation and the profile you wish to portray. Consider these things. 

Remember that your vehicle gives you no protection. Rifle rounds will cut through the vehicle like a ‘knife through butter’. The only ‘hardened’ areas in a normal civilian vehicle are the engine block and the metal parts of the wheels. This is why if you are taking fire position next to a vehicle, you want to shelter by the engine or wheel wells; preferably you will then move away from the vehicle into a fire position in hard cover. You should consider how you may be able to change this by creating better ballistic protection in the vehicles. Wearing body armor is a help but provides little protection to the side of torso and thighs that are vulnerable to side shots as you are driving. Younger kids will also not be wearing it. You should consider how you can better ballistically protect the vehicle and occupants from this kind of threat. You can fix steel plate to the inside of doors if you have the capability. You could put all the seats down in the back of a van and put in an open top steel box with access doors to shelter the kids in. If you can’t go this far, you can consider other types of ballistic protection by where people sit. Spare body armor and ballistic plates lining the side of the vehicle, other types or hardened material will also work including creating a space inside the load you are carrying in which to shelter kids. You also need to know that in a normal car, the ballistic protection thing works both ways: the vehicle skin will not stop incoming rounds, which also means that you can fire out through the vehicle if you need to. Don’t worry about winding windows down, you can fire out through the glass or body of the vehicle as you need to. 

Seat belts are always a good idea, but the need for them can be countered by the need to keep speed low in order to be able to view the road ahead and try to avoid threats as they emerge ahead, particularly as you come around bends. I say this not because I advocate not using seat belts, but because kid’s car seats can be a problem for protection and also getting the kids out of the car in a hurry. They keep the kids sitting up high and if there is a contact involving enemy fire everyone needs to be as low as possible in the foot wells of the vehicles. Consider not using car seats and moving at slower tactical speeds. Also consider putting seats down and having the kids sitting on the floor, or perhaps secure the car seats to strong points in the floor rather than up on the vehicle seats. Consider how you will do this. 

You may be a small group of family or friends that has to move locations. The worst case is that you will move in one vehicle. You may well be limited in terms of who is trained and equipped to be tactically useful in defense of your group. Hopefully it is not just one of the spouses that is tactically able, or a single parent family moving. The time to train, prepare and get the right equipment and firearms is now. If you have one vehicle you are very vulnerable and have no tactical options or redundancy. A normal standard type family often has two spouses, kids and a couple of cars. This is still worst case but may be reality: if you have no more numbers to make up a tactical convoy then take both vehicles. One of the spouses drives the first vehicle in a recce function, perhaps carrying the stores, while the other spouse drives the second vehicle with the kids and other supplies. As you move keep a ‘tactical’ bound between vehicles, even at stops, where possible. A ‘tactical bound’ is a distance that depends on the ground and will vary, but in simple terms it is enough distance so that the second vehicle is not involved in the contact that the first one gets in to. Keep a bit of space there. Consider the use of more vehicles because it will give you tactical options and better allow you to protect the kids or other ‘protected persons’. More vehicles allow you to carry more supplies. Trailers will detract from your tactical mobility options, including reversing in a crisis, and therefore if you can move the stores into the vehicles you will be better off. 

The single family unit moving is still a worst case situation that can be mitigated a little by moving in two vehicles. Ideally, you will want to get together with a group or other family(s) where you have enough ‘shooters’ and drivers to create a minimum three vehicle packet. This will allow you to create a tactical close protection packet where you have an advance vehicle, a middle vehicle(s) for the protected personnel and a rear chase or counter attack (CAT) vehicle. This will greatly enhance your tactical options, redundancy and protection of the loved ones. This could even consist of variations such as an RV in the center with the protected personnel in, with front and rear protection vehicles. 

As you are driving, the driver’s job is to drive and he should preferably be capable as a ‘shooter’ but primarily the vehicle is his ‘weapon’ and the means to keep people safe. The other ‘shooters’ will be assigned observation sectors of responsibility as they move along the route. You should adopt a safe tactical speed that will give you warning of any dangers ahead and hopefully allow you to avoid them. Your primary focus should be on safety and the avoidance of danger. Invest time in route planning. Don’t be afraid to stop and move forward on foot to observe the route ahead, or turn around and go another way. Make sure you adopt the tactical bounds between vehicles and if you stop for any reason, such as to change a tire, fill up gas from your stored gas cans, or even for the night, you need to adopt a good tactical position and cover your sectors to protect the convoy. For longer term halts, such as overnight, conceal the vehicles off the road and post sentries. As you move, you will need to have any music off and consider having the windows open in unarmored vehicles in rural areas in order to be able to hear and get a better feel for the environment, particularly if you stop for any reason. But if you are anywhere where there is the potential for people or mobs then you need to have the doors locked and the windows up to reduce the risk of entry and even people getting snatched from vehicles. 

If you are driving and you come under enemy fire (’contact’) then you are in the enemy ‘killing area’ also known as the ‘X’ and the key thing is to get off the X as rapidly as possible. You may take casualties but you still need to get out of there and consolidate at a secured rally point. This is where any added ballistic protection will be priceless. A problem you may have is if you have a vehicle(s) immobilized by enemy fire on the X. These situations and the counter drills are covered in detail in ‘Contact! A Tactical Manual for Post Collapse Survival’. Briefly, you have to get the personnel off the X and this can either be with a rescue vehicle moving back into the killing area under cover fire and ‘cross decking’ the personnel, or alternatively the personnel in the immobilized vehicle(s) will have to fire and move off the X to rejoin the group under covering fire. Consider that for an unarmored vehicle one of the reasons that it may potentially be immobilized is that the driver has been shot. This is not truly immobilized in the sense that the engine or tires have not been shot out. Survivability will be greatly increased by the use of run-flat tires and added ballistic protection. If the driver is shot then you may be able to rapidly pull them out of their seat into the back of the vehicle and take their place. For an automatic transmission it may be that the passenger can simply jam his foot onto the accelerator from the passenger seat and drive the vehicle out. Consider how you will do this and have a drill for it. If you can’t accomplish this quickly, then you are for all intents and purposes in an immobilized vehicle and you will have to dismount to fire positions before either being rescued or fighting out of the ambush. Be aware that any vehicle immobilized on the X becomes a ‘bullet magnet’ and you do not want to be inside it, static, for any more than a few seconds. 

You will want to consider whether you are moving by day or by night. The situation will dictate but in general if you don’t have night vision equipment for driving, which means driving with headlights, then you should move during the day. This will allow you to scan and observe and your movement will also be less obvious without your headlights as it would be at night. You will need to give consideration to the threats you may encounter and drill your team accordingly. You may have to respond to roadside ambush, and this may be with the road open or blocked and with your vehicles perhaps becoming immobilized or receiving casualties. You will also have to work out how you will respond to roadblocks, both legal and illegal and what you will do if you observe them early of if you drive into one without prior warning. It is important that your practice these ‘actions on’ drills so that you will be able to respond in a crisis. You should even practice ‘cross decking’ and getting the kids out of the vehicles in an emergency, so that they know what to expect and are not surprised when you start giving them commands to ‘get down’ or get out of the vehicles. You can train this kind of muscle memory drill in the same way that kids do fire drills and ‘stop drop and roll’ at school. 

If you do find yourself in a position where it is the protected vehicle that is immobilized and under fire, then there needs to be at least on adult acting as the protection person and directing the protected personnel to stay low and crawl, while the other spouse or team members provide covering fire. You should be able to identify what hard cover is (cover from fire, not just view) and also what is ‘dead ground’, which is ground that the enemy cannot see into i.e. folds in the ground and ditches etc. This will allow the protection person to identify areas where they may keep the kids while waiting for a rescue vehicle, or alternatively allow them to crawl out of the killing area in cover while others in the team fire and move. The more vehicles and team members you have in your group, the more potential there is for covering fire from the flanks of the killing area, and the more people available to fire and move and also carry any casualties. The reality of a family or group of families or friends on the move is that there will be a mix of the tactically able, the young and the old and infirm. This article has not been about tactical teams and conducting tactical operations, that is a separate subject: it is about creating a tactical capability within your group where those that are able protect those that are not. This kind of specialization will enhance the survivability of those in your group. 

Detailed drills for vehicles are covered in both ‘Contact!’ and also the ‘Tactical Manual: Small Unit Tactics.’