Building Blocks of SHTF Intelligence: SALUTE and SALT Reporting – Forward Observer Shop

Building Blocks of SHTF Intelligence: SALUTE and SALT Reporting

In previous weeks, we’ve covered a lot of ground on intelligence and community security. By now, you should have a good idea of the utility and value of intelligence, what it looks like in practice, and some steps you should pursue in order to set up an intelligence effort for your preparedness group or community security team.

Today we’re talking about SALUTE reports. Every member of our community is a sensor. These people are constantly collecting information; seeing things, hearing things. The question is where does this information go? If they’re not reporting it to the neighborhood watch or community security team, that information on potential threats, suspicious individuals, and potentially criminal behavior is going into a black hole. That’s why it’s incumbent on us to get into a position to receive that information. We’re not doing our job in intelligence and improving community security if we’re not on the receiving end of their information. This may sound bland and routine now, but during an emergency where we’re faced with a real likelihood of threats and criminality, this suddenly becomes critically important.

So here’s the scenario: it’s the aftermath of a hurricane (or tornado, earthquake, etc.). There’s widespread systems disruption, there are people in need, there are people displaced, there are otherwise decent people engaged in criminal behavior, and there are long-time criminals engaged in robbery, looting, and all the other crimes we see during a disaster. Your job is to protect your family, and that includes teaming up with your neighbors to share information and provide for community security. At the risk of beating a dead horse, the greater access to information we have, the more we’ll know and the better decisions we can make. Because of our efforts before the disaster, we have a a handful of neighbors across the community who have agreed to contribute by reporting information of intelligence value: a suspicious vehicle, a group of displaced people, someone engaged in criminal behavior, someone who needs to be rescued, or a number of other pieces of information. But how best do these intelligence gatherers report their information? Enter the SALUTE report.

SALUTE is an acronym that stands for Size, Activity, Location, Unit/Uniform, Time, and Equipment. A neighbor sees a potentially dangerous situation and calls or radios over to the ACE. The reporter says, “Prepare to receive a SALUTE report” and the receiver prepares to copy down the information (I recommend having a stack of 5″x8″ index cards for this).

Reporter: “I see six to eight men walking down Elm Street, heading south towards the intersection of Oak Avenue. They’re wearing civilian attire; several have on bright red t-shirts. The time is 1253pm local, and at least three are armed, carrying rifles.”

The receiver writes down:

  • S: 6-8x males
  • A: walking south
  • L: vicinity of intersection at Elm and Oak
  • U: civilian; red shirts
  • T: 1253pm L
  • E: three + armed with rifles

That’s an incredibly efficient way to start a report. That SALUTE report is relayed over to operations, and then the community security leader decides what to do. Without this intelligence collector, without his SALUTE report, and without an ACE to efficiently relay this threat information, how could our community have received early warning that this group of armed men was approaching our neighborhood? There is no other way aside from an intelligence effort.

Along with the SALUTE report, there’s also the SALT report, which is just a slight modification. SALT stands for Size, Activity, Location, and Time. No matter how this information is being reported to the ACE, the receiver’s responsibility is to start asking questions:

  • Can you take pictures of this group of men and send them over?
  • Do they have radios? Cell phones?
  • What other equipment do they have?

The reporter has a duty to be as specific, accurate, and thorough as possible within the confines of the reporting format, and should report the information via that format. But that doesn’t preclude the reporter from continuing his observation and reporting of what’s going on. And it doesn’t preclude the receiver from asking additional questions, including questions the commander might have. (Good intelligence analysts know what questions a commander will have, and will answer them before they’re asked.)

Every member of our community security team, neighborhood watch, or preparedness group needs to be trained and well-versed on SALUTE reporting. It’s efficient, it’s effective, and it works well for relaying a lot of information in a consumable format in a short amount of time.

Here’s a good training exercise for you; this is how I teach SALUTE reporting in class: I walk the class through the first image, and we pick out all the pieces of the SALUTE report with no time limit. On the second image, I give the class one minute to write down a SALUTE report. On the third image, I choose a student who then has 30 seconds to verbally report in the SALUTE format. If you’re learning this for the first time or the hundredth time, practice on the two examples below. And then go teach your family, friends, and group members. Feel free to use the images below; however, if you choose your own images, be sure they’re not too busy. Students need quick wins, especially if they’re new to this concept. Start off easy; we can always move on to more complex situations with future training.

Get out a sheet of paper and write down S-A-L-U-T-E in a column, and then write down what you see for this scenario:

For Size, “a squad” or 12-15 Marines.
For Activity, ‘two Marines are firing a Javelin missile while the rest watch’ or any version of this answer.
For Location, I would accept ‘the desert’, ‘in front of a small hill’, or ‘behind a humvee’, although it’s impossible to know an exact location. Otherwise, an 8-digit MGRS grid coordinate would be great.
For Unit/Uniform, I would accept Marine Corps, Marpat, desert camouflage, or any other specific and accurate answer.
For Time, we always use current local time.
For Equipment, students should point out a Javelin missile (or a missile, in general), a humvee or HMMWV, helmets, body armor, IOTVs, Camelbaks, or anything else observed in the photo.


Give yourself one minute to write a SALUTE report for the next image:

S: 15-20 police officers, including tactical officers; and an unknown number but at least 10 civilian protestors and likely a larger group
A: police are observing a protest, standing ready; civilians are protesting
L: in the street in front of a white building
U: police are wearing blue uniforms; at least one officer appears to have a bomb squad/EOD tab, most are wearing SFPD Tactical ball caps
T: 1253pm local
E: Police officers have black boots, several are carrying riot sticks, radios, at least one is carrying plastic flex cuffs, at least one backpack, and two police vans

Hopefully this is a good introduction (or refresher) to the SALUTE reporting format. The bottom line is that we need intelligence collectors to keep us apprised of the situation in our community, and they need both a framework for understanding the value of intelligence and a reporting format that facilitates the efficient and effective transfer of mission-critical information. Be sure to practice and, most importantly, teach others this valuable skill.

If you want more training, more knowledge, and more experience in using intelligence for community security, be sure to sign up for the daily or weekly emails from Forward Observer. SHTF Intelligence: An Intelligence Analyst’s Guide to Community Security is a start-to-finish guide to implementing an intelligence team for community security; it’s nearly 200 pages of information, instruction, and how-to’s. And be sure to check my training schedule. My next course is on 19-20 May in Austin, Texas.

Always Out Front,

Samuel Culper

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Mike Shelby is a former military intelligence NCO and contract intelligence analyst. He spent three years in Iraq and Afghanistan and is now the intelligence and warfare researcher at Forward Observer.


  1. Great article and advice. If you are delivering by radio that takes additional training too. If you live any distance from your neighbors I would highly recommend testing those comms out now to make sure your sensors can talk to you. Whomever hosts the ACE might consider an antenna on the roof or even somewhere less conspicuous. There is no one size fits all when it comes to that comm stuff. PACE applies!

  2. Great article; 15/20+ years of serving in Recon & Light Infantry Units out in the FEBA during the Cold War, I can say that The Forward Observer is “right on the money” with doctrinal information on everything I’ve seen posted.


    1. Hey Dom – Thank you for the feedback. Good to hear that this stuff has stood the test of time, too. Be well. – SC

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