Day 04 of Intelligence and Community Security: The Operating Environment And You

Welcome to Day 04 of this Introduction to Intelligence and Community Security. You can catch up on previous posts below:

A New Introduction to the ACE Blog
Day 01: Shifting Landscapes and the OODA Loop
Day 02: What Intelligence Does for Us
Day 03: Intelligence Collection & Analysis

In previous days, we’ve discussed the value and utility of intelligence in decision-making, the foundations of intelligence collection and analysis, and an overview of the top two intelligence responsibilities for community security.

Today, I’m writing about applying these concepts to the community, which we’ll refer to as our “operating environment”. Think about your community and it’s characteristics: the houses up and down the street, the people who inhabit them, the width and condition of the roads, fences or ditches, and probably a whole lot of other things. These are all characteristics and it’s up to us as intelligence analysts to identify and describe how these things might impact us and our security.

There are six layers of our operating environment, and we need to account for each of them:

  1. Physical Terrain
  2. Human Terrain
  3. Critical Infrastructure
  4. Politics and Governance
  5. Law Enforcement/Military/Security
  6. Economic/Financial

Practically, you’ll need to go though each of the six layers of your community and identify the significant characteristics. This is a critical step, especially during a local or national emergency, and specifically for community security. Failure to complete this step is like building your house on sand, except your intelligence product will be built on sand.

Threats don’t exist in a vacuum. The same layers of the operating environment — mountains, roads, neighbors, police, etc. — are going to affect threats in the area, too. And unless we understand what’s positively and negatively affecting area threats, we’re likely going to fail to arrive at an accurate estimation of what threats will do in the future. Yesterday, we discussed that actionable or predictive intelligence is our end goal for community security, and we certainly can’t produce predictive intelligence unless we understand all the factors that weigh on a threat.

The Physical Terrain includes traditional terrain features — mountains, hills, valleys, lakes, rivers, etc. — and manmade features like roads, houses, buildings, fences, etc. Weather is often grouped in with physical terrain, so we’ll cover weather and climate patterns, as well. Understanding how these factors could influence future conditions is an intelligence task.

The Human Terrain includes the people, along with their attitudes, beliefs, behaviors, and customs. From a community perspective, identifying all the elements of the Human Terrain helps us to identify security partners and potential threats and foes, especially if disaster were to strike.

Critical Infrastructure includes the facilities and people who provide access to food, water, fuel, electricity, transportation, commerce, communications, and the internet; all of which are critical to the average AO.

Politics and Governance includes elected officials, political appointees, government employees, their institutions and facilities, and their political and ideological beliefs. The better we understand how local political and governance works, the better informed we can be of their potential future decisions, especially during a protracted emergency.

Law Enforcement/Military/Security includes all aspects of public and private security personnel. Police departments, sheriffs’ offices, National Guard and Reserve components of the military, and private security corporations all take part in security and emergency operations. Understanding these organizations or units, their personnel, and their capabilities goes a long way in staying informed of what they’re likely to do in the future.

And finally, the Economic and Financial drivers of a community matter, especially if these systems are disrupted. Disruptions to economic and financial factors have very significant second- and third-order consequences, and understanding how these factors will affect the community is critical.

Once we identify the significant characteristics in each of these layers, our next job is to describe how they will affect us. How will terrain and weather affect our community security operations? Which roads flood? Which people in our community will help out with a neighborhood watch? Which people are going to be burden or try to impede our efforts? How will local governance respond to an emergency, and how could they worsen the situation? What might that look like? How can we expect law enforcement to respond? What will their presence look like? There are all sorts of factors we need to consider.

Two question you might ask: “How large of an area should I be looking at,when considering these layers, and how large is my operating environment?”

We need boundaries for intelligence collection. We need to be able to tell our neighborhood watch or community security group how far away is too far. At what point do potential threats become irrelevant? A mile away? Two miles away? 10 or 20 miles away?

In the Army, we had Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield, or IPB. There’s an IPB product for every contingency operation in the world, and before an operation is planned, military commanders and their staff are looking over the latest intelligence contained in the IPB. I’ve taken that IPB process and modified into Intelligence Preparation of the Community; something we refer to as IPC. Instead of dealing with tanks on a battlefield, we’re dealing with people in a community. The benefit of using a methodical and systematic process like this is that we have a framework for everything we do.

To answer those two questions above, we want to identify some boundaries that we call the Area of Operations and the Area of Interest.

Area of Operations (AO) is the he area around our home or neighborhood where we expect to conduct security operations. For most, this is a small area; it’s the boundary of your property or perhaps just beyond your property. Others might determine their AO by the range of their rifle scope. If you don’t foresee yourself venturing farther than a mile from your home, then your AO should be less than a mile radius. If, during an emergency, you don’t see yourself venturing more than 100 yards from your home, then your AO should be less than a 100 yard radius.

The Area of Interest (AI) is a boundary around our AO that we’d like to monitor. We don’t expect to operate here, but we may still be interested in what happens here. For instance, my AO doesn’t include the nearest police or fire station, nor does it include the nearest school or Walmart; however, I’m still very interested in what happens at these locations. The AI is the area that we’re going to monitor because what occurs there could indirectly affect us.

This is an important step because it’s going to focus our planning and intelligence gathering within these specific boundaries. Threats are a game of proximity; the father away they are, the less relevant they are to us. But at some point, threats become very relevant because they enter our AI or AO. That’s why we need to identify these boundaries.

Four days into this series, I hope that you’re getting a better understanding of just how crucial intelligence is to community security. We’re barely scratching the surface! In tomorrow’s post, which is the last of this series, I’ll be back to write about how to organize an intelligence section, and I’ll leave you with some final thoughts on intelligence. After that, I’ll be back on Monday to write more about other topics regarding intelligence, security, and defense. I hope you’ll join me. You can sign up for weekly updates (one email per week) or you can receive each Forward Observer Daily post via email (Mon-Fri).

Always Out Front,
Samuel Culper





Samuel Culper 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.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Name *