ASL – Lesson Four: Economics, Finance, and Threats – Forward Observer Shop

ASL – Lesson Four: Economics, Finance, and Threats

Hello, and welcome to to Lesson Four of Area Study Live.

In Lesson Four, we’re going to focus on two areas:

  1. Economics & Finance
  2. Threat Environment


Due-Outs for Week 4 (of 4):

  1. Complete Week 1’s assignments
  2. Complete Weeks 2’s assignments
  3. Complete Week 3’s assignments
  4. Examine the local economy
    1. Employment figures & trends
    2. Key industries and employers
    3. Business entities & local professionals
    4. Government debt & budgets
  5. Identify fault lines/vulnerabilities in all six layers of the Operating Environment
  6. Examine the threat environment
    1. Four types of threats
    2. Identify and list all potential threats
    3. Identify all possible fault lines of the six layers of the Operating Environment
    4. Likelihood-Impact matrix
    5. Second & third (+) order effects


This week, we’re finishing the sixth and final layer of our Operating Environment. First up, I’m looking at employment figures and trends. The Bureau of Labor Statistics ( and is a great place to start, although your local chamber of commerce or economic development organization may be a good source, as well. BLS gives us unemployment numbers*, along with back data so we can see the overall trends in job growth across several industries.

(* This unemployment rate can be very misleading, as it counts the number of people currently receiving unemployment benefits, not those who are either a) unemployed and not receiving benefits or b) underemployed.)

You local chamber of commerce or economic development organization may have information about key industries for your area. I also used CareerInfoNet, reportedly sponsored by the Department of Labor, to look up major industries and employers in my area. The Department of Labor has some helpful links, as well, especially on industries, wages, geography, and occupation.

We could include this under the Human Terrain, but I just discovered it: Housing and Urban Development’s affordable housing search tool. ( Be sure to identify affordable/Section 8 housing near your AO and AI. (You might also try:

Now for business entities, we need to search the state’s Secretary of State website. Some states make this data easily available; others don’t. We’ve already searched for “MD” and “clinic” (and similar terms) to find doctor’s offices for critical infrastructure, and “security” or “guard” (and other similar terms) for security companies.

Now, I want to search for companies in the sectors and industries most heavily affected during a recession: financial, construction, retail, industrial, and manufacturing. Get a sense for how many companies in your area are in these industries and how large they are. If they’re a major employer or economic driver for your area, then you may get a better sense for the risks of a recession.

Lastly for this section, look into your local, county, and state budgets. (Google search unless it’s posted on their website. Otherwise call up a clerk’s office and start inquiring.) The next recession risks some major municipal bond defaults. If any of your government entities is at risk, be sure to note it for the next step…


Now that we’ve examined each of our six layers of the Operating Environment, we need to start looking for threats and vulnerabilities.

There are four threat types.

Conventional: Police state, standing army, etc.

Irregular: Insurgents, gangs, mobs, looters, other criminals, etc.

Catastrophic: Natural or man-made mass casualty event, pandemics, etc.

Disruptive: Inclement weather, power and internet outages, bank holiday, etc.

Do a brainstorming session and write down every conceivable yet realistic known, suspected, or potential threat that could affect your AO or AI.

Then comb through the information from the six layers of the OE and identify potential fault lines and vulnerabilities. For instance, your local city or country government could default and go bankrupt, or police could shoot an unarmed black teenager, which could cause a riot. Think through examples of local emergencies and apply those scenarios or conditions for your area. Be sure to list these out.

From there, plot each threat, fault line, and vulnerability on the Likelihood-Impact matrix. (DOWNLOAD)

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.

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