Evacuations from Non-Permissive Environments
What to focus on when planning and executing evacuations from non-permissive environments.
I’m in the final stages of editing a new book — The Security Evacuation Handbook Volume II: Decision-Making and Execution. This handbook is the follow up to Volume I, which focused on fundamentals and planning.
Both of these handbooks have focused on the most common use cases of security evacuations, which is when the security environment is either permissive or at worst semi-permissive.
But what if you are operating in a non-permissive environment? What types of factors would you then need to consider during the planning and execution of your evacuation?
This article will focus on several of the key aspects you should consider when planning and executing security evacuations from non-permissive environments.
First, I’ll provide a definition for ‘non-permissive environment’. From there, I’ll focus on different aspects of the evacuation, including movement, remote planning, safe houses, tracking, security escorts, armoured vehicles and contingency planning.
For the purpose of this article, a non-permissive environment is defined as follows:
- There are active threats.
- It’s not safe for evacuees (as foreigners) to be visible on the streets.
- There would be serious consequences if evacuees were discovered and captured or apprehended.
Such an operating environment may be impacted by armed conflict or insurgency. Militia groups or terrorists may have overrun an area. Further complicating the situation may be other factors, such as weak military and law enforcement capabilities, and entrenched levels of corruption.
It’s possible that the environment may have been permissive (or semi-permissive) when your team went in, but the level of risk may have escalated since then. Now you’re stuck.
From the outset, recognise that an evacuation or exfiltration from a non-permissive environment is dangerous. At the same time, it may be the least bad of multiple bad options. You’ll need to carefully weigh up the risks of staying in place vs attempting to evacuate. To make this assessment, you’ll need granular and up-to-date details on local conditions. Because it’s difficult to move around in a non-permissive environment, it may be difficult to get the information you’ll need. As a result, you’ll need to focus your efforts on a single evacuation option — the option that you believe will have the most chance of success.
There are a few other aspets to your evacuation that will be problematic. I’ve outlined these in the subsections below.
In a non-permissive environment, it will not be safe for you or your team to move around on foot or be visible while moving in a vehicle. These constraints will make evacuation planning and execution significantly more difficult. One key challenge is that it will be difficult to confirm evacuation routes. You’ll need to rely on your Trusted Local Network to confirm evacuation routes for you.
When it comes time to evacuate, you’ll need to apply specific protocols to ensure the safety of your team while on the road. These protocols may include:
- Travelling at specific times of the day (or night).
- Taking more complex routes to avoid checkpoints
- Using low profile vehicles
- Relying on armoured vehicles and security escorts (more on these options below)
You’ll need to rely on trusted contacts to reconnoitre routes and to scout them ahead of evacuees moving along them. Under no circumstances should evacuees move along uncleared routes.
Given the situation, it may not be possible to send specialists in to the location to assist on the ground. Planning may therefore need to be conducted remotely, with inputs and advice from people on the ground.
While not ideal, this approach is still workable provided there are high levels of mutual trust. The remote planning team must listen to the people on the ground. At the same time, the people on the ground need to heed the guidance of the remote planning team. The evacuation will be a joint effort.
Safe houses as Assembly Points
Assembly Points are the locations where your evacuees would congregate before moving to the Port of Departure (e.g., an airport, marina or border crossing).
In a typical evacuation, the default option would be to select hotels as Assembly Points. However, in a non-permissive environment, hotels may not be your best choice. Hotels are often located in central locations, and may be focal points for unrest. You’ll need something more discreet.
Safe houses offer a good alternative to hotels. Safe houses will require effective local support. You’ll need people from your Trusted Local Network to identify safe houses and make the necessary financial and logistics arrangements.
Logistics support will include arranging for housekeeping and meal delivery.
Each evacuee group at a safe house should have a satellite phone or satellite communicator, and at least one mobile hotspot. For satellite phones to be effective in an urban environment, they will need to have a remote antenna that can be mounted in an elevated position with a clear line of sight to the sky.
As a planning principle, it’s best to have a small network of safe houses available, with different properties located in different parts of a city. This approach provides you with the flexibility to move evacuees between locations if the level of risk in a particular district increases. Having different properties may also allow you to position evacuees closer to preferred exfiltration routes, for example to an airport or to a border crossing.
In a typical evacuation, you would use Report Lines to track vehicle movement during the move to the Port of Departure (or border crossing). Due to the inherent risks of moving in non-permissive environments, there is an additional demand for more granular tracking.
Initially, your primary focus may be on tracking vehicles. However, remember that vehicles aren’t the assets — your people are. The best approach is therefore to track each individual evacuee. If an incident occurs during the evacuation, and evacuees need to leave their vehicle, this approach will enable you to monitor the location of each individual evacuee and coordinate their recovery.
In a non-permissive environment, you will almost certainly need a security escort to protect evacuees as they move to their safe houses, and from there to the Port of Departure (or border). This security escort will need to be discreet. Vehicles should be unmarked and security officers should not wear uniforms. Security personnel should be armed. Any weapons less than assault rifles will be ineffective at countering any serious threat during an evacuation in a non-permissive environment (handguns won’t cut it).
This is where you’ll run into problems. In many countries, armed private security personnel will be legally required to be in uniform and vehicles will typically need to have company livery. You’ll need to improvise.
You’ll also need to carefully evaluate the deployment of the security escort. A typical security escort will involve having a security escort vehicle behind the evacuee vehicle. In a non-permissive environment, it’s good practice to also position a security vehicle ahead of the evacuee vehicle, in addition to the rear security vehicle. This lead vehicle will provide advance warning of any issues ahead of the convoy, including checkpoints or road conditions.
If there are armed groups in the area, you will need to rely on armoured vehicles for the evacuation. If you’re able to, procure B6 vehicles from a reputable local transport provider. Of course, the decision to use armoured vehicles does not mean you should accept additional risks during the evacuation. Your focus should always be on avoiding known risks.
If available, your evacuees should wear ballistic vests while in the vehicle (use NIJ Level III vests). Your local security provider may be able to provide ballistic vests for the road move to the Port of Departure. While ballistic helmets will provide additional protection, they will also increase the profile of the evacuees and are not appropriate for low-profile operations.
If armoured vehicles are not available, you will need to be highly selective regarding which routes you take and when you move. In some situations, evacuees may need to lay down on the back seat or even travel in the trunk while moving through higher-risk areas.
Contingency planning is an essential aspect of any security evacuation. However, in a non-permissive environment, you’ll need to up your game. Contingency planning will need to be deeply integrated with transport and security planning, ensuring a seamless response to any incident during the evacuation. Consider the deployment of standby vehicles and security units along the evacuation route. Also consider medical planning in detail.
Any attempt to evacuate people from a non-permissive environment will be met with a host of challenges. Even with effective planning, there will be a real risk that your operation may fail as a result of factors entirely beyond your control.
Be mentally and logistically prepared for evacuees to remain in place for extended periods. Be prepared to support the evacuees in their safe houses, by assisting with house keeping, meal delivery and communications. Also consider the need to provide discreet personal protection for evacuees at their safe houses. You could be in for a long wait before you have another opportunity to evacuate.
The evacuation or exfiltration of people from non-permissive environments is a difficult task that requires detailed planning and closely coordinated execution. You’ll need to be able to mitigate risk, but at the same time be prepared to accept high levels of risk at key times. Most importantly, you’ll need to be inventive.
If you’re interested in learning more about security evacuations, I’ve published two volumes on the topic: The Security Evacuation Handbook Volume I: Fundamentals & Planning and The Security Evacuation Handbook Volume II: Decision-Making & Execution. Both volumes available here.
I’ve also written several articles here on Medium that focus on different aspects of security evacuations that you may find useful.
Thanks for reading.
Grant Rayner is the founder of Spartan9. His work primarily involves supporting clients navigate complex and higher-risk environments.
If these topics interest you, take a look at our other publications. When you’re ready to go a level deeper, consider our training workshops. If you’d like to follow our work, the best way is via our monthly newsletter — subscribe here. Also infrequently on Instagram and Twitter.
If there are other aspects of travelling to complex and higher-risk environments you’d like to explore or learn more about, please let me know.