Lessons I Learned from The 2010 Haiti Earthquake

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In January of 2010, I was sitting in my room in the Hotel Caribe, Port-Au-Prince, Haiti sipping on a Coke. Haiti hadn’t experienced an earthquake in over 50 years, and all the risk assessments my team had done prior to our arrival had indicated that the greatest danger to us was from street crime or riots. My team had personal cell phones, a satellite phone, and an Embassy-issued radio on the net operated by Post One. I won’t go into details concerning the quake, as a Google search can provide you with that information, but I would like to share several things I learned:

Complacency can get you killed. Have a plan, practice it as much as you can, and don’t count on someone coming to save you. Emergency services in a catastrophic event (those that aren’t affected by the event) will be focused on the most severe injuries or most severely damaged areas. My team was required to submit a mission plan that included procedures for what to do in an emergency. Quite frankly, I did a crap job of sitting down and thinking about what could happen. I blame it on personal complacency. By this point, I had completed 2.5 years of mobile training teams on 5 continents. Nothing had ever happened, and I was in the mindset that nothing ever would. My plan for everything was the same: call the Embassy. When the earthquake hit, the initial panic and injuries among personnel (both permanent party and TDY) resulted in Post One having to assume control of the net and regulating traffic. If you weren’t severely injured, you weren’t getting through. We had a vehicle, but didn’t know how to get to the Embassy (all our driving was done by a hired driver), and we didn’t have a map. We also had no weapons. You don’t necessarily wander around certain parts of Haiti during normal daylight hours, much less when all security and social services just disappeared.

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Know your equipment and how to use it. This is one reason I’m a huge fan of the Operator Band Practice Kit. All the equipment in the world won’t help you if you’re looking at it for the first time in the moment you need to use it. My team was issued a medical kit from Adventure Medical Kits, designed to treat everything from a hot spot to a gunshot wound. Nobody on my team, myself included, had ever opened the kit to actually see what was in it, or read the field medicine guide that it contained. My team also had Ultimate Survival Kits in a bottle. Like the medical kit, we had never opened those kits, and we found ourselves digging through them in the dark trying to find the batteries to put in our flashlights. Our satellite phone required a password to use, and we had rarely used it outside of checking to see if the battery was charged. Under stress, the password was forgotten, and we ended up locking the phone out.

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Be prepared for a total communications failure. Due to the massive damage to the infrastructure, all cell phone service was lost. We locked out our satellite phone in the chaos, and the radio network was jammed with people needing assistance. The military teaches you to plan for up to four different methods of communications. We lost all three that we had available in a matter of minutes. During another natural disaster, Hurricane Rita, I was in Houston for the evacuation. As over 3 million people attempted to leave the city, all cell phone communication went down. The only comms that would go through were burst comms such as text or the old Sprint push-to-talk phones. And this happened before the hurricane even came ashore.

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Stay calm. I know this sounds a little ridiculous, because you’ve been told this a thousand times. I can tell you that it is imperative, and a lot harder than it sounds. Once the world stopped shaking, the only thing I could think about was getting us out of the hotel. There were two exits from the hallway, one into the lobby, and one into a stairwell. The exit into the lobby was partially blocked by fallen debris, including what appeared to be electrical wiring. The exit toward the stairs was only slightly better. I was preparing to head down the hall toward the stairs when one of my guys pointed out that we were only on the second floor, each room had a balcony, and there was a landscaping feature that reduced our drop from the balcony to less than 5 feet. That little fact made our exit significantly safer, not to mention easier. After we realized that we weren’t trapped, it made it a little easier to calm down, which allowed us to prioritize the equipment we needed to take with us. We initially escaped with our med kit, survival kits, water, some snacks, and our sat phone. As the evening wore on, we eventually had to go back to get some clothing to share with other hotel guests, but our initial evacuation left the three of us pretty equipped to make it through at least the night.

They say that without self-reflection and critique, you can never make progress.  Well, what you’ve just read represents a stinging critique of my mindset and preparation at the time. A lot of it may be old hat to the guys on here that have multiple combat tours under their belt, but hopefully this will be useful to someone, and my mistakes can help you be more prepared.

All photos were taken the next morning, after we had gone back in to get the last of our personal gear before being evacuated to the Dominican Republic.

About the author:

Woody is an 11 year veteran of the US Coast Guard, where he has served at various units including the International Training Division and Maritime Security Response Team. He has held qualifications including Deployable Team Leader/Instructor, Direct Action Section Team Leader, and Precision Marksman – Observer. He has deployed/instructed on five continents and served in quick reaction force roles for multiple National Special Security Events in the US. He can be contacted on Facebook and Instagram. Any opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the US Coast Guard or the US Government.

Communicate Better With Your Guys By Following These Rules of Thumb

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Continuing in the theme of military concepts in civilian life from our last blog entry, this post is about communications. I think I can honestly say that in military operations, communications is always one of the top items critiqued during an after action review. Even if all objectives were met, there seems to be some sort of communications issue that made reaching those objectives that much harder. A well thought out communications plan makes recovering from those issues less burdensome and lessens their impact on mission accomplishment.

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The military typically uses the acronym PACE: Primary, Alternate, Contingency, and Emergency. While it may seem as if these are just four names for four communications methods, it goes a bit deeper. Ideally, communications methods are selected from most expedient for the mission to least expedient. They should also be as distinct as possible from each other in order to give the greatest chance of the other methods working if the primary fails. For example, you wouldn’t necessarily want to just have four different VHF radio channels as your PACE, because if the radio itself fails, you’ve just lost all four possible methods of communications. However, if you had a VHF radio channel (very expedient), a satellite phone (distinct from the radio, not quite as fast, but still relatively expedient), a cellular phone (not as secure, and therefore less desirable than VHF or SAT, but still workable), and a courier (not at all expedient, but functional in an emergency) as your PACE, you have established four distinct methods of communications that are not contingent upon each other for function. Obviously there are other considerations, such as operational security and availability of communications methods, but ideally, you should shoot for distinct methods.

Now, in the civilian world you may not have access to all the various communications methods the military does, but you can still use the principles when setting up your plan. Cellular phones are probably the most common form of civilian communication, but even within that realm, you have the option of text or voice communication. In an emergency, or in an area where there are many people all trying to talk at the same time (such as a hurricane evacuation, or just a large sporting event), text communication often has a better chance of success than a voice call because it doesn’t require a constant connection with the cell tower, and you don’t have dozens of people around you talking over you and garbling your transmission. For example, during the Hurricane Rita evacuation in Houston, cellular voice calls were almost impossible to make due to the large number of people flooding the towers, but texts and burst voice, such as the Sprint push-to-talk phones, remained reliable throughout. For those involved in Amateur Radio, your options are a little more extensive, with VHF, UHF, HF, and SAT voice and text available, depending on your license level. Other options include Family Radio Service and General Mobile Radio Service (FRS/GMRS), or Citizen’s Band (CB) radios, but these are often limited in range and subject to extensive traffic during an event. As always, landline phone, email, and courier remain older, but still viable options depending on your situation.

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A schedule for communication – set by time or waypoint – can help make sure your team stays in contact and can assist in determining whether or not you need to begin the transition to your alternate communications methods. If you choose not to use a communications schedule, at the very least you need to determine and publicize the criteria that guide the switch from your primary to your alternate methods of communications. If you are dealing with a fixed command post or something similar, they should be monitoring all four methods at any given time. If you are dealing with another team, however, they may not have all four methods up at all times, whether due to licensure constraints, battery preservation, or simply trouble with one of their systems. Knowing the agreed upon criteria, such as a missed comms window, will spur them to begin contingency procedures.

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Essentially, while you may not have all the different modes of communication as a civilian that the military does, the key is to recognize the possible weak link in your plan and adjust accordingly to minimize its effects. Whether by bringing that annoying little FRS radio with you in addition to your phone, or just planning a check-in schedule and rally point for your family if you anticipate getting split up during a planned or emergent event, having a good communications plan can go a long way towards peace of mind and mission success.

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About the author:

Woody is an 11 year veteran of the US Coast Guard, where he has served at various units including the International Training Division and Maritime Security Response Team. He has held qualifications including Deployable Team Leader/Instructor, Direct Action Section Team Leader, and Precision Marksman – Observer. He has deployed/instructed on five continents and served in quick reaction force roles for multiple National Special Security Events in the US. He can be contacted on Facebook and Instagram. Any opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the US Coast Guard or the US Government.

Here’s the Deal With Special Forces Training Area Pineland

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Pineland is a fictitious country located in North Carolina, developed by the United States Army Special Forces Command to train Special Forces, Psyops and Civil Affairs in unconventional warfare.  The basic scenario of Pineland is that the government has been overthrown through a violent coup and US forces are now assisting a guerrilla force that aims to overthrow the de facto government and restore order to the nation.  Around eight times a year, Special Forces soldier infiltrate into Pineland via parachute, vehicle, helicopter, and foot, and link up with their guerrilla forces.  The guerrilla forces are comprised primarily of Active Duty soldiers and volunteer civilians who participate in the exercise often referred to as Robin Sage.

U.S. Army Special Forces Training – An Introduction

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Pineland’s geography mimics North Carolina’s and the common language is English.  There is a fake currency known as Don which can be used to pay guerrilla forces, transportation, and even food in some of the participating restaurants.  There are even fake firefights that take place in the middle of town centers and residential neighborhoods using blank ammunition.  Thousands of residents in North Carolina have participated in Robin Sage for years acting in various roles from town mayors to CIA contacts all designed to help train the Special Forces soldiers.

Test Your Fitness with This Special Forces PT Test

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Fake Pineland currency known as Don

The missions that take place within Pineland include everything from hostage rescue to building a bridge for the local populace.  Special Forces soldiers conduct raids on bridges and emplace fake explosive charges after killing or capturing UPA (Unified Provinces of Atlantica) or they meet with underground forces to gather intelligence on enemy movements and operations.  The goal of the exercise is to train the resistance forces to a point where they can successfully overthrow the UPA government and restore order.  This is done through ongoing training of the resistance forces while in Pineland and an operations plan where the SF soldiers gradually pass the responsibility of training and operations to the forces to the point where they can operate unilaterally.  This is designed to train SF soldiers for real-world scenarios such as Afghanistan where they are conducting similar operations.  In many ways, the Special Forces soldier’s job is to train themselves out of a job and leave behind a fully operational force that can conduct ongoing operations without the help of US personnel.

Here Are Some Tips For Passing Special Forces Selection

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Pineland Resistance Forces Flag

To purchase the Pineland Sticker go tohttps://www.refactortactical.com/shop/end-the-oppression-of-pineland-sticker/

Want to Learn More About Pineland and Special Forces Training?

 

Protect Yourself When You Travel

When traveling to unfamiliar areas, whether it be a new city within the United States or traveling abroad, it’s important to travel smart in order to not present yourself as an easy target. The main topic to keep in mind when traveling: Blend in. We’ve all been there, walking around in a familiar city and you can easily pick out a tourist.

Don’t Be a Target: Travel Smart

Map and camera in hand, asking for direction, closely studying the local public transportation maps at each stop or enjoying the sights and sounds of their newly found attraction, while the locals are hustling by. The next few topics are those that should be researched and studied before traveling to keep yourself from being an easy target.

Airport Arrival

  • -Upon arrival, follow the baggage claim signs and walk confidently to claim your luggage. You didn’t travel all this way to stop and take photos in the airport.
  • -Research the location of the rental car business. Know if it’s on or off the airport property. Do you need to take a shuttle to get your car?
  • -Research taxi fare costs from the airport to your hotel. If you’re taking a taxi from the airport to a popular tourist spot, the taxi driver will already know an estimated amount of fare. Ask before you get in the taxi. Make sure the driver starts the meter. Don’t arrive at your hotel to find out that a 10-minute ride just cost you $50.
  • -Always carry a paper map along with a smartphone map to better understand an unfamiliar area. Being aware of general directions will greatly help with an overall confident appearance in public. Simply stating to a taxi driver that you would rather take 10th Street instead of Washington Avenue, sets the tone that you know your way around and you won’t be hustled.
  • -Always walk straight to the first taxi in line. If you are encouraged or pushed by the taxi attendant to another taxi waiting nearby, insist on taking the first taxi that any local person would use.
  • -Take a screenshot/photo of a paper map in case you lose cell phone/GPS coverage will traveling.

Public Transportation

  • -Understand the local public transportation systems: Walking confidently from stop to stop or transfer to transfer, gives the appearance that you’re a local. Locals tend to carry fewer valuables than a traveler does.
  • -Research payment methods: Knowing what the local bus or train fare is before getting onboard will help you blend in. Just think, do local routine bus riders have to stop and ask the driver how much it cost to ride? Nope, but travelers do.

Hotel

  • -Pick a hotel in a well populated and lit area. Even though you may be in a tourists area, you’re chances of being a victim as a tourist are less likely in an area with many tourists rather than an area where you’re the only tourist.
  • -Know all emergency exits at your hotel. Don’t be afraid to play the dumb tourist and walk into an “employee only” door to find out if there are any additional exits to the hotel.
  • -Use any secondary locks on your room doors when you’re inside. There are a few secondary door stops that you can travel with which are inexpensive to purchase.
  • -Take all valuables with you when leaving the room, no matter how long you will be gone.
  • -Buy a local prepaid phone from a foreign country. Put the local police, nearest hospital, your hotel, and United States Embassy phone numbers in your newly purchased prepaid phone. In the event of an emergency, you don’t want to find out that your personal phone doesn’t work in the area you’re at.
  • -Attempt to get a second floor room. A second floor room is low enough to jump from during an emergency but less accessible from outside.
  • -Monitor what nationalities are in adjacent rooms. Is the hotel rooming all Americans adjacent to each other? Are these rooms being monitored?

Valuables

  • -Use traveler’s checks or carry multiple debit/credit cards when traveling. Ask friends/family to carry some of your cards and carry theirs in case someone loses a wallet.
  • -Photocopy everything in your wallet. That way if your wallet is stolen, you’ll have copies of all your cards and identification to report stolen/lost.
  • -Save a copy of all your photocopies in an email. In the event that you lose everything, you can always access your email account and print identification documents.
  • -Don’t show large amounts of cash. Carry minimal spending cash in your front pocket to use for general purchases. Don’t pull out your wallet with all your money to purchase a $5 item.
  • -Carry your wallet with minimal items in it in your front pocket. You are less likely to have your wallet stolen if it’s in your front pocket.
  • -Avoid flashy jewelry and watches. “Bling” catches a thief’s eye.
  • -Carry a paper map and mark all the danger zones, police stations, hospitals, and the United States Embassy on it.

Embassy

  • -Report to the Embassy for any lost/stolen passport issues. Present a photocopy of your passport to further expedite getting a new one.
  • -Report to the Embassy for any non-medical emergency related issues. In the event of medical issues, seek medical attention at a local hospital but also contact the local Embassy for further medical guidance.
  • -Visit the Department of State website and research the country you are traveling to in regards to the area risk assessment. http://www.state.gov/

Saber Security Solutions

At Saber Security Solutions, we provide law enforcement and military with the latest surveillance training and techniques. The topics listed above are just a few of the topics covered in our many surveillance courses that teach surveillance personnel to enter an unfamiliar area, get in and get out without being detected or compromising a case. Not only do these security measures provide for the safety of your team, they are applicable if not necessary for maintaining your cover and protecting the longevity of your surveillance operation.

For more information on courses at Saber Security Solutions, please visit our website at www.sabersecuritytraining.com.