Ultimate ACE Startup Guide – Forward Observer

In several classes now, I’ve been asked what I would have in my intelligence shop for community security during an emergency. (We call that the Analysis and Control Element, or ACE.) What a loaded question. I’m going to use this post to describe what I currently have in my ACE. I’ll also eventually update this post with what gear I’d like to add if price were not an issue.

Before we get into gear, I just want to pose one caveat: Gear is good. Gear and knowledge is better. Gear, knowledge, and experience is best.

Knowing how to use these things and getting practice at using them is where we separate fictional ability from practical ability.

If you have the following items, then you will be geared to run a pretty good ACE for community security. The packing list is below, followed by an explanation of each item.


ACE Gear List


Police Scanner

I use and love the Uniden HomePatrol 2. No one makes a police scanner that’s more user friendly and out-of-the-box effective — AND it receives P25 digital channels. You just plug in your zip code, and it pulls in your local frequencies from its on-board database. If you have to go outside your zip code, just punch in the new one and it will load that area’s frequencies. Unlike traditional police scanners, its screen tells me the area, department, and sometimes the unit currently transmitting. Gone are the days of trying to recognize the voice or call-sign of the transmitter. It also records, in case you want to go back over and listen to a specific transmission again. When the police are calling out the location of a robbery in progress, or when dispatch is transmitting information about looter, we can be among the first to know.

Because the HomePatrol 2 is on the pricier side ($450-500, but worth every penny!), last year bought a handheld scanner (Uniden Bearcat BC75XLT) to test out. Also, check out the BC125AT. (Yes, there are other scanner manufacturers out there, however, I’ve been so impressed with the HomePatrol 2 that Uniden may have a customer for life.) I really like the BC75XLT’s Close Call technology, which allows me to find frequencies in use and then listen in.


Software Defined Radio (SDR)

I use the NooElec R820T SDR. At around twenty bucks, an SDR gives us the ability to identify activity in the radio frequency (RF) spectrum. By plugging the SDR into a computer and loading some SDR software (I use GQRX), I can start monitoring and searching for radio traffic. This software shows RF activity, so I can see a spike (indicating a transmission) and then listen into what’s been communicated on that frequency. Out of the box, the R820T lets me listen into ham bands, as well as VHF/UHF transmissions. It’s a pretty nifty piece of gear, however, there is a substantial learning curve.


Maps & Overlays

Having information from the scanner or SDR is great, but we need to be able to take location information — a robbery in progress or a mob of people — and put it on a map. That’s going to allow us to “battle track” our security situation. As reports and locations come in over the radio, we can easily keep track of who or what is where in relation to our position.

I highly recommend having 24″ x 36″ maps, to include street and topographical — of your surrounding area. The USGS Store or MyTopo.com sells topographical maps. Alternatively, you can save screenshots of Google Maps or another mapping tool, and print them off at your local Kinko’s. For a quick, cheap, and easy solution, I printed off an 11″ x 17″ map and had it laminated for seven bucks.

As for overlays, we have several options. An overlay is a piece of clear plastic we put over our maps to draw on. That way, we’re not only not drawing on our map, but we can put multiple overlays on top of each other for a better picture of the situation.

We use Duralar for our map overlays in the SHTF Intelligence course. Duralar is an acetate alternative, but you could just as easily use acetate sheets. And as long as we have maps and overlays, we need markers in four colors: black, red, green, and blue. In the schoolhouse, we used Lumocolor non-permanent markers and I still use them today.

If you have a Military Grid Reference System (MGRS) military map, you’re going to want a coordinate scale in order to determine six, eight, or ten digit grid-coordinates.

I teach using maps and durlar/acetate because my biggest fear is that we have to provide security without power or the internet… in which case, all our digital collection and analysis is useless. But I routinely use GoogleEarth Pro to augment my SHTF security planning.