An Introduction to the Area Study – Forward Observer

An Introduction to the Area Study

Chances are good that you and I have a lot in common.

We’re both concerned about the future of this country. Natural disasters, a financial crisis, economic decline, disruption to the power grid, a pandemic, political violence, a full-on Boogaloo… the list goes on and on.

From a risk and intelligence perspective, all of these are very valid concerns.

Americans purchase and acquire a lot of things in order to prepare for these events, but information is often overlooked as a critical component of preparedness.


I’m here right now to convince you of one thing: the absolute need for localized intelligence when any of these events occur.


The stuff you own isn’t going to produce intelligence for you.

No amount of beans, bullets, and band-aids will allow you to collect real-time intelligence during an emergency.

No amount of beans, bullets, and band-aids will reduce your uncertainty about what happens in the future.

No amount of beans, bullets, and band-aids can drive your decision-making during an emergency.

Only intelligence can do that.

Only intelligence can give you a more accurate picture of what’s happening now and a more accurate expectation of what could happen in the future.

And when we have accurate expectations of the future, we can be better prepared.


So what’s the best way to get started with local intelligence?

The Area Study.


During an emergency, we’re going to have blind spots. Another term for blind spot is an “intelligence gap,” or something that we don’t know but need to know. You are going to have lots of intelligence gaps.

One of the best things about doing an Area Study is that we can identify these intelligence gaps before an emergency event happens.

The Area Study informs you and your team of the conditions, the fault lines, vulnerabilities, active and potential threats, and the who, what, and where that matters during an emergency.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, before our teams undertook any operation or went on any mission, they’d come to us to get the latest intelligence. Why? Because they’d need to make mission-critical decisions on the ground, and that’s made much easier with accurate intelligence.

Similarly, we may need to make well-informed and time-sensitive decisions during a natural disaster or other emergency, so we need local intelligence to help us make the best decisions possible.

One benefit of having an Area Study is that we have a document that provides us with insight into these potential scenarios. You can flip through an Area Study and quickly orient yourself to the area, its threats, and the who, what, and where affecting the situation.

Another benefit is that in a time where power or internet are disrupted, we’ve already collected the information we’ll need. It’s printed out and in our Area Study binder.


Think through the information you’d need if the lights went off right now.

Consider your plans and then identify the knowledge required to execute those plans. That’s a really good starting point.


Practical Exercise #1:

Questions that we have about our area can be considered “intelligence gaps” — literally gaps in what we know to be true.

One of my personal, real-world intelligence gaps is how many people will live at a nearby housing subdivision being built. Beyond that, I want to know who is going to live there. Will these be McMansions or is this a Section 8 government housing project?

Example intelligence gaps include:

  • How many people live in the nearby apartment complex?
  • What is the political makeup of my subdivision or neighborhood?
  • What types of units are at my local National Guard armory?
  • What industries drive the local economy?

Spend 15-30 minutes by yourself or with your preparedness group and write down all your local intelligence gaps for SHTF events that concern you.

Close your eyes, put yourself in that disaster situation, and begin writing out all the things you don’t know but need to know.

I’ll write several more posts about the Area Study, along with some instruction and practical exercises — but if you only complete one, make it this one!

By having this list of intelligence gaps, you have a good start on the mission-critical information that should go into your Area Study.


Always Out Front,

Samuel Culper


P.S. – If you want to find all the articles I write on the Area Study, just click on the “Area Study” category under the picture of this article.

P.S.S. – If you want to get started with online training, head over to:

Mike Shelby is a former Intelligence NCO and contractor. He's now the CEO of Forward Observer.


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