Surveillance Awareness // Lessons Learned for Preparedness – Forward Observer

Surveillance Awareness // Lessons Learned for Preparedness

Students just finished the two-day Surveillance Awareness Course through Gray Zone Activity, a training company I launched back in March. (We WILL be running this course again later in the year. Our current course schedule can be found here: https://www.grayzoneactivity.com/training)

Gray Zone Activity focuses on what I call “layer 2” solutions to prepare students for SHTF events, emergencies, and what’s likely to be a gray zone future.

Layer 1 solutions fill gaps in our immediate survival: food, water, fire, shelter, first aid, and self-defense in no particular order.

Layer 2 solutions fill operational gaps in survivability: intelligence, security, logistics, networks/tribe, and so on.

I’ve compiled a short list of lessons learned from the Surveillance Awareness Course that pertain to emergency preparedness. I hope you find them helpful.


1. Voice procedure is important. Having radios is good. Establishing local comms is better, but skill development shouldn’t end there.

During an emergency, you may be navigating complex and quickly changing conditions. Being able to quickly and effectively communicate complex details is crucial.

For us conducting mobile surveillance over the weekend, getting stopped at red lights, following lane changes and our target’s provocative routes was a constant challenge. Effectively communicating these changes to our teammates was even more crucial.

My advice is to develop a radio comms standard operating procedure with your preparedness groups. That should include standards for pre-established brevity codes and standard reporting templates.

You can be a great communicator, but if your teammates communicate poorly, key up the mic for long periods without sharing crucial details and preventing others from breaking in, step on other transmissions, and/or provide the wrong information (wrong cardinal directions, or wrong spots or street names), then your op gets sandbagged very quickly. A target skilled in counter-surveillance  is a reason you’d get thrown off. Poor communications from teammates shouldn’t be.

Smooth communication don’t always lead to smooth operations, but smooth operations always have smooth communication.


2. Surveillance is a physical and mental test. Transitioning from mobile surveillance to foot surveillance — whether on city streets or ducking into a retail store — is more complex than you’d think. Not only do you have to keep eyes on target, but you have to keep your target’s eyes off you. It’s more mentally taxing than you’d think.

This course can help inoculate you against stress you’ll experience during future events. If you can perform under some pressure in this course, then you should have much better confidence in your ability during a stressful SHTF event. This is especially important if you’ll be in a leadership position during an emergency.


3. Mobility matters. Throughout the weekend, we had to follow a black Lexus SUV. Do you know how many of those are on the road between Dallas and Denton? About 20,000. It was what you’d call “extremely baseline,” which made following a single one more difficult.

Your vehicle might say a lot about you. Is it noticeable? Does it stand out? A brightly colored or out-of-baseline vehicle (a monster truck in San Francisco, for instance) is noticeable as a surveillance vehicle.

Being out-of-baseline might bring you unwanted attention during an SHTF event. Additionally, criminal surveillance is made MUCH easier if your vehicle is unique and highly noticeable.

While hearing about bug out bags and SHTF escape routes is fairly common, how often are preppers with bug out plans checking their vehicles or breaking in their hiking boots?

Mobility has completely changed my perspective on wearing flip-flops anywhere other than on the beach.


While Surveillance Awareness doesn’t sound like a prepper course, the skills you’ll learn can be used in a myriad of ways. And it’s a lot of fun because you’ll be “on the follow” with your team for much of the weekend.

We just scheduled new courses for Las Vegas and Salt Lake City, and have a course in Houston in the works. And we’re also planning to run a Surveillance Detection Course later this year.

If you’re interested in courses from Gray Zone Activity then please get in touch. You can respond to this email.

Let me know what course you’re interested in and nearest city/area, and we’ll get something on the books for later this year.


Until next time, be well.

Always Out Front,
Mike Shelby

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

Join nearly 9,000 people already receiving the Forward Observer Dispatch

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Name *