Understanding Urban Navigation

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Although most advanced techniques for navigation are essentially designed to be used in the wilderness they are no less important in an urban environment. With the state of the world today the chances of getting caught in an urban situation are equal to or greater than the wilderness. Area familiarization and map knowledge can mean the difference in avoiding a riot or being caught up in one.

How you apply the knowledge and movement techniques used in the wilderness to the city becomes a simple substitution technique. Where there were ridgeline, there are now city blocks; where there were rivers and creeks there are now storm drains and canals. Roads and power lines stay the same, but we add buildings and subways. Navigating on foot in a city, once looked at it from an educated perspective, becomes easier than in the wilderness.

However, once again, it is about education and knowledge of the area. Anyone can stand in the middle of the street, open a map and within a few minutes have an idea where they are. That, of course, is assuming that the street signs are in place, there are no burning structures around and no one is throwing rocks at you! Under these situations position determination may rely on your previous constant awareness and  memory skills.

For the purposes of emergencies in a city we again go back to the map and getting very familiar with the different structures and layout of the city we are visiting. Whether the city is perfectly laid out as in Washington DC or has sprawl and geographic restraints like Rio there will always be backstops and handrails which can help the traveler move quickly.

Rio, for example is surrounded on three sides by water. In addition there is a ridge line running through the center which separates the resort areas from the city proper. These natural handrails give an individual a guide for moving in the correct direction when trying to leave the city. In addition the statue of Christ the Redeemer on Corcovado Mountain gives a solid reference point, for navigation, which can be use in many parts of the city.

In an urban environment which is more industrialized, railways and power grids can be used as handrails leading from the city. Many places also have major water ways which have been or are still being used for transportation. In military terms these are known as Lines Of Communication or LOC. LOCs by there very design are moving to and from the urban environment and are thus good guides for expedient exits.

For real inner city work there are two things an individual must rely on; landmarks and streets. At the time of an “event” it is too late to begin consulting a map. Lack of knowledge of an area can lead to being trapped in a dead end or blocked between groups of people. The first few minutes of any developing riot are the most critical for the stranded individual. The decisions for movement, at the beginning of any incident, are the most important and must be done with confidence and accuracy.

All planning for movement in a crisis should be done around those structures which grant the individual protection. Hotel or residence, police department and embassy are all good choices for protection initially but in the case of hotels and personal residence be aware that these are only safe as long as the situation is under some control. As discovered in the LA riots, Katrina and Egypt private structures lose their sanctity very fast so the survivor must be ready to move. However, these places may offer initial supplies for future movements.

The key to getting to these structures at the beginning of an event is to have pre-planned routes and knowledge of the area so movement is quick and effective. A minimum of a primary and an alternate route from a given location is always encouraged. In the military the acronym PACE is used to describe this procedure; Primary, Alternate, Contingency and Emergency (PACE). For someone travelling to a new city it could be as simple as (P) the fastest route to the police department, (A) the fastest route back to the hotel,(C) The fastest route to the airport and (E) fastest route out of the city. It also could be set up as three routes back to the hotel and the fastest route to the police station. Either way it gives the person on foot flexibility.

Knowledge of the area, commitment of major streets and LOCs to memory and a good PACE plan cannot be overemphasis when dealing with an urban situation. The ability to use landmarks, backstops and handrails while moving give the individual ability to move quickly and with confidence through any terrain.

  Overall preparation for what nature can throw at us is not that overwhelming but it does take a little effort. USI has a wealth of information, equipment and training for everyone about all forms of mitigation so visit our web site at www.usiusa.com and if you have a need feel free to call!

USI Understands that Survival isn’t learned from books but real world experience. This is just one area which makes Universal Survival Innovations unique in the world of training and equipment.

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Author Ben Barr is a 30+ year SERE Specialist who has been a curriculum developer for the USAF Survival School, USAF Water Survival School, USAF Air Mobility Command, USMC and USN