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Special Agent Secrets for Street Survival

As an 18-year special agent in the military and federal government, I learned some key skills that helped me survive on the job and these same skills could help you to survive on the streets. These are not the skills you would necessarily need as a “prepper” to survive a disaster. These are more the survival skills necessary to survive whether it’s a terrorist attack while you are travelling in a foreign country or a personal disaster such as a robbery.

If you want to ensure your safety in the streets, then here are nine skills you need to have.

1. Lockpicking

As an agent with Defense Intelligence Agency, I went through a physical security course at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC), where they train the majority of federal agents in our craft. It is here I learned one of my most valuable lessons. In most large cities there will be lots of buildings, meaning lots of locks. Normally this would not matter to you. However, in a disaster scenario, being able to pick a lock could mean the difference between life and death.

Learn how to pick a lock. There are many courses online, and you can start with one of the basic ones and work your way up to as advanced as you wish to become. Once you brush up on your lockpicking skills, you should invest in a good, portable lockpicking kit. The training you choose usually comes with a basic set, but you should have a good reliable set for the most difficult situations. There could come a time when having lockpicking skills could prove incredibly valuable to your survival.

2. Blending In

How do you hide in a place where there are thousands, if not millions, of eyes everywhere you turn? The answer is that you hide in plain sight. When I went through the Air Force Special Investigations Academy, we had training in how to hide in plain sight, or simply, to blend in.

The art of blending in is one that is really underappreciated. However, in an urban area it is often the best way to ensure you are not a target of whatever situation is at hand. You don’t want to stick out. For instance, as an agent overseas we were taught not to do the things typical American tourists would do, like wear hats or shirts with American flags, or do things that would identify us as Americans, including carrying our passport everywhere.

When traveling overseas terrorists and other bad guys are more likely to target someone who catches their attention for any reason at all. In these scenarios, it’s best to be just another indistinguishable face in the crowd.

Here are tips to help you blend in during a crisis. I expand on each of these tips in a separate article.

  • Wear Neutral Colors
  • Don’t Wear a Hat
  • Avoid Eye Contact
  • Don’t Walk Too Fast
  • Keep Your Valuables Hidden
  • Don’t Take Pictures or Record Video
  • Stick to Areas of Cover
  • Avoid Choke Points
  • Analyze a Street Before Continuing
  • Don’t Let Your Guard Down

3. Self-Defense

Whether you carry a weapon or not, you will need to have some well-honed self-defense skills. However, recall my piece of advice I gave you above on blending in, and avoid physical confrontations if possible. When I was a protective services agent, I had to protect dignitaries, and I could not embarrass my principle with a physical fight. So, I had to learn techniques that would end a confrontation quickly without being very noticeable. Think about that during your training. However, if it comes down to your having to defend yourself, you need to make sure that you have what it takes to come out on top. TRS offers many great self defense courses.

4. Scavenging

Survival on the streets might come down to your having to scavenge for some items. Scavenging is more of a mindset than it is a skill that I can teach you. The great thing about urban areas is that you can definitely find things you need if you know where to look for then and if you can be creative if you need to (think MacGyver).

Again, there are no special skills required. You just need to keep your eyes open and develop a bit of creative talent for repurposing what you find into something you actually need and can use. Here is a list of places where you can scrounge just about anything you could possibly need.

  • Automotive Shops
  • Cars
  • Churches
  • Distribution Centers
  • Dumpsters
  • Fire stations
  • Gas Stations
  • Government Buildings
  • Grocery
  • Hospitals
  • Houses
  • Manufacturing Facilities
  • Marinas
  • Office Buildings
  • Pawn Shops
  • Pet Stores
  • Restaurants
  • Retail Stores
  • Schools
  • Self-storage Facilities

5. Situational Awareness

As I have gotten older, I find that I like crowds less and less. However, I have definitely used crowds to blend in during surveillance or to get out of sticky situations in which I have found myself. If traveling, attending a concert, in school, or if the shit hits the fan you will likely find yourself in a crowd, and if you do, there’s a lot of activity, and a lot for you take in and process.

With this in mind, you need to really develop an acute situational awareness as well as the ability to quickly take in everything going on around you. As an agent, especially during tense situations, I had to take in a lot of information quickly, assess it, and then make the right call. This is something you will need to be able to do if you want to ensure your survival in an urban area.

The best thing I can tell you is that this begins with you really focusing on your surroundings and trusting your instincts. As an undercover agent, I was trained to trust my instincts. We were taught that early on, everyone has good instincts, but as we age and learn more, we, especially men, begin to dismiss our instincts and just push forward. They had to retrain me to trust that if I had a bad gut feeling about something, I did not go into the situation. In many cases, having situational awareness and trusting your instincts can help you escape dangerous situations before they ever develop.

Here are a few ways to enhance your situational awareness.

  • Keep Your Head Up and Eyes Forward
  • Watch for Alert Signals
  • Know Your Exits
  • Use All Your Senses
  • Practice Your Situational Awareness Skills

6. Navigation

I suck at navigation. I still have trouble knowing where North, South, East, and West are if asked to point in that direction. Like me, too many of you are completely reliant your GPS when it comes to navigation. However, if your GPS ever stops working, you are going to be a lost and in trouble if in a survival situation.

The army taught me how to use a compass and navigate a map for survival training. This was very valuable for me. I advise you to take the time to at least learn the area you are visiting and get comfortable with the idea of navigating there without your GPS.

Also, I recommend that you buy a map that you can bring with you when travelling and memorize a few escape routes just in case you lose it. If the situation turns bad, some basic navigation skills could be the difference between you getting out quickly and getting lost.

7. Escaping a Riot

As I just stated, you should memorize a few escape routes for wherever you happen to be. In the middle of a survival situation is not the place you want to be and not know how to get out. Before you visit a major city, take the time to research the best way to escape a riot in case you are caught up in one. There’s a lot of great information out there about this designed to help you get out of the middle of a riot as quickly as possible. You should look some of it up. But for now, here’s what to do if you’re caught in a riot while driving.

  • Avoid the Riot Area if Possible
  • Be Ready to Defend Yourself
  • Secure Yourself in The Vehicle
  • Don’t Wear Your Seatbelt during a riot
  • Don’t Run Over People; it’s illegal!

8. Communication Skills

If you are in an urban area when a crisis hits there will likely be lots of people around, and knowing how to deal with people when necessary is an important survival skill you should develop. If you can develop a knack for communicating with people, talking them down from violent situations, and reading their intentions based on what they do and say, you’ll have a much easier time dealing with dangerous human interactions that take place during a disaster.

9. Driving

If you think driving through a big city under normal circumstances is a nightmare, imagine what it would be like to drive through one during or immediately after a major disaster. Often it will probably be very difficult for you to drive during many types of crises because people will panic and everyone will be trying to get out, and traffic jams will develop and shut the entire road system in the city down. This pretty much happened around the DC area during the 9-11 events. I was still an agent then and had some sites I needed to respond to we had to literally cut through parks with our police lights on to get to our destinations.

My recommendation to you is to get out early enough if you have the time or wait for the dust to settle if you can. You may be able to effectively escape the city via your vehicle, assuming of course that you have the driving skills necessary to navigate a major city during heavy traffic congestion and highly stressful situations.

That brings me to my next recommendation. You should consider taking some specialized driving courses. I had to take specialized driving courses in the police academy I attended at FLECT. Later I took specialized courses for my protective services training that taught me such skills as crashing through barriers, driving backward to get out of narrow alleys, J turns, how to spin out a pursuing vehicle, etc.

In this article, I have given you some basic tips for how you can survive in an urban environment if caught in a sticky situation. You should add these skills to your bag of trick as they could save your life one day as they have mine.

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10 thoughts on “Special Agent Secrets for Street Survival”

  1. “Don’t wear a hat” … ???
    I just bought a dandy ball cap from Fight Fast. I like it. It has lots of appeal. Especially the hidden pockets.

    Just thought I’d mention my confusion with that point.

    The comments above are great, very helpful.

  2. I do think that this is a lot of common sense. I do agree with every point, especially about using Situational Awareness all the time. Thank you for this!

  3. All very good info. I feel the number one item is Situational Awareness! using or having this can keep you out of harms way to begin with.

  4. Thank you for this reading. I have a question about how do I keep safe when you not the young man you were. I am over sixty and I am not as quick as I was.

  5. Hi All
    Great list, it would be great to extend the situational awareness and have it a bit more like a real time lesson with case studies and also where it has went wrong.
    Keep going❗️
    Jack