Gathering Intelligence

Intel Gathering

Gathering intelligence refers to the practice of learning as much as you can about your local situation, to enable you to make better decisions about how you should react.  

Many people enter into preparedness and buy all kinds of gear, buy all kinds of food, guns, and ammunition, but then are caught completely unaware when a situation happens locally.  If you are going to be prepared, information gathering is a key.

People also make all sorts of emergency plans without gathering the information to be able to determine if that plan is even workable or not.  I’ve pointed out many times that most people’s plans involve jumping on the highway…without understanding that the entire purpose of the interstate highway system is to allow a system of roads that could be closed to civilian traffic, allowing only government vehicles to move quickly.  

Then all of you came to me and said,

“let us send men ahead to spy out the land for us

And bring back a report about the route we are to take

And the towns we will come to.”

Deuteronomy 1:22

As you can see, the Ultimate Tactical Handbook suggests doing a route recon and checking out the way, before you actually have to travel the route.  In other words, gather intelligence before you take action.

Conduct an area study on your local area.  Our friends at Forward Observer ( have excellent training resources on conducting an Area Study. Basically, you want to analyze your local area, identifying potential trouble areas and personalities, so that you can monitor or avoid those areas.  You also want to identify potential safe havens and resources.

A great resource to use when route planning is a BattleBoard.  Check them out at

Battle Board

Keep in mind, a safe haven in normal circumstances could potentially be a danger zone during a crisis.  For example, a police station is generally recognized as a safe haven during normal times, but during a riot, it’s absolutely the last place you want to be.

I’ve identified the Facebook groups of my local protest organizers, and I check them every single morning, so that I am aware of potential areas of protests.  That’s a simple and easy intelligence gathering task that you can conduct.  It’s as easy as searching for protest hashtags like “#BLM” and then looking for groups or individuals tagging themselves with that hashtag.  Simple and it could save you from being trapped inside your car when they block a road.

One of the big dangers of intelligence gathering in our social media-influenced lives is falling for unconfirmed information.  When the pandemic first hit, it seemed like every single person on social media had a cousin, uncle, fiancee, or friend at Homeland Security, FEMA, or the FBI.  First, no, they don’t.  Second, it’s not like every single federal agent is given all classified data on a daily basis.  

Let’s use a quick Biblical tale to help us understand how to handle unconfirmed data.  In 1 Samuel 26, David was hiding from King Saul, who was trying to hunt him down and kill him.  On a side note, there’s a quick lesson in that Saul, who represented the government, knew that David was a threat to Saul remaining King, so he wanted to kill him.  Anyhow, David was hiding and Saul sent 3,000 elite troops to hunt David in the wilderness.  David heard rumors that these troops were in the area, but didn’t know where or if it was true.

He sent out scouts and learned

That Saul had definitely arrived.

1 Samuel 26:4

So, when confronted with unconfirmed data and an uncertain location of the threat, David sent out scouts to confirm the presence of a hostile force and fix its actual location.  That’s a great lesson and that’s how we develop Priority Intelligence Requirements.

As a current-world example, let’s say that you heard that there was going to be a Black Lives Matter Protest outside of your work location.  Regardless of your political beliefs, that’s a potential threat.  Your Priority Intelligence Requirements are #1, Is there actually a protest planned and #2, What is it’s exact location & route.  Until you confirm it, it is just information.  Once confirmed, it becomes intelligence that you can act on, or “actionable intelligence”.

Sometimes, we can’t 100% confirm everything, so we need a way to assign values to information.  Fortunately, there is already a generally accepted way to evaluate this information.  Below is the NATO Credibility/Reliability matrix, to help you judge the likelihood of something being true.  Only experience with a particular source will allow to judge their reliability over time.  Not very often will you encounter information that you can assess as “A1”.

NATO Matrix

As the men started on their way to map out the land,

Joshua instructed them, “Go and make a detailed

Survey of the land and write a description of it”.

Joshua 18:8

Once you have completed the area study, write it down (type it up) and keep it handy, so that you can update all or parts of it.  

In the Executive Protection business, we conduct “Advance Surveys” which are area studies of everywhere that our client wants to go, and we keep them on file.  The reason for that is in case another client wants to go to the same location, most of the work is already done, and therefore all we have to do is a quick check to make sure the data is still valid, and only correct the areas that need changing.  In this way, you also develop a quick historical record of areas you frequent.

I completely recommend doing separate area studies on places you frequent.  When you have five small area studies, rather than one large, all-encompassing one, it’s easier to make changes, without completely re-writing the entire thing.  It’s also easier to another area for a new place, rather than completely rewriting the whole study.

Conducting these areas studies and then conducting daily intelligence gathering in areas your frequent allows you plan your travels and avoid being surprised by events.  Surprises will still happen, but at least you’ll be armed with the information you need to make an educated decision about how to handle surprises.

I also recommend placing these on a flash drive and carrying them with you.  Of course the flash drive should also be password-protected and encrypted.  I use a Survivor Flash Drive, which is water-proof, shock-resistant, and EMP-protected.

I hope this helps you gather local intelligence for your safety and planning purposes.  In our next article, we will discuss Intelligence’s ugly step-sister, Counter-Intelligence, or protecting your information from collection.

Be safe and prepare as if your life depended on it.


Published by JD

I am the author of the Tactical Wisdom Series. I am a personal protection specialist and a veteran of the US Marine Corps. I conduct preparedness and self-defense training.

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