In this article, I’ll be teaching you the different aspects of tactical room clearing. There are many factors that revolve around room clearing, but the one’s I’ll teach you about are the most common situations you’ll find yourself in. If you practice what you learn in this article, you’ll be much more confident if you find yourself in a situation where you might need to use it. Remember, practice makes permanent and not perfect. When you practice, make sure you’re practicing it right.
Disclaimer: Everything in this article is public information. I will NOT disclose sensitive information regarding any aspect of the United States Armed Forces. However, there is plenty of public knowledge available to successfully learn how to tactically clear a room.
Speed and Violence
Two major factors come into play that involve room clearing, and whatever side uses them more, usually ends up being the victor. The first factor is speed, a dire necessity to clear a room successfully. You can’t expect to crawl through a doorway and not expect to get mowed down by gunfire if there’s a threat inside of the room. The second factor is violence, a key factor when it comes to firefights. Usually the side that shows more willingness to use violence will be the victor when the SHTF.
While speed is a major factor in room clearing, you need to understand what “speed” truly means when it comes to room clearing. Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast. What that means, is instead of trying to rush through a room guns blazing, you should slow it down and tactically clear your sectors. This ensures that you’ll make less mistakes, and in turn, you’ll move faster. This doesn’t mean slow your movement down to a crawl, just move more methodically and tactically.
Another important aspect of using speed and violence, is “owning the room”. If you present your willingness to pursue violence by any means necessary, and act on it, you’ve already won half of the battle. Every room you enter is YOUR room, act like it. When you clear any room, you should be thinking that any enemy in that room is trespassing, and it’s your job to get them out by any means necessary.
Owning the Room
In order for you to win the intricate battle of room clearing, you need to own the room. If you don’t, your enemy will, and they will more than likely win. Be confident every time you commit yourself (and your team) to clearing a room. Every corner you clear, you need to own. That means every angle you take should be a crisp, sharp, and dominant movement.
Don’t be a robot, though. In the movie “Act of Valor”, the U.S. Navy SEALS portrayed in that movie are played by real U.S. Navy SEALS. Even as actors, the techniques for room clearing they reenact are real techniques, because they are engrained into their heads. If you want an accurate depiction on how you should dominate your room, watch how they do it.
Owning the room also means owning every threat that presents itself in that room. You could dominate every corner and sector in any room, but if you don’t dominate your treat, it will dominate you. Never be complacent in a room, you should treat every room you clear as if it’s filled with enemies waiting to kill you or your team. Your foot movement can also mean the difference between dominating your room, and tripping up in the process.
How you move your feet inside of a room (and outside) can mean the difference between winning, or losing the battle. You should never cross-over your feet inside of a room, this can cause you to trip over yourself if you suddenly have to move faster to move away from (or towards) a threat. Many “experts” say that crossing your feet isn’t an issue if you practice enough, I call BS. You should never cross them, instead train yourself to move without having to.
There are many other ways to move sideways. My favorite way to move sideways is by simply walking forward, but turning your torso to the side. This technique can be difficult to perfect, but with enough practice, you’ll find that it enables you to move faster and more efficiently through a room.
If this method is too difficult for you, there is another method to move sideways that I find to be equally effective (yet slower). This method is side-stepping. To side-step, simply assume your normal fighting stance by moving your feet shoulder-width apart and bending your knees slightly, and step to the side that you wish to move. Then, move your foot back to your beginning stance. This helps prevent you from crossing your feet when moving sideways.
When moving tactically, you should have a sturdy fighting stance. Like I said above, make sure your feet are shoulder-width apart, and bend your knees slightly. Your torso should be leaned slightly forward, with your chest facing the enemy. If you’re wearing body armor, this helps increase the chance of your body armor stopping the round.
Some “experts” will try to tell you to position your body slightly sideways and assume a “fighting stance” (dominant foot slightly to the rear) while shooting. That is a terrible idea, as it limits your mobility while shooting. Also, if you get shot in the side, you have less of a chance of surviving your wounds. Instead of the round impacting possibly one organ (if it doesn’t bounce around in your ribcage), it will impact all the organs in a line.
When you’re walking, imaging you’re trying to hold a grapefruit (or watermelon depending on your leg size) between your knees. This will help keep your legs from being too narrow, thus causing you to trip. It may seem awkward at first, but with practice, you’ll notice a big difference in your weapon control as you move.
Every time you clear a room, there’s a risk that you’ll encounter an enemy whose intent is to take your life. You need to come to grips with that reality before you commit to clearing a room. Being too nervous before entering a room can be deadly, as confidence is a key factor when it comes to owning the room.
With that being said, not all people that you encounter in a room are threats. You can’t just shoot anyone you see in a room. You need to know how to distinguish between threats, and non-threats in a split second. This is where training comes into play. The next time you go to a range, use targets that represent civilians, as well as enemies. Using these types of targets will help train your mind to distinguish between friendly and enemy faster.
As far as legitimate threats are concerned, there is an order of precedence that you need to follow in order to accurately engage your threats in order. To simplify this, I’ve broken down the threats you might face into three categories; immediate threats (a threat that should be neutralized immediately), intermediate threats (threats you neutralize after the immediate threat), and non-threats (usually innocent bystanders who are caught in the crossfire).
These threats are your number one priority. An immediate threat can be classified many ways. For the sake of simplicity, I’ll boil it down to three. The first type of immediate threat is an enemy that’s shooting at you. This enemy is your top priority (obviously), because if you don’t neutralize him first, you’re already out of the fight before you start.
The second type of immediate threat is anyone showing the intent to cause harm to you or your team within 5 feet of you. These hostiles are within combatives (hand-to-hand combat) range, and should be dealt with accordingly. A simple, yet effective way to handle a close quarters hostile is to strike them with the muzzle of your weapon like a spear. This method is called a “muzzle thump”, and can kill an enemy if used correctly. At the very minimum, it will back them off enough to be able to acquire your target and engage them accordingly.
The third type of immediate threat is anyone anybody aiming their weapon at you. You can’t read minds, so if they are aiming their weapon at you, you must assume that their intent is to kill you. Always assume the worst-case scenario when clearing a room, not doing so can result in you (or your team mates) being on the receiving end of a painful death. Don’t give verbal warnings to anyone aiming their weapon at you when you’re clearing a room, at that point they have committed to causing you harm. It’s up to you to neutralize the threat accordingly.
These types of threats are still to be considered as potential threats, but not necessarily dangerous enough to warrant being classified as an immediate threat. Once the immediate threats are neutralized (if there is any), intermediate threats should be your next concern. Just like immediate threats, intermediate ones can be classified many ways. The first type of intermediate threats are people that either have a weapon, or have easy access to one. These threats should be given a verbal warning to get on the ground. If they don’t understand, use your non-firing hand and signal for them to get down. If they don’t, handle the threat accordingly.
The second type of intermediate threat is animals. You don’t know if these animals are trained to attack, or if they feel threatened enough to attack you. Animals have unpredictable behavior, and if they do attack you it can take you out of the fight for enough time to distract you from other potential threats. Don’t be afraid to shoot an animal if you must. However, don’t be inhumane. Don’t shoot an animal just because they’re in the room, and if you must shoot one make sure you kill it.
Don’t make the mistake of assuming non-threats are not dangerous. A non-threat can quickly become an immediate threat at any given notice. The purpose of classifying someone as a non-threat is to manage your priorities of engagements. Most non-threats are innocent bystanders that just happen to be on the receiving end of your speed and violence, and will comply with any direction you give them to avoid being hurt.
There is no simple description of a non-threat, however most of them look scared, and are weaponless. They usually get on the ground immediately after you enter the room. To help with this process, every time you enter a room to clear it, you need to give loud and clear instructions to everyone in the room to get on the ground. Once you breach the first door, any enemies inside already know you’re there. Be loud, and be violent. Anyone who is still standing and acting in an aggressive manner can be placed in either the immediate, or intermediate threat category (depending on the situation).
Most of the time, people who don’t wish to fight back will willingly get on the ground. Don’t just leave these people behind as you follow along to the next room. Make sure somebody secures them and has eyes on them. If you’re by yourself, carrying flex-cuffs or even zip ties can help mitigate the risk of them potentially becoming immediate threats. Simply restrain them using one of two items I mentioned above, and move on. For added effect (only if you feel that they could present themselves as a threat), knock them unconscious by muzzle thumping them, then move on.
Clearing a Room Alone
Clearing a room (or rooms) by yourself can be extremely dangerous. It’s impossible to see all four corners at once, so it’s imperative that you take advantage of the angles of view that a doorway offers you before you even enter the room. Once a door is open, and you’re standing outside of it, you can see inside the room slightly. Use this to your advantage, and clear that section before you enter the room. This way, when you enter, you can clear the area that you couldn’t see.
If you must, you can engage targets from outside of the room. Once you do, you need to enter the room shortly after. This prevents the enemy from setting up a defensive position if there are more in the room. Once you enter the room, make sure you don’t lower your barrel as you pass through the door and button-hook to your first corner. This adds more time to your reaction, should a threat present itself. Keep your barrel up, and quickly side-step through the doorway and own the first corner. As you pass by the door, shoulder-check it to make sure nobody is behind it while you clear your first corner.
When you’re clearing each corner of the room, never lower your muzzle. Your barrel should go where your eyes go, make it an extension of your body. Make sure you check the ceiling last (unless a threat presents itself there first). Sometimes, enemies will drill a hole in the second floor to look down into the room from the ceiling. A lot of times, this causes the person (or people) to lose their life.
If you can help it, try not to clear a room alone. The bare minimum requirement to successfully clear a room is two people. To maximize security, a four-person team is the most ideal number to have to clear a room. Clearing a room alone leaves you exposed to different blind spots in the room while you clear other areas. This increases the chances you have of getting hurt.
Clearing a Room with a Team
This method of clearing rooms is the most effective, and safest way possible. In a team (two to four people), you maximize security along with speed and violence. Every member of the team has a vital role that they need to follow in order to make the process of clearing a room effective. Make sure whoever you have in your team is trustworthy and efficient. You don’t want somebody who doesn’t know what they’re doing in a room with you when you’re relying on them for your safety.
During the entire process (except outside of the room in the stack) of clearing a room with a team, each team member’s point of aim should never come closer than three feet of another team member’s barrel. This ensures that nobody is flagging (pointing your weapon at a team member) anyone. Fratricide (friendly fire) is a major risk factor in the process of clearing rooms. One slip up, and you could end up killing a team member, or vise-versa.
To efficiently enter a room in an organized manner, your team must get in a stack. A stack is when your team lines up (one in front of the other) on one side of the door. Make sure that nobody in your team is rubbing up against the wall, as this can alert anyone inside of your specific movements. The stack is extremely important, because every member in the stack has a specific sector of fire that they are responsible for watching. This maximizes security, and effectiveness of your team as you prepare to move into the room.
Number One Man
In the stack, the number one man (the person up front) will have his eyes and weapon fixated on the door itself, prepared to engage any enemy that may come out. No matter what happens (unless SHTF), the number one guy never pulls away from securing the door. If the door requires a breach (whether it’s with a hammer, or a kick), you’ll signal with your hand (make your own signal) to convey that a breach is needed.
When you signal, you will never take your firing hand away from the trigger. Every time you need to signal, you will use your non-firing hand in case you need to engage an enemy spontaneously. The number one man in the stack will normally have a shotgun, this way if he needs to engage a group of enemies upon entering a room, he has a weapon with the most spread.
As the number one man, it’s your job to relay to your team when you’re ready to move into the room. Once you’re ready, take your non-firing hand and reach behind you to squeeze the leg of the number two man. He will repeat this signal until it reaches the number four man. Once the number four man is ready, he’ll send the signal back up. Once the number one man feels the squeeze on his leg from the number two man, he knows his team is ready to move into the room.
If you need to flow into a room immediately, you don’t have to send back a signal. A faster way to signal, is by the number one man leaning back (rocking back) onto the number two man, thus sending a lean throughout the team. Once the number four man is ready, he will lean forward, causing the team to lean forward. This method is called the “rock, and go”.
Number Two Man
The number two man will have his rifle over the shoulder furthest from the wall of the number one man. His sector of fire is straight ahead, ready to engage any enemy in the direction that the stack is facing. If you must fire your rifle as the number two man, you can use the shoulder of the number one man to support your rifle. If any signal is relayed back from the number one man, your job is to repeat the signal given by the number one man.
The number two man will usually be the most experienced person in the team (although it never hurts to practice other roles). This way, he can control the flow of the team, and push the number one man through the door if he hesitates. It’s up to him to signal to intermediate threats to get on the ground if need be. Only the number two man should be shouting instructions to the people inside of the room. This way, there can be no confusion as to what’s being said.
Number Three Man
The number three man will be canted slightly sideways between 45-90 degrees from the stack. His sector of fire is the flank on the side opposite of the wall, while also covering high points on the side. If any signal is sent back from the number two man, your job as the number three man is to relay the same signal back. Don’t keep looking at the number two man waiting for a signal. You’ll see the signal out of your prereferral vision.
The number three man will usually be the person with the best accuracy. This is due to the fact that his sector of fire outside of the room is the flank, as well as the high-ground. You want the person protecting the flank of the team to be able to accurately engage targets quickly, and efficiently should the need for it arise.
Number Four Man
The number four man will be turned almost completely around with his back to the number three man, though not fully turned around in case a signal is relayed. Your sector as the number four man is the rear flank, ready to engage any immediate threat that may pose itself while you’re in the stack. If a breach signal is called, you will move up to the front of the stack and (with your non-firing hand) run your hand along the door seem to inspect for any potential traps.
The number four man will usually have a weapon with a higher ammunition capacity. This is due to the fact that his sector mostly involves pulling rear security. He’ll need the ammunition capacity to be able to suppress immediate threats long enough to enable the team to move accordingly.
Once the door is deemed safe from potential traps, give the number one man a nod, signaling that you’re ready to breach the door. Once the number one man nods back, it means he’s ready for you to breach it. Breach the door by any means necessary (check to see if it’s unlocked before you kick it), then step to the opposite side of the door of the stack. This allows the team to flow into the room while you pull security outside to make sure no immediate threat presents itself. Once the number three man enters the room, you will flow in behind him.
Entering the Room
Now you’re getting into the shit. Once the team enters a room, you must gain total control of the situation. Remember, speed and violence are key factors when it comes to room clearing. Once your team enters the room, do so in a dominating presence. Remain confident in every decision you make once you’re inside of the room.
If you mess up, keep moving, stopping the forward momentum while clearing a room could mean the death of the entire team. The doorway is a “fatal funnel”, meaning for a moment, all gunfire will be directed at that door once you start moving in. The number one man draws the short end of the stick when it comes to room clearing, because he’s the most likely person to take the brunt of the gunfire.
Number One Man
As the number one man, whichever way you go into the room is your choice. However, I recommend button-hooking into the room (entering the doorway, and making a 180-degree turn to clear the corner on the same wall you were stacked on). This allows the number two man’s weapon to enter right behind you without having to move his muzzle to avoid flagging you, as his weapon will be on your outside shoulder while in the stack.
Once you enter the doorway, no matter what’s in the room (unless it’s a trap) you need to keep moving! Otherwise, you’re screwing over the people behind you, trapping them in the doorway while you all get shot at. If you see a trap, call it out immediately and move everybody out of the room as fast as you can. Other than this exception, once you’ve entered the doorway, you’re committed to that room. Your team’s life depends on it.
After you’ve dominated your first corner, don’t spend too much time concentrating on it. Move your sector of fire along the same wall until you reach the far corner on the same side. During this transition, you should be moving along the wall until you’ve reached the first corner that you cleared. Then, while you transition your point of aim to the far corner of the room on the opposite side, move about three feet along the wall after the first corner you’ve cleared.
Number Two Man
As the number two man, you should be in the door, moving forward from your position in the stack to the corner nearest the door immediately when the number one guy flows in. Just like the number one guy, you need to dominate the corner you’re assigned to. If the number one guy doesn’t button hook, you will. You should always end up on the opposite side of the room as the number one guy. This way, two sides of the room are cleared simultaneously.
As you dominate your first corner, move along the wall (while not directly rubbing against it) and transition your point of aim to the far corner on the same side as the first one. Your movement should match the number one man’s identically. When both you, and the number one man are set in your final positions, your sector will end up overlapping his. This increases the amount of the room covered by both of you. Remember, your point of aim should never come closer than three feet off the number one man’s barrel.
Number Three Man
As the number three man, you should flow into the room immediately behind the number two man. As you enter the door, side-step in the same direction that the number one man went and clear the center of the room. Don’t worry about the near corner, as the number one man has already cleared it. Your movement will stop before you reach the near corner, this way you’re on a separate wall than the number one man.
After your movement has stopped, your final sector of fire will be in the center of the room, to three feet off of the number two man’s barrel. You may need to adjust the position of your barrel as you enter the room to keep yourself from flagging the number two man, which is fine. Just remember that as soon as you can, you need to resume your normal firing position as you enter the room.
Number Four Man
As the number four man, you’re the last person to enter the room. Normally, you’ll be back-stepping as you move to the door, then finally turning around to enter the room. You won’t be in the room at the same time as the number three man, which is fine. However, you need to flow in as close as you can to him. You will go to the same side as the number two man, and follow the same movement pattern as the number three man, stopping before you reach the near corner.
Your sector of fire as you enter the room will be the center of the room (so the main part of the room is cleared four times). After you’ve cleared the center, you will visually clear the ceiling in its entirety while remaining in your final position. After you’ve cleared the ceiling, you will turn around and face the door (without exposing yourself), and pull security to ensure no threats come in behind you.
After the Room is Cleared
Once the room is deemed secure, the most senior person in the team (number two man) will get an “up” from the team. Getting an “up” is a term to describe making sure everyone’s okay. Usually the number two man will initiate the “up” by saying “status”. Following the command, the number one man will say “one up”, followed by the number two man saying “two up” and so on until the number four man states he’s up.
You don’t need to get a status from everyone in the team unless there was resistance in the room. If you clear the room with no issues, and the room was empty, don’t waste time by getting an up. The purpose of getting an “up” is to make sure everyone is able to follow on to the next room if there is one.
If you enter a room, and you are the first person to notice a door (or doorway) leading to another room, make sure you clear your sector first. Once you’ve cleared your sector, call out “door” followed by the direction in which the door is to the room. For example, if the door is at the 12 o’clock of the room, you would call “door front”. After you call out the door, you need to pull security on that door, and hold your security.
If you’re the number two man and you have the better vantage point on the door, you are now the number one man for the next room. This is why it’s important for everyone to practice playing different parts in the stack. Once there are follow-on rooms, you will rarely be in the same order as you were in the beginning in the stack.
Once the initial room is clear, have everyone stack on the person who has the better vantage point of the doorway. You do not have to re-stack on the wall by the next door, just stack behind the person who has the better vantage point and flow into the next room like you did with the initial one. Initially, this may seem like a lot of information to retain and perfect. With enough practice, however, you’ll find that your team will gradually find a rhythm and flow together more easily.
In any combat scenario, you’ll quickly learn about Murphy’s Law, “anything that can go wrong, will go wrong”. When clearing a room, this law tends to show its ugly face more often than not. Everyone has a plan until the first shot is fired, then it all goes downhill from there. When room clearing, it’s imperative to be able to adapt quickly to any adversity that you’ll face (and you WILL face many adversities when room clearing).
If your weapon malfunctions, or you run out of ammunition in your magazine, take a step closer to the center of the room, take a knee, and call out a word that you and your group come up with to show that you’re temporarily out of the fight. For example, if your weapon malfunctions in the middle of an engagement, after you’ve stepped in and taken a knee, call out “down”. This lets your team know that you’re temporarily out of the fight and to assume your sector until you are good to go.
Never just stand back up once your weapon is good, call out a predetermined word such as “up” and wait for a teammate to give you the go-ahead to stand back up. The reason you want to take a step away from the wall towards the center of the room, is so the next person behind you can get past you without having to go in front of you to assume your sector. If an enemy is within striking distance when your weapon malfunctions, handle it accordingly while using hand-to-hand combat to neutralize the threat.
Often times, while the number one man enters the room, he will get shot. This will cause him to fall, sometimes in the doorway. If this happens, step over him and continue clearing the room. If the number one man goes down, you now have a three-man stack and you will clear the room normally, just without the number four man in the picture. For example, the number two man will assume the number one man’s responsibilities and so on until you reach the number three man.
Only after the room has been successfully cleared, will you render aid to your fallen teammate. It may suck having to step over your buddy who’s hurt, but if you stop clearing the room to help him, you’re risking more men going down because they aren’t engaging the immediate threat in the room.
Securing a Building
I’m not going to go too far into detail about securing a building, because this article pertains to room clearing. However, it’s important to know what to do if you have enough people to secure the outside of the building that you’re entering with your team. If the building is large enough, you will need at least two teams to leap-frog rooms to maintain enough security. That is a completely different ball game.
If it’s a smaller building (like your BOL) and you have more than four people, have the remaining people secure the outer perimeter of the building to increase your level of security and safety. There’s two types of outer-security; relaxed, and tight. With relaxed security, your outer-security personnel will push further out from the building, and create a circle (if there’s enough personnel) on the outer perimeter facing outwards.
For tighter security, you can have your personnel positioned on a corner of the building, facing the direction of the most likely direction of an immediate threat (i.e. the area opposite from which you came). Outer-security can play a major factor in the success of securing your BOL if there are other looters nearby. This allows the team clearing the room to concentrate on the inside of the building, instead of what’s outside.
Communication is key when it comes to the success of room clearing. Before, during, and after you clear a room, your team should be constantly communicating (hand signals, or verbally) to ensure that everyone is on the same page. Failing to communicate when room clearing can lead to fratricide (friendly fire), thus completely ruining the mission. Make sure you practice communication techniques with your team, and develop hand and arm signals.
Chem-lights are a great item to carry on you in your BOB, because you can use them to mark a room that has been cleared if there are multiple rooms. A green or blue chem-light is the universal signal for “all good” when room clearing. Once a room has been cleared, and your team is ready to follow onto the next, crack a green or blue chem-light and drop it in the first doorway. This lets any follow on friendly personnel know that the first room is secure and they can move in if necessary.
Weapon Attachments / Configuration
Although you can clear a room successfully with an AR-15 (or any rifle) with just iron sights and no added equipment, weapon attachments make the very delicate art of room clearing much easier. Whichever way you want to configure your weapon is your own preference, I’m only here to provide you with guidance. My advice is to not get too crazy with your attachments, the more attachments you have, the more attachments you need to worry about malfunctioning.
In my article “The Best Firearm Attachments – For All Firearm Types”, I discuss the attachments that I recommend for each type of weapon you may have in your arsenal and why. Room clearing requires a balance between the weapon, and the person who uses it. Versatility is key when it comes to your weapon, so make sure your attachments match what you would really need in real life.
Your weapon should be configured to your liking. It’s okay to try new configurations, but don’t keep jumping back and forth. Pick one configuration and stick with it, this way you can practice and become efficient with it. In my article “Advanced Shooting Techniques for when SHTF”, I talk about how you should hold your weapon in different scenarios, including room clearing.
Tactical room clearing is a vital skill that all avid preppers should learn, and practice. The odds of looters finding and occupying your bug out location after SHTF are high. Knowing how to properly (and safely) secure your BOL is key to surviving a post-disaster environment. Unless you have a secondary BOL with supplies to sustain your team (or family), your primary BOL is your ticket to survival. Being able to take it back from looters is essential to your survival.
Room clearing is a complex, and difficult process. It takes a lot of practice, and repetition. Once you feel like you’ve perfected tactical room clearing, practice some more. You should be sick of practicing, this way when SHTF, you don’t have to think about what to do, your instinct will kick in.
There are two different types of rooms; corner-fed (where the door is by the corner of the room), and center-fed (where the door is in the center of the room). Don’t worry too much about what type of room you’re clearing. You won’t always know what kind of room you’re getting into. If you get the basics down, you’ll be able to adjust accordingly. Whatever you do, make sure you don’t position yourself near the fatal funnel (doorway).
There are many aspects that revolve around room clearing. So many, in fact, that if I was to discuss all of them, you’d be reading all day. This article is to familiarize you with the basic (and some advanced) aspects and techniques used when clearing a room tactically. Never become complacent when clearing rooms, a threat can emerge at any given moment. Remember – slow is smooth, smooth is fast.