A big part of planning responses to a given disaster or crisis is working out where you’ll go and how you’ll get there.
Depending on the circumstances, we may need to avoid chokepoints on roadways, concentrations of people, likely locations of rioting and looting, or potential obstacles that will prevent us from making best speed.
Serious preppers often know their locality pretty well, but most will fail to take the extra step of mapping out points of interest and areas of concern on an actual map.
Mapping out things like your primary, alternate, and contingency routes in and out of your hometown as well as other relevant info will serve to give you a much better view of your positioning and plan in its entirety.
Furthermore paper remembers what the mind forgets. In this article, I’ll give you a step-by-step guide on creating and marking up your own threat map to aid you in your quest for readiness. That way when disaster looms you will not need trust to memory.
Table of Contents
Concerns and Considerations about Threat Maps
We’ll get this out of the way before we begin. Most of us in the self-sufficiency and prepping sphere are well acquainted with our associates’ and relatives’ stereotypical picture of preppers in general.
I’m talking about the isolated, wild-eyed, furtive, and neurotic person who is the subject of friendly (or not-so-friendly) mockery for behaving so far outside the acceptable standards of “normal” society.
This caricature is often of a boonie-hatted and camo-clad outdoorsman; one with stacks of green ammo cans and pallets of freeze-dried everything inside a secluded and moldy home far, far from prying eyes and “The Man.”
The piece de resistance in this comic is, of course, the giant map on his living room wall, crisscrossed with twine, studded with pins, and threateningly slashed with a red marker.
Be honest: however most of us might feel about prepping, we desperately want to avoid that stereotype, and we definitely don’t want to be that imaginary guy so often derided.
And so, however useful a customized map may be for our own plans and procedures, we don’t make use of it. We don’t pick one up, print one, or anything of the sort. That marker-covered map feels like becoming “that guy.”
I get your reluctance, reader, but this is a bad idea. Like anything else we do, we do it with the honorable and completely well-adjusted reasoning of keeping ourselves and our families safe, or at least safer.
A marked-up map will help you do that, as will a stash of ammo, food, water, lights, batteries, and more. Let your relatives and friends have their fun. They will be singing a mournful tune when the other shoe drops.
Do what you need to do, and remember it is no one’s business yours, if you are worried about appearances.
Why Map in the First Place?
As I mentioned above, a threat map is simply a map appropriate to your cause that has your own notes, highlights, outlines, and other pertinent markup on it. This map forms an important tool for analyzing, refining and codifying your plans for evacuation, escape, and even sheltering in place.
Your map will note and display any possible obstacles, dangers, and risks as they may affect or even derail your plans. Over time, as your plans change and evolve, your threat markers will change to reflect new conditions.
Your threat map can be as simple or as complex as you want. Some like a minimalist outline of major hazards and their first, best road out of town. Others like intricate overlays of data to be called on and puzzled over. While too little data is useless and too much is overwhelming, you can lay out your threat map however it will serve you best.
Ultimately, your map will be a precious reference tool: when you are confronted with a developing situation, one with more or less complex factors that you must successfully negotiate to survive, you can consult your map to help you decide on the right course of action and route, if applicable, instead of trying to hold all those factors in your head.
Consider this; professional soldiers, adventurers and others involved in dangerous situations all rely on maps with additional info besides roads and terrain on them. Why wouldn’t you?
What Kind of Map Do I Need?
That depends. Keep in mind more than one might be useful, say one of your region and one of your town or city. You may have a road atlas marked up for longer-distance travel and a topographic map to cover your on-foot or deep-country planning.
Start with a map of your town or city, one that is printed with major roads, public installations, major terrain features and types, and so forth.
Considering that you may not always need to bug out, and indeed sheltering in place is often the best idea if practical this makes the most sense to start with. Remember: we protect against the most-likely threats first and branch out from there.
Should I Use Paper or Electronic Maps? How Big Should It Be?
That is a personal call, but I strongly recommend you keep a paper copy or printout of your most current maps at all times. As reliable and portable as our electronic devices are these days, there are too many situations that can render their use impossible or tricky; very little is as convenient as whipping out a paper map when you need to consult it.
That being said, electronic maps work very well and are convenient so long as you are proficient at utilizing your device and the power holds. Additional perks could be things like a navigation overlay or real-time updates on traffic and other info.
As far as size, the best size is whatever makes the most sense for you. Larger maps will obviously afford better detail and resolution, as well as more room for intricate markup, but have the disadvantage of being harder to store and carry (you could hang it on the wall somewhere in your home…).
Folding and rolling are options to make larger maps more manageable, but will degrade the map over time until it gets bad creases or a permanent crimp. Not the end of the world, but something you should be aware of.
Let’s Mark This Thing
So what are you going to mark on your threat map, and how should you do it? If you are using an electronic map, you can use any built-in tools on your mapping app, if you have them, or convert the map into a file format compatible with a graphics editing tool. Paper maps have more options.
If you are marking on the map directly, you can use whatever you want; pens, pencils, markers, highlighters, and crayon are all viable.
Take care that what you use to write on your map does not bleed so badly that it obscures anything important on the front or back of the map.
You might overlay the map with a clear page protector or acrylic sheet to allow you to write on it with dry-erase markers or grease pencils.
This has the advantage of allowing you to change and update your markup as your plans and threats evolve without using a new map, but obviously, markings of this kind are not indelible, so you’ll need to protect your map a little more from anything that could wear or wash your markup away.
Before you go jotting down whatever crosses your mind onto your map, take a minute to gather your thoughts and align them with your goals: what do you intend to accomplish with your threat map?
What details are most important to you? Will you be recording a lot of data or only a little on it? How will you indicate the data; color, pattern, symbol, or something else?
Your map should be easy to understand at a glance, if only for you. Adopt a system for your markup and if you have a variety of colors, patterns, and symbols included consider creating a legend for the map.
Threats and Points of Concern
Below are a few items you might consider marking on your map, and my thoughts on indicating each that can serve as a guideline for creating your own.
Don’t be afraid to deviate from my recommendations; I am not using any standardized, official methodology, military regulation markings, or anything else. Such things may add value for some, but for the majority of civilian preppers, they are unnecessary.
High Crime Areas
Areas in your locale that have a reputation for turning out a criminal activity should be marked on your map, as any event that halts police activity or provides cover for criminal enterprise will see crimes increase, often with areas immediately around bad sectors affected the worst and quickest.
You should be avoiding these parts of town at any rate if you have any choice in the matter.
I like to mark the coarse boundary of these areas in orange on my maps, and lightly shade the interiors or run a few hazard stripes through it.
Keep in mind that crime is not delineated by any “border” streets, and will readily spill over into more affluent or safe areas during or after a crisis. A good neighborhood is only good until some scumbag strolls into it.
Ingress / Egress Routes
You should have a minimum of two routes into and out of town from your home or workplace marked on your threat map, with attention paid to likely sources of slowdown or any bottlenecking that may occur.
Pay attention also to put as much distance between your route and any rough parts of town as possible.
Think carefully about how your route will be affected by a mass of panicking, fleeing people, or which ones might be shut down or throttled by authorities in a crisis.
I highlight my routes in light blue and fill in any detours as a dashed line that will take me around potential roadblocks or similar obstructions.
Potential Obstacles, Roadblocks, and Bottlenecks
Narrow roads, bridges, and traffic-prone thoroughfares may become easily blocked or vehicle restricted in an emergency.
Additionally, roads and paths that are easily rendered impassible should be illustrated also if they are a potential route out of town or to home, ones that have such features as very steep shoulders, flood easily, or are lined with large trees. Any of those may become showstoppers for all but the most capable vehicles.
I mark these items in red along my blue route shading, and usually with a tiny illustration of the hazard for easy ID at a glance. You don’t need to go overboard and do this for the entire map, only the routes that will see you in or out of town.
Safe Havens and Gov’t. Buildings
I mark all safe havens where I can expect security, resupply, or other aid on my map in green with a small note if the map does not have a symbol for it already.
Things like hospitals, police, and fire stations, EMS stations, and city government installations. I also mark locations of my closest friends and family members where I know I can get a port in a storm, and make sure I can find an alternate route to them in case they are imperiled.
Now, I am aware that some folks consider major government and civic installations to be places to avoid in a disaster for a variety of reasons, from disease or possible targets (or dealers) of violence. This is a personal choice, but I advocate that we prepare for what threats are most likely to occur.
Following that reasoning, most situations will see any of the above as centers where you can get aid or rescue, and I plan accordingly.
Disaster Hazard Zones
Mark any natural terrain feature or man-made structure that could feature prominently in a crisis as a major source of danger on your map.
This could be things like a nuclear or chemical plant that will release who-knows-what onto the wind if it should explode or burn, or a floodplain around a river that becomes notoriously impassible after heavy rains.
Near mountains, you might mark the paths of likely avalanches, or areas most vulnerable to lahars or pyroclastic flows near a volcano. Know what the biggest threats are in your area and understand how far their effects can reach.
I mark these hazards in brown according to the nature of the threat. I will outline a floodplain or landslide zone like I do a high-crime area.
I will mark man-made installations with a symbol representing them and then an arc of projected effect according to the most common prevailing wind conditions in my locale. This lets me plan my movement or escape according to what areas are most likely to be impacted or rendered impassible.
You should obviously change your priorities if you find out your home or office is in any of these affected zones.
Other things you’ll want to include on your map:
- locations of ATMs, in case they’re working and you need to make a quick cash withdrawal
- locations of vending machines, so you can grab a few extra supplies
- roads with steep slopes, because they might be hard to drive through, particularly during winter (unless you have a solid 4×4 bug-out vehicle)
Updating and Using Your Map
As your plans change and threats evolve or recede, update your map. Also update your map with any observations that might indicate a new threat or point of concern.
If you notice a road dealing with much more traffic than before and backing up a regular basis, you can depend on it being far worse in an actual disaster. Change your route, or just mark the sluggish stretch by itself.
Places and buildings that are regular sites of protest should be marked as hazard zones, or perhaps removed from your list of safe havens if they were one before. You don’t need anything to do with teeming masses of stressed-out, agitating people in kind times, much less when the stakes are far higher.
When updating your map, don’t make too many corrections, mark-outs, strikethroughs, and the like before ditching it and recreating it.
All those marks and scribbles get confusing quickly. If you used erasable ink or grease then you are good to go, obviously, but take care that you completely obliterate any prior markup that needs removal. A crisis is no time to second guess that dashed line or errant squiggle.
Once your map is updated and set the way you can make use of it, back it up. Make a high-res copy or scan it to a device so you can make use of it no matter how you are traveling.
Put a copy in your BOB and vehicle. You might consider laminating a paper map if it is not weather resistant or placing it in a heavy-duty map case.
Consult it regularly when trouble is brewing, even if just on the horizon. All that time and research will pay off when you need to decide on a course of action quickly and your map can help you do it.
Ready To Start Your Map?
A threat map is not just a prop for the deranged and paranoid survivalist. A threat map, made with care and intelligence, is a valuable asset for risk mitigation and disaster planning. Tailor yours to support your goals and you’ll greatly enhance your personal readiness.
Charles Yor is an advocate of low-profile preparation, readiness as a virtue and avoiding trouble before it starts. He has enjoyed a long career in personal security implementation throughout the lower 48 of the United States.