Planning Day Trips

Factors to consider when planning day trips while operating in higher-risk environments.

6 min read · Written by Grant Rayner on 21 Aug 2023

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When operating in a higher-risk location, there may be times when you need to travel away from your base of operation to another location for a task. The context here is that you’re travelling out for a few hours and plan to return sometime later in the day (this isn’t an overnight trip, but many of the same principles would apply).

There are inherent risks involved with taking such a trip. For example:

  • Time on the road. The more time you’re on the road, the greater your risk exposure to accidents and other incidents.
  • Lack of familiarity. You may be going to locations you’re not be familiar with, along routes you’ve never travelled on before. As a result, you may not be able to accurately assess the risks.
  • Unknown threats. While you may be staying in a relatively safe area, when you travel outside of that area you may encounter different threat groups. You may not be familiar with these groups and may not understand how they operate.
  • Away from support. You may be moving out of a location where you have a reasonable level of support to a location with little or no support.

Let’s start with the basics: route planning.

Route Planning

The first step in your planning should be to pull out a map and work out how you’re going to get from where you are to your destination. Review the security situation and determine a primary (or preferred) route. Where additional routes are available, assess their utility as alternate routes. If you’re limited in the number of available routes, you’ll need to more carefully consider the impact If those routes are blocked, particularly on the return journey.

If the journey is more than a few hours, consider the need for refuelling and rest stops. Determine whether it will be safe for you to exit the vehicle in these locations.

Security Threats

Consider the potential security risks along each route.

Identify checkpoints, noting that it’s unlikely checkpoints will be identified on mapping applications. Typically, checkpoints are positioned on the boundaries of towns and villages. Determine who will be manning these checkpoints and whether they are likely to cause any complications.

If there’s an ongoing armed conflict or insurgency, carefully evaluate the risks from ambushes and snipers. If in a conflict or post-conflict environments, also consider the risk from land mines. Even if roads have been cleared of mines, assume that the road shoulder and areas adjacent to the roads are unsafe. Avoid pulling over unless you’re confident that the area has been de-mined.

Timings

For each route, evaluate driving distances and durations. Be conservative when it comes to time estimates, and always give yourself some additional time for contingencies.

Consider how risks may change once it’s dark. For example, threat groups may not be active along roads during the day, but may be active at night. These risks may influence the requirement to commence your return before a specific time.

Also consider curfews. Ensure you give yourself enough time so you’re not still travelling outside of curfew times.

Weather

Check weather conditions for the next 48 hours. Watch for the possibility of rain, particularly if you are travelling along unsealed roads or in mountainous areas. If you’re travelling through mountainous areas, consider the risk from rockfall or landslides. If there are no alternate routes and such an incident occurs, you may unable to return.

In addition to rain, consider the possibility of snow or ice. If you’re travelling in a period where snow or ice occurs, regardless of the weather forecast it may be prudent to carry a set of snow chains in the vehicle just in case.

If there is uncertainty about the route, consider dispatching a local person along the route to verify the route is passable and sufficiently safe and secure. Of course, consider the risks associated with sending someone down the route. This approach would be appropriate in scenarios where foreigners (or people that look like you) are being actively targeted.

Packing

Even though you intend to return the same day, plan for the possibility of having to remain away from your accommodation overnight. Pack sufficient food and water, a flashlight and appropriate emergency equipment (including water filtration and sterilisation equipment, and signalling devices). If you’re in a remote location, you may also want to pack a tarp, blanket or sleeping bag, and a stove for heating food and boiling water.

if you’re travelling into controlled areas, you may need your passport as a form of identification. Of course, take cash.

Vehicle Preparation

Ensure your vehicle is appropriate for the journey. Select a vehicle make, model and colour that will blend in. If travelling on dirt roads and in more remote areas, use a 4WD.

If you’re travelling with a group as a small convoy, ensure there is sufficient seating capacity to cross-load people between vehicles in the event of a breakdown or accident.

Inspect the vehicle before you set off to ensure the vehicle is in roadworthy condition. Check that he vehicle has a spare tire and the necessary equipment to change the tire.

When evaluating the route, consider the availability of car repair shops. Also consider the likelihood you’ll be able to get a replacement vehicle. It may be that the only viable option is to have a backup vehicle drive from a major town to collect you. Consider the distances involved and the time to drive those distances. You may be in for a long wait and should plan accordingly.

Security

Based on the security risks you identify during your route planning, you may need to consider the need for a protective security detail or armoured vehicle. If you’re interested in learning more about transport security in higher-risk environments, take a look at The Field Guide to Transport Security.

Communications

It’s essential you’re able to communicate at all times while away from your base. If you’re unable to communicate, you’ll be unable to get support.

During your planning, determine whether there may be any areas of the route outside of cellular coverage. If there are, you should carry a satellite phone and/or a satellite messenger.

Provide either your emergency contact or your team your route plan and timings. Let them know when you depart, when you reach your destination, when you depart your destination, and once you’re safely back. For long routes, provide updates at key points along the route.

If you have a satellite messenger, considering enabling tracking. Doing so will allow your emergency contact or team to monitor your position. Just be aware that the satellite messenger probably won’t work if you keep it in your bag at your feet. You’ll need to place the device on the dashboard where it can get a good view of the sky.

If you have cellular coverage, you can also use applications on your phone to provide location updates.

Medical

One of your primary concerns when driving long distances is the risk of being involved in a vehicle accident. Wear a seatbelt, ensure your driver keeps to an appropriate speed, and monitor your driver carefully to make sure they don’t nod off. Always carry a personal first aid kit In your bag.

Identify hospitals along your route and at your destination. Consider the capabilities of these hospitals. If you’re travelling to more remote areas, you may find yourself in locations where you are several hours (or more) away from a hospital capable of treating serious injuries. If that’s the case, you’ll need to be additionally conservative.

Contingency Planning

As you work through your planning, always consider possible contingencies.

For a day trip, you can consider the following contingencies as a start point for your planning:

  • Driver sick or injured, or otherwise unable to drive
  • Vehicle breakdown
  • Vehicle accident
  • Route blocked en route to destination
  • Route blocked on return
  • Need to stay overnight

When you plan for contingencies, list the actions you will take if these incidents occur. Be as detailed as possible.

For each potential contingency, also think through different contexts. Consider whether your response would change along different sections of the route. That may be the case if there are only a few hospitals along the route (depending on where an incident occurred, you may drive forwards or back to the nearest hospital). Similarly, consider whether your response would be different by day or night.

If you’re part of a team but not travelling together, also detail what actions you want your team to take in the event of a contingency. For example, you might want them to coordinate a replacement vehicle in the event of a breakdown or accident.

I’ve written in more detail about contingency planning in an earlier article.

Operational Security

It’s good practice to ensure other people aren’t aware of your activities in advance. Protecting this information helps to reduce the risk of threat groups mobilising against you. This principle is even more important if you may be venturing into an area where security can’t be guaranteed.

As you travel along the route, try to avoid being noticed, particularly when moving through towns or villages.

Depending on your situation, you may find it safer to take an alternate route back at the end of the day. By doing so, you reduce the risk of interdiction on your return. Just note that risks associated with travelling along an unproven route.

Wrap Up

When considering a day trip in a higher-risk location, it’s important that you consider the risks and threats and plan accordingly.

This article has just covered the basics of planning for a short day trip. If you’d like to learn more about transport security, consider reading The Field Guide to Transport Security. You can download a sample from our website.

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