by Alden Mills
In SEAL Team one of the first tactical procedures you learn as a team is how to set a perimeter. The idea behind a perimeter is simple – it’s 360 degrees of mobile security. Setting a perimeter is not unique to SEAL Team, every special operations and infantry branch that I’m aware of uses a similar tactical mindset to create a perimeter of safety no matter where they are.
In the military, the action “set perimeter” is an order for troops (teammates) to fan out into a circle formation where each person has overlapping fields of view to eliminate a potential surprise attack. Perimeter security is not intended to be a fail-safe of an impenetrable security shield, instead, its purpose is to act as an early warning system to enable troops to get out of harm’s way quickly and safely.
This military tactic of “set perimeter” – creating of a mobile security warning system – is exactly the mindset anyone can employ when thinking about their own security. The objective of setting a perimeter is to create a line of defense that also acts as your warning system.
Our most valued elements of life are our family, and keeping them safe where ever they go is and always should be priority one. You do not have to go through military training to adopt a few tried and true tactics that can help you keep your family safe home and abroad. Knowing how to set a perimeter can give you (and them) the confidence and courage to explore the world while also getting a good night’s sleep.
How to set a perimeter
The first time I learned to set a perimeter with my SEAL platoon was in open field surrounded on two sides by rocky hills. We were on “The Rock”, San Clemente Island, starting the Third Phase of Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training. The exercise was seemingly simple, go from a column formation into a makeshift circle formation (perimeter) within 15 seconds to create a sphere of security around the platoon commander (me) and my radio-man.
The point of the perimeter was to enable me and my radio operator the time to focus our attention inward on determining our location and transmitting a message while everyone else was focusing their attention outward as an enemy detection team. I use the word sphere, because that’s what our instructors used and it’s what we didn’t quite grasp at the moment. We were thinking linearly yet the world sphere implies three-dimensions (i.e. volume not just area).
As the training exercise continued, the SEAL instructor approached me and asked: “Ensign Mills, is your perimeter set?” I responded with a hearty “Yes Instructor Alabama!” (not his real name) and then he asked my platoon the same question and they all responded with similar vigor. He then turned to me and said, “time for a down man drill – Sir, you and your radio-man have been shot.”
I look at him incredulously and asked, “by whom?” He smiled and pointed to three instructors waving at us 50 to 100 yards up near the ridgeline of the two surrounding hills. His point was made, we had been focusing our security directly in front of us – linearly not dimensionally. We hadn’t taken into account the ups and downs of the terrain where unknown threats could – and this case – did exist.
In much the same way one learns to be a defensive driver where you anticipate possible “threats” (cars and the actions of their drivers) and your response to those actions; the same mindset applies to your security where ever you are. Perimeter security is about being vigilant, anticipating the unexpected and creating what I call “rolling responses” – that is, as you move so do your responses to potential threats.
Here are three examples of how you can use a “perimeter mindset” in your daily lives:
- Travel in the US: Setting a perimeter in a hotel room can be simple if the room has a secondary manual lock. If no secondary lock, use a door stop or park your luggage or desk chair in front of the door in such a way that it will make noise should someone attempt to enter your room – the key is creating an early warning system to give you just enough time to get to the bathroom where you can create a secondary perimeter. (I always sleep closest to the bathroom and keep my phone by my side of bed – this positioning also helps he me not trip over things in the middle of the night when I have my late night bathroom break.) It might not sound like much but by eliminating the element of surprise and knowing your immediate response to a perimeter breach can make a huge difference in your peace of mind not to mention your survivability.
- Travel overseas: Hotel room break-ins occur, but it is rare especially for well-heeled reputable hotel chains. However, with the advent of AirBnBs (essentially the largest “hotel” chain in the world), the perimeter mindset is all the more important for there is no front desk to call or roving outside sentries – you are on your own. Use the same rules above, keep your phone charged and at the ready, know the country code’s version of 911 and bring a secondary locking or warning device with you (this is one of the many reasons why we created the Pentagon). Know where you can go should your first perimeter be breached: fire escape, locking bathroom, ground floor…a place to give you a 20 sec head start on making that call or warning others. The AirBnB model is great – I’ve used it with my family in over 20 countries but it comes with less traditional hotel support which means you must be your own support when it comes to security. One more note, when picking an AirBnB place, don’t just make your decision based on the inside, look at the map and think about your neighborhood perimeter. For example, we travel with four young kids and we like to be close to parks, but that comes with an added problem, vagrants/drug users/criminals love parks too and at night those parks turn into the perfect hiding spot for people with less than honorable intentions. Choose two to three blocks in from the park and you’ll avoid unnecessary risk while still be able to enjoy the park when it matters most to you and your family: during the daytime.
- Home: there are plenty of security systems out there today to protect your “castle” and most view security as a single perimeter – breaking into your home. For a professional, getting by your single point of entry security system whether it’s your window, back door or front door can be done quickly and quietly. This is where I want your perimeter mindset to kick in. Be thinking about your perimeter inside your home – each bedroom is its own perimeter. Create a warning system on your door be it a door stop or a Pentagon either in chime or alarm mode. Where are you going to go the moment you know an intruder inside your first perimeter? Have children? Make sure they know where to go. Create a rendezvous for your kids – are they on the first floor or second floor? Do you know who to call and do you have the number on speed dial?
When someone has breached your perimeter you have seconds to make a decision. Know in advance what your actions are and it will not only give you a better night’s sleep but also keep you and your loved ones safe.