Issue 34 Assaulter’s Guide to Room Processing John Chapman Photos by JW Ramp Over the last few issues, we’ve outlined the procedures needed to work inside a structure in one- or two-person teams. While door, hallway, and stairway procedures are important, they all, at their core, serve as a way to get you safely to where the real work is done: in a room. Once again we’ll focus on these procedures from the perspective of one person working alone, because that’s the circumstance most of you will find yourself in, should it become necessary to get your fight on inside a building. First, if you only take one thing from this missive, make it this: slow down and think things through. Working by yourself is so much more dangerous than working in a team because there are more angles of exposure (the angles from which you can be attacked) than you have angles of coverage (the angles which you can cover with your eyes or weapon). Slowing down and maximizing your advantage at every step is the difference between success and failure. Processing and prioritizing threats is important, but first you have to see them. If you’re expecting to see whole people, you’ll likely miss the small things that give people away. The risks involved in working by yourself inside a structure should make you think hard before deciding to go into a room at all. When working by yourself, avoid entry into rooms unless you simply have no other choice — if, for instance, your child or spouse is trapped in the room and you need to either get them out or get inside and then bunker down in that room. Make good decisions and do not take doing solo CQB lightly. Having said that, if you find yourself in a situation where entering a room alone during a life-threatening scenario is necessary, there are some techniques and procedures you can train on ahead of time to give you a fighting chance. What am I Looking for? Before searching a room, it’s important to understand what you’re looking for and how to prioritize what you find. This seems like an obvious thing, while sitting there reading this article; however, if you don’t train to process information properly now, there’s little chance you’ll do it right the first time under stress. Some of our natural instincts and behaviors work against our best interest in these situations and some thinking, war-gaming, and training are required to help avoid these traps during the real deal. First, learn to recognize things as threats that our everyday life has trained us to see as benign. Body parts like feet, elbows, and shoulders sticking out from behind a piece of furniture are easy to miss in the best of times, much less when you’re more amped up on adrenalin than a weed dealer at a Dave Matthews concert. War-gaming and training to see the small things associated with a person’s presence behind an obstruction, especially in low-light conditions, is absolutely vital to processing threats in a fight. Noticing shadows, noises, smells, and body parts early will give you an advantage when it counts. But people aren’t the only thing to identify in a fight. Other doors in a room and places inside the room you cannot see behind are also important; correctly identifying angles of exposure inside a room is an essential skill, as well. For instance, recognizing the open door of a closet will change how and when you clear behind a bed, because if you ignore the closet and go to the danger area behind the bed, you expose yourself to the closet’s angle; and sure as God made little green apples, that’ll be where the pantless guy in the clown mask with a 14-inch knife will be waiting. Prioritization of threat areas is important because the open door affects how you handle the danger zone inside the room. As we identify threats or threat areas, we also have to prioritize them. If we just focus on the thing closest to us all the time, we leave ourselves open to some pretty unpleasant surprises. This reality teaches us to prioritize things in three categories, presented in order of importance: people, doors, and danger areas. The first priority, people, is a no-brainer, right? People are what will end our day badly. People, whether armed or not, need to be dealt with first. Whether you’re interacting with them by giving them orders, moving them to safety, or communicating with them ballistically, if you find a person during a search they need to be fully controlled before you go any further. If you need to breach a door, do it from the striker side, and beware of sweeping your own hand with your muzzle. The basic skills here (coming on target from the low carry, etc.) can be practiced on the square range. The greatest danger after people is doors. Doors inside of rooms are a problem because their angles have to be accounted for before you can safely move on to the next problem. How the angles of that door interact with the angles of any uncleared areas in the room is greatly deserving of your attention, lest all of your ninja work up to now be ruined by an unseen crackhead’s tire iron to the back of your head. The least of the dangers in a room, though by no means are they minor, are areas you cannot see behind from the door where you entered. We call these places “danger areas.” Anyplace you cannot see where a person may be hiding is a danger area. People will fit in kitchen cabinets, behind and above refrigerators, and underneath couches. Do not underestimate how small a dirtbag can get when properly motivated by fear, anger, or pharmaceuticals. Identifying danger areas allows you to come up with a plan to search them as safely as possible, one at a time. Work From the Door Processing a room by yourself is best done from the door. You know what’s on your side of the door, and running into the room with your hair on fire, screaming your name, isn’t exactly a recipe for success in this environment. Fighting from the battlespace you already own is almost always the right answer. Working alone, you have the dubious honor of being both the breacher and assaulter on any door you decide to enter. If the door is closed, and you have to search that room, get to the side of the door where the knob is. Take a deep breath and open the door. If the door’s already open, the good news is the breaching has been done for you; the bad news is the angle of exposure from the door means you have to start searching as soon as you can see the inside edge of the door frame opposite of you. Do not cross, or “rabbit,” past an open door if you plan on turning around and entering from the other direction. Movement is the easiest thing for the eye to see, and rabbiting to gain some imaginary advantage is dumb. Work an open door from the direction you’re already moving. The narrow angle is the first place to look in a room. Try to see as deep into that corner as possible. If you stand on the wall about 3 or 4 feet from a door, on the same side, you’ll notice you can see the narrow angle close to the corner of the room opposite you. This area is called the “narrow.” I like to look at this area first because that corner is a dangerous place; it’s impossible to see all the way to that corner from outside the door, and dirtbags know this. Searching the narrow first allows you to search all but the last 10 to 24 inches (depending on the depth of the doorframe) of that deep corner. Working the narrow angle first on an open door also allows you to gather other information about the room. If you see a wall in front of you through the door, for instance, you know the room is corner fed and you only have one deep corner to deal with. Starting in the narrow allows you a good starting point for the search of the rest of the room you can see from outside. Give that threshold some air as you search. Being all up in it limits your view and reduces your reaction time. Beginning in the narrow angle, smoothly work your way around the opening, focusing the majority of your attention on the new parts of the room you see with each step. Make this movement smooth, and move as slowly as you have to in order to both see and process what you’re seeing as you go. Quickly cutting this angle faster than you can process information practically guarantees you’ll miss vital clues. You have the rest of your life to finish every scan, so take your time. Having said that, try to avoid taking a step and stopping every few inches. Remember, you’re not nearly as ninja as you think, and you give off target indicators as you move. Your shadow, a part of your body, or even your breathing can let an enemy know you’re coming. Stopping during this sweep merely gives them a stationary target to shoot at through the wall. Smooth, efficient movement is the name of the game in CQB. Smooth movement across the angle of the door will allow you to process what you’re seeing. Once you’ve seen as much of the room as you can from outside, including the narrow angle on the other side, it’s time to put on the big boy pants and do the really dangerous thing: You have to see in the deep corners (one corner for corner-fed rooms and two for center-fed rooms). This can only be done by breaking the threshold with your eye and muzzle and physically dominating that angle. If you have one deep corner to take (in a corner-fed room), take a deep breath, step only far enough into the room to clear your eye and muzzle, and attack that corner. Don’t step fully into the room until you’ve cleared that corner. If you drew the short straw and have to clear both corners of a center-fed room, you’ll have to pick a side. The value of good old-fashioned stealth is sometimes missed in modern-day training. Smooth, quiet movement can give you the advantage on occasion, and doesn’t cost you much. Digging the deep corner should be done after the center of the room is checked from outside, and care should be taken to only expose the absolute minimum amount of yourself necessary to see/shoot into that corner. Much like clearing a T intersection, there’s no great answer here; whichever side you pick will expose the back of your head to the other side. If the door opens into the room, you can gain some concealment by clearing the side opposite where the door is standing open, then turn on the side behind the door, but this is a sketchy advantage at best. Whichever side you choose, clear that corner, duck out of the room, and attack the other corner from another elevation (like kneeling). It sucks, but it’s the best option you have. Going Into the Room Once you’ve searched the room from the outside, you have a decision to make. Do you need to physically occupy that room? Perhaps you’re searching it because you need a place to strongpoint during an active shooter; or maybe you’re looking for your kids to get them out of the building, and you need to make sure they aren’t hiding inside. Whatever it is, going in that room better be worth your life, because those are the stakes you laid on the table by searching it in the first place. If you have two deep corners to clear, check the second one from a different height. If you need to go in the room, step in as soon as you’ve searched the last deep corner. Don’t duck back out of the room then re-enter. A lot can change in two or three seconds, and giving up your domination of that space before you physically enter it can result in some particularly nasty surprises. When you step into the room, do so only far enough to get the rest of your body past the threshold, and take one step down the wall. Search the entire room methodically again. Prioritize any doors and the danger areas in the room, make a plan for assaulting them, and get the work done. Don’t linger inside a room any longer than necessary. Your initial point of domination inside the room should be one step inside the door, close to the wall. When it’s time to exit, guess what you need to do? Yep, you have to take the hallway back exactly like you took the room in the first place. “But Chappy” you say, “isn’t it going to take forever to clear my house this way?” Yes, it takes a long time to manage the risks involved in one-person CQB. The good news is you have the rest of your life to do it. About the Author John “Chappy” Chapman is a police officer with over 25 years of full-time and reserve police service in patrol, training, and SWAT positions. He’s currently a SWAT team leader, and has completed thousands of hours of firearms and CQB training with some of the world’s best instructors. Chappy has taught in the private sector since 1999, serving armed citizens, police officers, and military units, most recently as an instructor for EAG Tactical. Chappy, along with John Spears, recently founded Forge Tactical (forgetactical.com), an advanced tactics focused training firm, to carry on the legacy of EAG. 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