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How Military Surveillance Techniques and Civilian Surveillance Correlate – Part 2

This next entry will be a continuance of the previous entry highlighting two of the most important acronyms utilized in the army during surveillance operations and how I incorporate them into civilian surveillance: SLCTOP and OCOKA. In the last entry, we covered SLCTOP (Security, Location, Targets, Observation and Position Improvement). In this entry we will cover OCOKA and its implementation in the operational environment.

In retrospect, I probably should have detailed my goals for explaining two acronyms in the spectrum of the decision-making process. I am planning on remedying this by Quentin Terrantino’ing my outline and writing a prologue. Anyway, lets get into it.


 OCOKA (pronounced “Oh-Coke-Uh”)

Observation – Cover and/or Concealment – Obstacles – Key Terrain Features – Avenues of Approach


We begin with “Observation” there is obvious cross over here with SLCTOP and rightfully so. Observation is the foundation of pretty much all operations in that situational awareness, the assessment of the situation, the synthesis of problem solving in these situations etc. all comes from first, observation. In this context, “Observation” is used quite literally in the way of “how much can you see from where you are” and “can you see enough from where you are?” This use of observation is concomitant with security in SLCTOP as well in that, if you can’t see enough to be safe, you should probably move.

Next is “Cover and Concealment”. It is important to distinguish the dichotomy between the two, so we will have a common departure point. All cover is concealment, not all concealment is cover. This is the important take away here: concealment will hide you, cover will protect you. In the realm of civilian based surveillance, this is an interesting dynamic in that concealment can be as simple as the anonymity of society around you. In other words, in contrast to being in a combat zone, in the civilian world, just being a seemingly unassuming person can be considered “concealment”. It is equally important to consistently consider and assess your options and utilization of cover “hiding yourself” and concealment “utilizing anonymity” in civilian based surveillance as it is in military use (where cover is protection and concealment is obscuration).

Obstacles” are always considered and utilized in two ways regardless of the implementation of OCOKA. The first is as an obstacle to you, the second is as an obstacle to the enemy/target/subject. In this way, you can establish your observation posts so that, in the event of a rapid egress, the encumbrance of obstacles will be minimized i.e. traffic, stop lights, pedestrians. Likewise, you can observe potential obstacles that the subject will have to circumvent i.e. traffic, stop lights, pedestrians. And orient yourself accordingly. (You’ll notice I replicated the obstacles to both you and your subject. This is not always the case, but the point is to differentiate between obstacles to you, the subject, and the crossover that often occurs wherein you both share obstacles.)

Key Terrain Features is best described as unmovable landmarks that area easily identified and used for spatial orientation. This correlates deeply with situational awareness. For a Private Investigator doing civilian surveillance, the quick and accurate orientation to your operational environment is often paramount. The utilization of Key Terrain Features is a valuable trick for rapidly acquiring your relative location. Some examples include:

  • Major road orientation i.e. in Michigan, Mile roads run East and West
  • The sun (although it moves, it predictably rises and sets in the East and West)
  • Major city buildings in an urban environment

In the military, Avenues of Approach is primarily used for defensive posturing in a combat environment. However, I believe it is fairly obvious how orienting yourself to potential avenues of approach (roads, sidewalks, bike paths, doorways, parking lot/structure entrances/exits etc.) is something that should be measured in civilian surveillance as well. Avenues of approach is best defined as you and your subject’s potential routes of travel. The awareness and preparation for primary, secondary, tertiary etc. routes of travel can be the difference between getting the shot you need for your case, and watching your subject drive off into the sunset. In its application, the investigator should consider any potential routes the subject will take from most likely to least likely, and then orient accordingly.

So that’s another acronym. I’m sure by now you’re thinking “cool, an army dude is explaining acronyms” and believe me, I understand that its been a little dry so far. I can’t promise it won’t continue to be dry, but I can assure you that the next entry will explain why and how these acronyms can actually help you manipulate time itself in the application of your decision-making process.

Next time we’ll get into the OODA loop and I’ll try to bring this ship full circle. Believe me, it’s pretty cool… if you’re into that kinda thing.


Thanks – JJH