Today’s guest post comes from Michael Connick, someone who could probably sell his fictional works as writing guides for depicting firearms and action scenes. The information he presents below about clearing rooms is both informative and critical for anyone thinking of writing a SWAT raid, a protagonist’s dangerous infiltration into a hostile building or a military incursion into a structure into a story. You’re going to want to read this one all the way to the end.
The following is from my spy novel, Funhouse Mirrors.
“Today I am going to teach you an invaluable skill: how to clear a building. This is a skill usually only taught to troops operating in urban areas and SWAT teams, and it is taught to them as a team tactic. I’m going to teach you how to do it all by yourself. Normally this would be considered suicidal, but given the unique demands of your job, it’s a skill every spy should have readily available to them. There may be times in your career when you may have to enter a building alone, perhaps to meet an agent, only to discover it contains armed members of the opposition. They might be enemy agents or they might be terrorists. They might even be criminals whose work you are inadvertently disrupting. Whatever the reason, you need to know what to do in that situation.”
So, let’s talk about this problem from a fiction writer’s point of view. Just how can our protagonist realistically clear a building without getting killed in the process? The first rule of clearing a building is normally: DON’T DO IT ALONE.
However, during your writing you may find your protagonist in a situation where that they have no choice but to perform this task alone. Perhaps they have driven to their home to discover the front door smashed open and hear the screams of their family members coming from inside. No one is going to wait for backup or the police in that situation. Or perhaps your protagonist is a solitary spy that has to regularly enter dangerous spaces, without any available support, as a normal part of their job.
So, I’m going to give you some principles that can help your character to survive in this very dangerous situation. They really just scratch the surface of the problem, but should give you sufficient information to allow you to write a realistic scene dealing with this situation.
Comprehensive building clearing techniques are actually extremely complex, and SWAT and Spec Ops teams constantly train in perfecting them. I have attended three extensive training courses on this topic, yet still feel like a novice in this area. However, I am more than happy to share a little of what I have learned with you in the principles listed here.
Your Protagonist Should Have a Firearm
First of all, make sure your protagonist has a firearm – handgun, rifle, or shotgun. Each has its advantages and disadvantages in this situation, but make sure your character has some type of reasonable weapon available to them before attempting this dangerous task.
Don’t be afraid to only arm your protagonist with a handgun. It can be certainly be done with one. Just give them some kind of firearm with which to work.
Clear the Room Before Entering It
Have them clear rooms in order of occurrence. Don’t allow your character to walk past a room without clearing it first. You do not want them to have uncleared areas behind them. Bad people may pop out of these areas and shoot or stab your hero in the back.
Make sure they very methodically clear the building, dangerous area by dangerous area, and don’t just rush blindly through it. Exiting the building, they will need to re-clear all the areas they pass through again. They can not assume that an area once cleared is safe forever. Enemies may have moved into previously cleared areas in order to ambush your protagonist on the way out.
Slice the Pie
Always have them “slice the pie” when entering a room or turning a corner. Slicing the pie is the primary technique used in the clearing process. See the diagram below for a simple illustration showing this activity of slowly moving in a semi-circle around an opening while scanned inside of it:
The key to using this technique is to make sure that your character maintains as much concealment as possible while searching a dangerous area for possible hostiles. They need to lean slightly towards the direction they are moving in order to keep as much of their body concealed as possible.
Have them move slowly and steadily across the doorway or opening in a semi-circular path while scanning the area inside for possible danger. Keep their weapon pointed towards where they are looking, but low enough so that they can clearly see the entire area they are scanning over the weapon’s sights. If they spot an enemy, they can then quickly raise the weapon and fire.
Make sure they don’t crowd the opening. Keep back two to three feet away from it, if possible. You certainly don’t want their weapon to be poking into the opening far enough for someone hiding just inside to make a grab for it. Turning a building clearing operation into a wrestling match for a gun would be a very bad outcome, indeed!
There are actually lots more tactical considerations in clearing buildings, but hopefully the above information should give you just enough to allow your protagonist to perform it realistically and in a survivable manner. I hope you find it helpful in your own writing.
About Michael Connick
Michael Connick has had a long career with the intelligence community, the Department of Defense, and the technology industry. He has also carried a concealed handgun for over 35 years, and participated in extensive firearms and self-defense training from governmental, law enforcement, and private organizations.
He now resides in the little college town of Huntington, West Virginia, where he writes, competes in Practical Pistol and Rifle competitions, and is very happily married to a truly wonderful wife. He is the author of two Cold War spy novels, Trapped in a Hall of Mirrors: How The Luckiest Man in the World Became a Spy and Funhouse Mirrors. More information can be found on Connick at http://michaelconnick.com.