There are times when all of us have gotten spooked sitting at home; maybe you’re alone, or maybe your family is with you. Maybe you’re lying in bed and something goes bump downstairs that has no business going bump in the middle of the night. What do you do? Some dismiss it and blow it off as a trick of the mind; others grab the nearest weapon and proceed to systematically clear every room, closet, and nook or cranny in their home; that’s me. Having spoken with dozens of friends and coworkers I know for a fact that most persons with military and law enforcement experience take the latter of both methods. This isn’t to imply that you are kicking in your own doors; but you are being tactical and professional. Aside from those two professions I don’t know how many civilians do this but I’m sure there are many.
The other night I was in the basement and my wife was gone. I had put my three children two bed and was quietly going through some papers when I heard something up stairs. My mind flipped and I quickly came up with a plan of action. I knew my 12 gauge was upstairs in bedroom, as were my young daughters and son. Fortunately I keep my bug out stuff down there and had three rifles nearby. I grabbed 308 (not optimal for room clearing), and keeping the weapon on safe I chambered a round. I don’t flip on the lights when I get spooked because we live in the city and there is enough ambient light coming through the windows. I flipped off the lights in the basement and quietly made my way up to the ground floor, checking everything systematically and then made the move up stairs. Wherever my eyes scanned my weapon followed; trigger finger outside of the trigger guard. I lowered my weapon as I carefully opened the last door to my daughters’ room and was surprised to see my 5 year old sit up and ask what I was doing. I told her I was just checking that everything was fine. She asked if there were bad guys in the home; I smiled and said no. She told me that was good and was glad I had my gun so I could shoot any bad guys I found. That’s my angel. I corrected her, letter her know it was a rifle, kissed her on the forehead and told her to go back to sleep.
I want to be the first to say that if you know for a fact somebody is in your house that shouldn’t be there, you need to call 911; and if at all possible get out of the house. The stuff you read here is very basic for anyone with experience; and these are ideas from the good idea fairy that might come in handy some day. But when we are not sure most of us simply know that we need to get to our loved ones and make sure they are safe. I went slowly upstairs because I wanted to make sure every room I had at my back was clear; but circumstances dictates how we approach every situation. If you are at home and single then ideally you should call the police and if you have a weapon lock your door and take up position behind your bed. Of course, we don’t live in an ideal world. Perhaps you’re like I was and you have a family member living on the first floor or even in the basement. If this is the case you have no choice but to leave your bedroom; therefore it’s necessary for you to know how to safely clear your house. Perhaps most importantly, since clearing a house is such a dangerous activity, you need to practice it as often as you can.
There are a lot of ways to clear a building; every organization has their own established SOPs (standard operating procedures), and every team has little quarks that work for them. I had some opportunity to work with a sheriff’s department when I was training up for a military competition after my first deployment and learned a lot outside of the watered down style often used by various military organizations. From the law enforcement side of things the first thing I realized is it doesn’t take 10 people cramming into a room to clear it; it can be done easily with two people or even a single person if they know what they are doing; and odds are if something comes up at home you don’t have an entire squad to assist you anyway and snipers posted on other rooftops providing over watch. If you’ve ever seen the police clear a house, you know they always go in with a minimum of two people. But you and I likely won’t have the choice to grab someone else at 3:00 a.m. to come help us, so here’s how you properly clear a house by yourself, even though it’s a dangerous situation you want to try to avoid at all costs.
First off, if you hear a noise in the middle of the night and you need to clear your house, you had better be able to take one or two steps from your bed and have access to your firearm, which should have round readily available or even in the magazine. I never store weapons with rounds chambered, and I’ve always enjoyed familiarizing my children with our firearms and what is and isn’t appropriate to do with them. For some people they like to have a flash light when they are clearing a building; it’s a matter of personal preference; if that is the case then right next to, or mounted on, your firearm should be your flashlight. Many houses have enough ambient light for you to maneuver around without the need to have the flashlight on all of the time, so just use it for target identification purposes so you don’t accidentally shoot the wrong person. If you go through your home with the light glaring then bad guys will know which room you are in and will likely be ready for you if they decide not to take flight.
While we aren’t looking for a fight in our own home, possibly endangering our families, we still prepare for the worst. “Battles” occurring at close quarters must be planned and executed with care. The techniques of room clearing are designed for dealing with both enemy combatants and noncombatants within the confines of a building. To become proficient a person must train, practice, and rehearse techniques until they become a smooth second hand nature. This is simple if you are dealing with your own home; there is no reason you shouldn’t know every square inch of that structure. Another good activity is to practice clearing the house with your spouse or kids. Tell them to go hide somewhere and play a fun game of hide and seek. When you’re searching for them you’ll want to pay attention to see if they see you first or you see them first. Also, if you’re slicing the pie, have them point out the moment they see you or what body part they see first. This will help determine if you’re doing it correctly—the muzzle of the weapon is the first thing they should see, not your legs. Obviously, if you do play this game, don’t go around with a real firearm. Use your finger or use a plastic training piece instead.
Once you’ve got your weapon of preference and light, it’s time to leave the bedroom. If you’ve got a traditional house, you’ll likely end up entering a hallway. Stay close to the wall on the one side of the hallway and avoid walking down the middle, so you minimize your outline and make yourself less of a target. Try and expose as little of your body as possible. If the intruder happens to also have a firearm, you don’t want to be an easy target!
As you slowly move down the hallway you’ll probably come across a bedroom or bathroom door. What should you do? If you’ve got a family member living in the basement and time is important, and you’re pretty sure nobody made it upstairs, then just move on past the door. I know this isn’t tactically correct, but we’re talking about a real life scenario here. If you’ve got your daughter sleeping in the basement, then no parent is going to take the time to clear every upstairs bedroom when they hear an intruder on the first floor or proceeding down the basement stairs. This stands in contrast to one of my experiences above; but as stated, every situation is different; and while we practice we need to remain flexible.
If you don’t have to rush downstairs, you’ll certainly want to check the room ahead. But before you attempt to open the door (or any door in your house for that matter) you need to pull the weapon close to your body so the inside of your wrist is practically touching your rib cage. In other words, instead of having your arm fully extended, your elbow should be bent about 90 degrees. This position gives you more control over the firearm in case someone was to try and reach for it. Another reason you bring the firearm in close is so that you don’t accidentally point the weapon at your other hand while it’s opening the door; which is most likely to happen with a handgun.
Assuming the door you’ve approached is on your right, you’ll want to stand against the right side wall, with your weapon close to your body, while reaching for the doorknob with your other hand. Do not stand in the doorway. You should be reaching across while remaining against the wall; but we’ll cover this in more detail further down. Often taught in home defense classes is that if the door opens away from you then turn the doorknob and give the door a solid push and immediately take a step backward against the right side wall again. If the door opens towards you, pull the door swiftly towards you and again take a step backward. I don’t care for this because if an intruder is in the room then they now know where you are, even if they can’t see you, and you have lost the element of surprise.
But if this is a method that you are comfortable with and works for you then that is fine; every home and individual is unique and requires a slightly different approach. If you approach a door from the right hand side, take small steps in a semi-circle, until you eventually end up on the left side. Once you’ve accomplished this and have scanned as much of the room as possible, it’s time to enter.
If you are still in the hall then once you’ve opened the door it’s time to “slice the pie.” This is a method used to clear corners and doorway entrances where you clear each area in small slices. For instance, if you had just pushed your door open and stepped back you would be standing against the right side wall. Obviously, from this position you can’t see into the entire room and you certainly don’t want to take a step into the doorway and fully expose yourself.
So, you would begin to take small side-steps in a semi-circular motion. In other words, if you’re on the right side of the door, you’ll end up on the left side by going in a wide semi-circle around the doorway entrance. Each time you take a side-step, have your body slightly lean in the direction you’re headed so that if an intruder is in the room they will see the muzzle of your weapon first and the rest of your body won’t be exposed. Working with the sheriff’s department they taught me how with practice you can see the shoulder of a person in the room before they can even see your weapon; it’s all about angles. This technique should be done smoothly and without bobbing back and forth.
Each time you take a step, give a brief pause so that you can scan as much of the room as possible and you can determine if that part of the room is clear. Once you end up on the left side of the door, you’ve done as much as you can to clear the room from the outside. Also, I realize slicing the pie may seem confusing, so please refer to the diagrams which should help clarify this process.
If you’ve identified a room or location in your home where a potential enemy combatant is likely hanging out and you cannot see into the room and have to rely on a violent entry remember the three principles of surprise, speed, and violence of action as you prepare to move on the assailant. This doesn’t mean you have to go in weapons blazing, as with a simple house burglar; but make him drop to the floor in shock and fear so you can keep watch on him while your wife calls the police.
Surprise is the key to any successful assault in close quarters; and remember, you are the defending home team with the advantage in locational knowledge and hopefully rehearsed preparations. As you move through your home from room to room you must achieve the element of surprise if only for seconds, by deceiving, distracting, or startling the enemy. Surprise is when your entry is not anticipated or compromised.
Speed provides a measure of security as you transition from a hallway to a room; never get caught in a “fatal funnel” (doorways, windows, etc.). Speed allows you to use the first few vital seconds provided by surprise to their maximum advantage. Speed is moving only as fast as you can shoot.
Violence of action:
Violence of action eliminates or neutralizes the enemy while giving the least chance of inflicting friendly casualties. Violence of action is not limited to the application of firepower only. It involves your mindset of complete domination. Each of the principles of precision room clearing has a synergistic relationship to the others. If you don’t combine speed and surprise you can’t have violence of action.
The path of least resistance:
When using a doorway as the point of entry, the path of least resistance is determined initially based on the way the door opens; if the door opens inward he plans to move away from the hinges. If the door opens outward, he plans to move toward the hinged side. Upon entering, the size of the room, enemy situation, and furniture or other obstacles that hinder or channel movement become factors that influence your direction of movement. This is your home so take a moment to review in your mind the layout of the room. The point of using this technique is to into the room as quickly as possible to allow yourself to clear the “fatal funnel” quickly.
Path of entry:
Now that it’s time to enter the room, you’ll want to quickly step through the doorway and move to the opposite corner. For instance, if you’re entering the doorway from the left side, move to the right corner and give a quick look over your shoulder to make sure nobody’s hiding in the left corner. Don’t forget to check all places an intruder could be hiding such as under a bed, in a closet, under a desk or under any other large object.
Enter the room as quickly and smoothly as possible and clear the doorway immediately. The door is the focal point of anyone in the room. It is known as the fatal funnel because it focuses attention at the precise point where the individual is the most vulnerable. Moving into the room quickly reduces the chance you will be hit by enemy fire directed at the doorway. Move through the door quickly and take up a position inside the room that allows you to completely dominate the room and eliminate the threat. Stop movement only after you have cleared the door and reached your designated point of domination. Do not move to the point of domination and then engage their targets; engage targets as you move to your designated point. However, engagements must not slow movement to you point of domination. You may shoot from as short a range as 1 to 2 inches and engage the most immediate enemy threats first. Examples of immediate threats are enemy personnel who are:
-Armed and prepared to return fire immediately.
-Blocking movement to the position of domination.
-Within arm’s reach of a clearing team member.
-Within 3 to 5 feet of the breach point.
Another method is to pick your direction based on immediate threat. This can only be done once the assault has been initiated.
Once you’re satisfied the room is clear it’s time to continue moving through your house. The next obstacle you’ll likely run into is the stairs. But before you just stand at the top of the stairs and make yourself an easy target, you’ll want to slice the pie just as you did with the doorway so you can make sure nobody is waiting at the bottom of the stairs to attack you. Again, start on one side of the wall and take small steps in a semicircle so you can see a little bit more of the stairs each time.
When multilevel structures are encountered, stairs become an added obstacle that will require maneuver. One of the more dangerous stair situations that a person is likely to encounter is a stairway with a turn between floors. Besides the blind spot at the turn, these stairways often have a loft that overlooks the bottom portion of the stairway.
Once you do a full scan of the stairs, make your way down, while at the same time scanning everything you can see. The stairs are a nightmare because you’ve likely got a room entrance at the bottom of the stairs to your left and then you’ve got a large hallway to your right with a number of openings too.
Since there is no way to see into the room on the left while going down the stairs, try and scan as much of the hallway to your right as possible. Once you get to the bottom, slice the pie for the room on your left while constantly glancing over your shoulder to see if anyone is approaching on your right. As you can see, it would be very easy to get ambushed while going down the stairs (which is just one of the many reasons police officers always go in teams of at least two while clearing a house).
No matter what the room configuration, there are a few rules that should always be adhered to. These rules include the following:
Enter the room as quickly and smoothly as possible and do not waste movements. Remember smooth is fast. The faster each team member picks up its initial point of aim, the more difficult it becomes for the defender. Even a prepared defender can be caught off guard.
Clear (do not stop) the fatal funnel.
Ensure that the doorway is completely cleared before assuming a final position in the room.
Stay focused. Never stop scanning your sector for targets unless:
You identify a threat in your sector. This threat could be an open door leading to an uncleared room, a person in the room other than one of the team members, an obstacle that cannot be cleared visually from your position, or anything else that you may determine as a threat. Clearing areas not immediately visible should be handled by keeping your distance and once again slicing the pie till you’ ve identified your target or cleared the area.
You’ll clear the rest of your main floor just as you cleared your top floor when first leaving your bedroom. Every time you come to a corner or a door, you’ll want to slice the pie so you’ll hopefully see the bad guy before he sees you. If you have a basement, you’ll systematically clear it the same way too. Also, remember to have patience throughout this entire process. Each time you take a semi-circular step around a corner or doorway entrance, pause and scan the area from the floor to the ceiling.
-Move tactically and silently while securing the corridors to the room to be cleared. Carry only the minimum amount of equipment.
-Arrive undetected at the entry to the room.
-Enter quickly and dominate the room. Move immediately to a position that allows complete control of the room and provide an unobstructed field of fire.
-Eliminate the enemy in the room by fast, accurate fire.
-Perform a cursory search of the room. Determine if a detailed search is required.
-Mark the room as cleared using a simple, clearly identifiable marking according to the unit SOP.
-Maintain security and be prepared to react to more enemy contact at any moment. Do not neglect rear security.
-Don’t forget to have patience while clearing a corner. This is not a time to rush unless a family member is on a lower level and you must immediately reach them.
Again, I can’t emphasize enough that clearing a house by yourself is the last thing you want to do. If you still don’t believe me, and you’re the macho type with a huge ego, then play the hide and seek game I mentioned above. After your spouse has surprised and “killed” you for the tenth time, you’ll fully realize that if possible, waiting in your safe room while the police clear the house is the much smarter option.
If you do end up with an assailant on the ground and the cops have been called; keep as much distance as possible between you and the intruder while still being able to keep your eyes and weapon on all his movements. Don’t feel obligated to search him; that is for the police and professionals when they show up with greater numbers and proper training to hand such circumstances. Remember your fundamentals of safe weapon operation like keeping your finger off the trigger. As you sweep through the room and house make sure your weapon is following your eyes; at such close range don’t rely on your sights and if a threat has been identified and you have to take a shot make sure there is no delay between seeing the target and bringing your weapon up to line of sight.
For some good additional reading check out the links below.