What were you doing over Labor Day Weekend? Perhaps you were spending some time grilling in your backyard for the neighbors, or basking in the sun while stretched out on the beach. Whatever the case may be, you can bet that while you lounged around, half a dozen intrepid students were eagerly pounding pavement in Manhattan learning exactly how to survive in a vast, destabilized urban environment. They may not have gotten an even tan, but when the graduates of the first NYC-based Art of Escape training wrapped up their three-day “vacation”, they emerged as the competent, intuitive, inventive folks you’d want on your team should disaster strike.
This was Rift Recon’s first East Coast survival training of any kind, so there were lots of variables to consider. First and foremost: Why pick New York City?
"Choosing New York City as our next training site was very intentional," remarked Rift Recon CEO Eric Michaud, "It’s a major metropolitan city with a dense population and heavy international influence, and it’s only a matter of time before the next destructive event occurs. It could be a natural disaster, as experienced with Hurricane Sandy in 2012, or a direct attack, as with 9/11. Unfortunately the city is an iconic one in America, and it’s always going to be exceptionally vulnerable because attackers will find its notoriety attractive and conducive to making a bold statement.”
The classroom portion of the training was held at Joynture, a brand new co-working space in the heart of Wall Street. With a bright, spacious interior and readily-available drink and food supplies for participants and staff, Joynture proved to be the perfect Art of Escape training site. Students were taught the standard urban survival curriculum including a harmonious mix of lockpicking, escaping from restraints, social engineering, and covert movement skills. There was particular emphasis placed on moving inconspicuously through dense crowds; in Manhattan, it quickly becomes obvious that you cant travel with speed or ease in the opposite direction of a mobile crowd.
Michaud and lead trainer Brian O’Shea arrived in Manhattan barely 24 hours before the first morning of class, and though they’d spent extensive time researching the city’s geography and public transportation systems, they still anticipated some challenges.
"In conceptualizing Saturday’s [Field Training Exercise], we thought we’d be challenged by the landscape since Manhattan is surrounded by water," said O’Shea, "but were able to successfully construct the abduction simulation within the restrictions. What we didn’t expect was the difficulty in navigating through the populous, especially in Chinatown, where the simulation was held. It’s quite impractical to operate a car in the city due to the sheer number of vehicles on the roads. You can’t pause in one area for very long or law enforcement will move you along, and there are also lots of one-way streets. For these reasons, we found that it was much easier to do all of our tracking on foot.”
During the Field Training Exercise (FTX), both trainers watched students excel at manipulating their appearances and donning disguises. One participant began the simulation with a beard and full head of hair, making varying alterations to it throughout the day until he was bald and clean-shaven. Another participant outfitted himself quite convincingly as a priest! While O’Shea and Michaud anticipated running into some difficulty getting the local Chinatown shopkeepers to participate in the training (helping with caches, providing elements of disguise, and succumbing willingly to social engineering tactics), they all responded with enthusiasm and a desire to assist in future trainings!
"This Art of Escape Training was revolutionary," Michaud reflected, "Both our students and our staff excelled in an unfamiliar environment, and I’m looking forward to using the lessons learned to influence and improve upon future trainings. We can’t wait to come back to New York!"
- Arianna Travaglini
Executive Assistant at Rift Recon