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Action Stations! Planning direct action

Do or Die Issue 9. | 05.01.2011 18:52 | Other Press | Social Struggles

This article explains some of the things to think about when planning an action. It's been written for smaller affinity group actions, rather than for mass street mobilisations. It is not intended to be a comprehensive guide that has to be strictly followed, but more a list of things that might need to be sorted out for an action to happen successfully. Remember, in the best tradition of transferable skills and multitasking, many of the ideas mentioned here could be used in other areas of subversive activity. Eco-bank robbers anyone?

NOTE - This was written before the era of Automatic Number Plate Recognition cameras and blanket CCTV coverage of UK towns and cities. Don't let that put you off though! Let's go 2011!


Aims and Activity

What would you like the action to achieve? It may be education and agitation, economic damage, physical disruption, solidarity with others in struggle, or elements of all of these and more. It is best to clarify which is your priority. This helps identify the activity needed to achieve your aims.

You may decide on a banner drop, GM crop trashing, machine sabotage, office or site occupation, leafletting, propaganda production or something else completely.


You may have a target in mind already. If so, think through whether it is possible to achieve the aims wanted with the activity you've decided upon.

When you have an idea of the aims, activity and target you have an outline plan. That is - you know what you want to achieve, and will do so by taking a certain type of action on a specific target.

When you have this you can move onto the first reconnaissance (recce) for the action.

Primary Recce

Even if the action is to be done at night it may be best to make this first recce a daylight one. Use it for gathering ‘hard information'. Get maps, photographs and plans of the target and the surrounding area. Look for likely drop off points for people, entrance and exit points from the target as well as escape routes. Also look for places for the driver to park up away from the target, or circular routes that could be driven whilst the action takes place.

Primary Plan

After the first recce sit down with your fellow planners in a secure location and work out a basic plan. This should include a route to the target that is free of CCTV, a drop off or park up point, entrance point/s into the target, exit point/s and escape route/s.

It should be decided when the action will take place, what time of day or night, roughly how long each part will take (getting to the drop off point, drop off point to target, doing the action, re-grouping, getting back to the pick up point and getting away) and how many people will be needed. The plan should also include where the vehicle will be left/taken and possible routes there.

The plan should also involve communications. This includes who might need to communicate with who and how on the action. This might be between drivers and the people they have dropped off, lookouts and people on the action or a radio scanner monitor and everybody else.

Secondary Recce

If the action is going to be at night make this second recce at night as well so as to familiarise yourself with the area in the dark. It may be possible to do both recces on the same day, and then have time for planning the action afterwards.

On this second recce look at the target in more depth. Pay particular attention to any security systems. Actually time the different stages of the action. Think about what tools you will need to do the job and what you will do with them afterwards. Check out the approach and escape routes in more detail, and also the vehicle park up/driving route for during the action. They should all be CCTV-free and there should be alternatives in case of unpredictable circumstances such as cops, roadworks or other people parked up.

Check that the drop off and pick up points are away from buildings and lights, and there is space to turn a vehicle around. If the pick-up point is quite away from the target you may need to decide on a re-group point near the target so everyone leaves together.

Decide what communications equipment you will need and test that it works in the area. Think about the likelihood of carrying away evidence on your clothes and look for places on the getaway route for dumping clothes and perhaps tools. Look for possible regroup points (perhaps a mile or so away) where people could meet up if the action goes wrong and everyone has to scatter.

Detailed Action Plan

This plan should fill out the basic plan with all the rest of the information needed to carry out the action. It should go from the point people meet to go on the action to the point people disperse at the end. It needs to include precise timings, which routes will be taken, what will be happening at each stage of the action, who will be communicating with who, what tools and other equipment will be needed, what will happen to the vehicle, and what roles need to be filled, e.g. driver, navigator, spotters etc.

The plan should also identify places to dump incriminating evidence as well as regroup point/s. If possible try and arrange to have a trusted person on the end of a phone, well away from the area the action is taking place in, who can be called in an emergency. It might be helpful if they had a large detailed map of the area to direct you if you ring up and are lost. Use a secure mobile for this rather than a landline.

Back up Plans

The back up plan/s should be done in the same way as the main action plan. Back ups could be alternative actions to do at the target selected, or new targets entirely.

Consideration should be given to the conditions in which the initial plan will be abandoned and how the decision to revert to a back up plan will be made and communicated to others.

Running Through the Plans

If possible everyone going on the action should be involved in talking through the plan and making any changes needed. Roles identified should be filled so everyone knows who is doing what. Decisions should be made about what to take (see box on ‘Checklist for Recces/Actions') and it should be established who is going to acquire the different items and bring them to the meeting point for the action. Everyone should make sure they have any mobile phone numbers or radio channels being used on the action. This is the point to identify any new skills the group will need to use and arrange to practice them in a ‘neutral' setting rather than in the middle of an action.

Finally, people should decide how to organise themselves on the action. You could pair off in buddies or split into smaller groups. Doing this makes it easier to look after one another, move quickly and know if anyone is missing. Make sure everybody knows the names and addresses they will be using if arrested.


Before going to the meeting point for the action, run through the checklist of what you will need and give yourself time to get it all together. Be on time to meet up so people aren't left suspiciously hanging around. It may be best to meet up at a neutral place rather than somebody's house or the centre of town.

Once on the way to the action, make sure everyone is clear about what they are doing. Try not to stop on the way unless you really have to, and remember that if you do have to stop most petrol stations and town centres have CCTV. All being well, you'll arrive at your destination without incident. Put any disguises, such as hoods, masks or gloves, on at the last moment, as if you get pulled by the cops it's good to look straight.

If the action is taking place at night it's best not to use torches or internal car lights for around 20 minutes before you get dropped off. This allows your eyes to become accustomed to the dark.

Once the action starts try to keep focussed on what you are doing, but aware of where others are and what is going on around you. It's important to follow the communication structures you have decided on, e.g. making sure you are in earshot/sight of each other if you need to pass a message on/check everyone is there. Everyone should have a watch that has been synchronised beforehand, so at the designated finishing time for the action people know to re-group and get ready to leave. If there is no finish time maybe have an easily identifiable signal.

Get together at the re-group point and check everybody is there and okay. This is easier to do if everybody has teamed up into buddy pairs before the action and then sticks together and keeps an eye on each other. If people are missing try and find out what has happened to them. Depending on the type of action and what happened this may be a point where you want to destroy any incriminating evidence.

If the action doesn't go according to plan and people are forced to scatter, try to stay with your buddy or group, move fast and keep in mind the direction you are going. If it's taking place at night you can very easily get disorientated and lost, so before the action have a look at the map and get a clear idea of what direction and where you could head to if this happens.

The most important thing is to not panic. Remember that many people have got out of the most pear-shaped situations by having a clear head and a grim determination not to be caught!

If it's possible get to the pre-arranged meeting point. If that's not an option get out of the area as quickly as you can, and ring the emergency mobile as soon as it is safe to do so so people know you're okay.



Try and have a meeting of all those that were on the action to discuss how the planning and execution of it went. Think about what was good and bad and try and learn lessons for the next action. This is best done in the first few days after before memories get fuzzy and important details are forgotten.

Mutual Aid

Look after yourself and one another. Don't pressure people to go on actions if they are tired or stressed out. Take time out to relax and don't get into ‘the struggle is my life' martyrdom headspace. Address problems and power relations within the group. In the longer term make an effort to learn skills that only one or two people have. This stops them being put under unnecessary pressure, and ensures a balance of responsibility.


Don't let your security slacken because the action is in the past. The cops have longer memories than we do and if your action is considered serious by the state an investigation into it can continue for months - or even years.

Political Understanding

Analyse the tactical and strategic impact of your actions. Are there better targets or ways of operating? Read our history and learn from current and past struggles, movements and groups.


It is sometimes useful to communicate to other people what you have done. Maybe write a short article reporting the action for SchNEWS, Earth First! Action Update and other newsletters. Consider issuing an anonymous press release/communiqué to other media. These could be done through an anonymous web based email service set up for this purpose and then only used once. Maybe produce flyposters or stickers about the action and put them up around your local area and send them to other groups. If useful lessons were learnt from the action let other people know by writing a leaflet, discussion document or article.

Broadening the Struggle

Help facilitate other people's involvement in the resistance. If you have a closed cell/group help interested people set up another group. If you work in an open group let people know what you are doing and how they can get involved. Doing stalls and printing leaflets with your contact details on are two ways of doing this. Continue with your own activity!.

Further Reading

* Ecodefence! - A Field Guide to Monkeywrenching edited by Dave Foreman and Bill Haywood (Third Edition, Abbzug Press, 1993) ISBN 0-9637751-0-3
* Ozymandias Sabotage Skills Handbook Volume 1 - Getting Started by Anonymous (Self Published, First Edition 1995) No ISBN. Check the web at: [ See ]
* Road Raging - Top Tips for Wrecking Road Building published by Road Alert! (Self Published, Second Edition 1998) No ISBN. Check the web at:
* ‘An Interview with an ALF Activist' in Without a Trace by Anonymous (Self Published pamphlet) No ISBN.

Checklist for RECCES/Actions

What follows is a checklist of equipment that may be needed for your recce or action. Use it as it stands or modify it for your particular group, way of working or task. Hopefully it will help avoid those awkward moments in the van when somebody asks, "So, who brought the map then?" and everybody looks blank.

Group Tat

* Transport with a full tank of petrol and keys
* Vehicle breakdown and recovery details!
* Spare vehicle keys
* Road map
* Detailed map of action area
* Communications gear with new batteries
* Emergency money
* Binliners for post-action evidence disposal
* First Aid kit

As well as this you will need equipment that is specific to the recce or action that you are doing. Amongst other things it may be worth taking binoculars, radio scanner, notebook and pen, flag, camera and a Global Positioning System (GPS). You'll also need any tools or props specific to the tasks you are going to do on the action itself, i.e. sabotage tools, crowbar, sticks etc. Remember to take any spares or back up gear like new batteries.
Individual Tat

* Spare clothes and shoes
* Waterproof jacket and trousers
* Watch
* Masks and other disguises
* Gloves
* Small torch (best with red or blue filter)
* Compass and unmarked map of the area
* Food and water (maybe a flask of hot drink)
* Petrol and emergency money
* Bag to carry stuff in

In addition to all this everybody going on the action should have a working knowledge of the whole plan and their role in it.


To have a completely secure action is impossible. Whatever you do there is a risk of getting caught. Security is about taking measures to lessen the chances of this. A few ways people get caught include:

Physical Evidence

Diaries, plans, manuals, stuff left at the action by accident or on purpose, communiqués, stored information on computers and paper trails from the use of bank cards and the hire or purchase of equipment. Avoid these by always paying cash and destroying or removing everything relating to the action before you go on it. Don't take anything traceable to you (like ID or engraved jewellery) on actions. Consider using false ID if you are hiring gear. If you must use a computer encrypt all files with PGP.

Forensic Evidence

Mainly just fingerprints and DNA, but also includes matching up of tool usage, soil samples and footprints. Watch out for prints on things that aren't immediately obvious like torch batteries. Ensure everything is fingerprint free before the action and wear gloves and hats. Dispose of traceable items like clothes and tools as soon as possible post-action.


People being able to identify you or your vehicle, not just at the action, but also on the way there, or even just leaving your house at a connected time. Includes images from CCTV or police video/stills teams. Plan meet-ups, routes to the action, etc. avoiding cameras and nosy neighbours. Disguise yourselves and wear indistinguishable clothes. Don't tell people what they don't need to know.


Includes phone taps, post and email interception, listening devices and following you or placing tracking units in your vehicles. Conducted by numerous, and sometimes competing, state and private agencies. Operates at various levels from the fairly routine, which shouldn't effect your activity that much, through to ones where everything you say and do is listened to and watched. Avoid talking or communicating about anything action related in your home, over email or on a phone. Look out for cops following you on actions.

Fuck Shit Up - Don't Get Caught!

Do or Die Issue 9.
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