A Brief History

Urban-SERE Phoenix

Humble Beginnings

Urban SERE was born from a requirement to fill a skill void of survivability. We need to go back to 2006 to see where that void appeared and how it developed (Much of the fine details are subject to the Official Secrets Act).

SERE Necessity

In 2006 it was increasingly clear that the world was becoming more and more urbanised and although conventional conflict avoided the 'Urban Battle-space' the then new asymmetric threat from terrorism, Al-Qaeda and now Islamic State, began to see a way to leverage and slew the military superiority in the urban environment.

At that time it was incongruous that 'Men wearing flip-flops and armed with dumb AKs are able to hold the world superpower, the United States with all its smart weapons, to an impasse in the urban environment':

  • Because the characteristics of the urban environment are short range engagements at fleeting targets the weapon systems that were optimised for 300m engagement in rural environments were no longer the most suitable.
  • The concrete canyons of the city confused GPS and degraded radio communications.
  • Camouflage wasn't nearly as effective as in the rural environment.

Furthermore, the use of Improvised Explosive Devices and Suicide vests created a threat unparalleled in history…

This brought about an inevitable but slow change in military thinking. 'If we operate in this 'New' environment we will have isolated persons and we will need to prepare and train those likely to be isolated and those tasked with recovery'.

Although there had been plenty of research and history regarding Survivability and Evasion in the Arctic, Jungle and Rural countryside, there had not (certainly by 2006) been any developments in the area of Urban Evasion and recovering from contested urban environments.

Stalingrad and Berlin

"History had demonstrated only too well at Stalingrad and Berlin that military conflict in built up areas causes delays, compressed battle formations and reduces the effectiveness of communications, weapons and camouflage, all of which are rurally optimised…"

This fact was not lost on the 'new' enemies…

Urban SERE Research

In late 2006 Conrad Allen, who was then based at the UK MOD Defence SERE Training Organisation (DSTO) at RAF St Mawgan, was given the role of researching, evaluating and writing up the extent of the difficulties for Urban Evasion (note that it was termed urban evasion). He was asked to research the topic as fully as possible over the coming 6 months. Unfortunately in doing so Conrad ruffled a few feathers and although this study was going to be a shining example of his analytical skills and innovative use of simple solutions to complex problems, his RAF career was going to suffer as a result. After an exhaustive six months study the resultant 17,000 word study report blew away any previous understandings in SERE, exposed weaknesses and forced a rethink on all training aspects pertaining to SERE within the UK but especially in Escape Mindedness (prior to this study escape was a subject that the UK cared not to court leaving that to the US and other nations).

The Conclusion of the report highlighted just how dynamic the urban environment was, requiring a full re think on tactics and procedures.

"Urban Evasion is a difficult skill and cannot be achieved by simply applying rural evasion techniques to cities."

Group Captain ACOS 22 Gp

Falling on Deaf Ears…

Having completed the study and provided details to the powers that be of the answers, they were unwelcome by many 'dyed in the wool' and those unable or unwilling to grasp the complexity of the situation. Many readers of the report put it in the 'Too difficult tray' choosing to ignore the topic all together.

All governments agencies and departments are slow to develop and transform. This subject did not only apply to the military operating in hostile environments, it applied to anyone visiting those environments and those who travel in general.

It rapidly became startlingly obvious that Conrad's future lay outside of the military that he had served so well for the previous twenty-two years.

In preparation of retiring and to bolster his understanding, Conrad attended a short university course at Bradford University on the subject of Terrorism: Causes, Trends and Responses.

What became apparent through all the research and other courses attended was that although the original research was focussed on the military in the urban battle-space, this was equally applicable to anyone in the hostile urban environments, which permeate the whole world and continue to grow.

Business travellers visiting emerging markets, those areas post conflict that were rich pickings for big corporations but also lawless and with mountains of weapons and ammunition which would fill the power void, being particularly susceptible.

H&S legislation requires that businesses keep their staff safe when at work and especially when travelling on business. The corporate manslaughter act now being a key consideration for companies visiting hostile environments and putting staff at risk.

Rising from the Ashes!

Urban-SERE Phoenix

Unbridled by military bureaucracy, no longer stifled by conventional boundaries of thinking or doctrine, Conrad was able to form Urban-SERE Ltd and set about making business contacts and developing its own suite of courses.

Metropolitan Police

Within a week of setting up Urban-SERE they were contacted by the Metropolitan Police's Specialist Protection Command. They had been looking for specialist Urban Evasion training for their protection officers who may find themselves overseas and with a need to evade hostile environments. As protection officers they may be left in the position of securing their own safe passage through or exiting a country post incident. As Urban-SERE's business gained momentum, word spread rapidly throughout the business sector and invitations to attend conferences or run workshops came flooding in.

Personnel Recovery Conferences

Urban SERE had found its voice. Many military advisors and technical experts from the world of Personnel Recovery (PR) were in attendance at those workshops and conferences where Urban-SERE was delivering presentations. Many more invitations to attend conferences followed (although as usual governmental agencies around the world have limited budgets and expected the world for free!).

The term Urban SERE began to permeate the PR world and Urban Evasion seemed 'old hat'.

Unbridled by bureaucracy Urban SERE had knowledge and a voice and was able to address quickly many of the issues regarding the Hostile Urban Environment which the lumbering governmental departments could not (for example since having the report in 2007, as of Dec 2010 the UK Military SERE Manual still hadn't addressed Urban Evasion)

This is where Urban SERE's voice and flexibility provides wholly relevant training solutions to your problems and in quick time.

The Future…

Urban-SERE Ltd continues to research and develop their courses creating new Tactics, Techniques and Procedures to counter the hostile urban environment. We also run survivability courses for those venturing into the great outdoors and need skills and knowledge to keep them safe.

Register your interest on the home page or contact us to be kept up to date with future developments. If you have specific requirements you would like addressing or discussing please use the contact us page.

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And the result of this study was the birth of Urban-SERE… Conrad Allen
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Research Contacts

The following departments were consulted in research into Urban Evasion:

  • Metropolitan Police
  • Special Operations 1 (Diplomatic and VIP Protection Squad)
  • Central Operations 11 (Police divers and boat handlers)
  • Special Operations 12 (Special Branch)
  • Special Operations 14 (Royalty Protection Squad)
  • Central Operations 19 (Specialist Firearms Training)
  • Government Departments
  • Foreign & Commonwealth Office
  • Home Office Electronic Monitoring Unit
  • Government Communications HQ
  • Imperial War Museum Archives
  • RAF Museum Archives
  • 22 TRS USAF SERE School
  • 66 TRS USAF SERE School
  • MoD
  • Royal Air Force
  • COS Puma & Merlin Operations
  • 18 Squadron RAF (Chinooks)
  • RAF Lyenham Station SEREO
  • 51 Squadron RAF (Nimrod R1)
  • 3 Squadron RAF Regiment
  • 1 FP Wg HQ RAF Regiment
  • RAF Odiham Chinook SEREO
  • CPU Longmoor
  • Headquarters Director of UK Special Forces
  • Special Reconnaissance Regiment
  • Defence Human Intelligence Unit
  • E Branch
  • Headquarters Defence SERE Training Organisation
  • SERE Resistance Training Wing
  • SERE TC St Mawgan

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