Escape and Evade in an Urban Environment - ITS Tactical

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Escape and Evade in an Urban Environment

By Bryan Black

Close your eyes for a minute and join me on a little adventure… You’re walking down the sidewalk and pass two shady figures talking amongst themselves.

As you pass them, you see the side door of a van open up just in front of you and two more suspicious characters emerge.

Within seconds, you’re restrained and struggling against four people trying to overpower you and throw you into the van.

Now, based on our readers vs. the general population, your response right now is to say “I’d shoot them before they had the chance,” OK Dirty Harry, but now your in a foreign country where your concealed handgun license doesn’t protect you.

Or, you’re in that same foreign country and gunmen jump into your rental car and tell you to drive…


Kidnappings like I’ve described above happen on a daily basis, both stateside and abroad. Did you know that the number two location for kidnappings in the world is Phoenix, Arizona? Kind of alarming, right? #1 is Mexico City, by the way.

Most kidnappings are driven by greed, political power or sex. To sell you back to your family or government, to use you for a bargaining chip, or for young women, it’s to be forced into sex slavery.

Whatever the motive, your window for escape is never better than during the initial incident or transitioning to the location the kidnappers are headed. Once at the location, security will most likely double and your chances of escaping decrease.

Do you know how to escape from handcuffs? How about zip-ties, duct tape or even telephone cord? Could you save yourself?

onPoint Tactical

I recently had the chance to attend onPoint Tactical’s Urban Escape and Evasion class, and put the Houdini-like skills I thought I had to the test.

Kevin Reeve, the founder and director of onPoint Tactical, started the school with the concept of creating a program that taught unconventional skills.

When OnPoint was founded in 2004, Reeve mentioned that there weren’t a lot of places teaching tracking or escape and evasion.

The urban aspect of onPoint’s E&E was created based on an individual’s experience in the IDF (Israeli Defense Force), after serving as a U.S. Marine Scout/Sniper.

He found himself and another team member cut off from their group in the West Bank wearing IDF uniforms. Not knowing anything about how to escape and evade in an urban environment, they took a Palestinian household hostage and called back to base to be rescued.

After discussing this with Reeve, and the general lack of urban escape and evasion knowledge in the IDF as well as U.S. Military organizations, onPoint Tactical’s Urban E&E course was born.

Reeve pulled together a 22 year veteran of the Army Special Forces, and a Navy SEAL to help design the class concept.

onPoint originally only offered the Urban E&E class to Military, Law Enforcement and Contractors, and then came Hurricane Katrina.

While doing contract security work with his partner Kelly Alwood after the hurricane, Reeve saw New Orleans descend in chaos, and realized first hand that we are all “nine meals from anarchy.” After 72 hours without food people will do anything.

Reeve came away from that with the mindset that civilians have every right to attain the skills needed to survive what ensues after three days without goods and services.

Urban E&E is designed to prepare you for those events, as well as traveling domestically and internationally in hostile or permissive urban environments.

U.S. Military SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape) schools teach escape and evasion techniques, but not in an urban environment. Urban E&E differs much more than I ever thought from traditional E&E techniques.


Urban E&E 02As I mentioned earlier, I thought I had all the skills necessary to escape and evade in an urban situation, but my assumptions were wrong.

The onPoint Urban E&E class consisted of two days of intensive hands-on classroom instruction followed by a third day entirely devoted to an 8-hour stress-induced escape and evasion FTX (Field Training Exercise).

Day one highlights included learning about stress inoculation and how to control cortisol levels to deal with the stress of an escape and evasion situation.

The golden rule of training was also emphasized: What you do in training, you will do under stress. Essentially this means that you’ll default to your level of training, which is why you train, train, train!

From there we moved on to situational diligence, or knowing your AO (Area of Operations) and the baseline. Knowledge of the dress, behavior, movement and customs can mean the difference between standing out or blending in.

This is crucial to your survival in E&E, remember back to the IDF example earlier? One of the reasons the misplaced IDF soldiers defaulted to taking hostages was that they lacked the knowledge of their AO and how to blend in.

Caches were also a heavily talked about topic, and the need to have multiple cache locations to store equipment and supplies in advance of E&E situations.

Day two was almost entirely devoted to escaping from illegal custody. We learned how to pick multiple types of locks, single and double-lock handcuffs, break out of flexi-cuffs, duct tape, phone cord and other unconventional methods of restraint.

More than likely in an escape situation, the bad guys aren’t going to use handcuffs. They’ll resort to an alternative means of restraint.


The practical exercise for day two was everyone having a try at escaping from handcuffs while being locked in a trunk. It’s much harder than it seems, and I was impressed that I was able to get out of double-locked handcuffs behind my back.

Urban E&E 04I’d known how to pick handcuffs prior to class, but had never attempted the double-locks while behind my back.

There’s that golden rule of training again, lock picking is a depreciable skill-set and must be practiced!

Other topics during the first two days of instruction included priorities during E&E, gear selection, communications, hide locations, types of intel and how to organize it, social engineering, disguises, covers, ID’s, surveillance detection, improvised weapons, defeating security fences and surveillance devices, dealing with attack dogs, urban climbing (Parkour), acquiring transportation, evasive driving and getting to safety.

Urban E&E 05Since 2001, all vehicles have been required to include safety release handles inside the trunk.

This is good to know, because once you escape your restraints, you still have to be able to get out of the trunk.


The FTX on day three was interesting to say the least. The event started with a simulated kidnapping where we were brought in teams of two and three into a secured area, handcuffed, restrained and hooded.

We were required to use bobby pins and other improvised tools to escape our restraints while our captors weren’t looking, gather intelligence on our next objective, and make our way to the first of many pre-staged caches across the city.

The goal of the FTX was to acquire intelligence while we moved to each objective completing tasks, all the while not being spotted and “tagged” by the dozen or so trackers hot on our trail.

Being tagged by the trackers meant being picked up, restrained, interrogated and having to escape again, requiring you to meet your group at a rally point to link up. For the unfortunate amongst us, successive tags meant having the experience of a simulated water boarding in the back of a car.

My battle buddy and I, who were a group of two, managed not to get caught. I felt we handled ourselves very well, but just knowing someone is watching you is difficult to shake. I’m sure we looked ridiculous at times. In fact, I know we did.

We were able to place three caches in various locations the night before with changes of disguise obtained from Wal-Mart. Something I found interesting while shopping at Wal-Mart is that we were able to pick out the Loss Prevention people fairly easily because of what we’d learned in the class.

Our first location was moving around a college campus, so we cached preppy clothing. I must say I probably looked ridiculous in powder blue shorts, a pink polo and white boat shoes and most likely didn’t blend in too well. I also stashed a razor in our first cache and shaved off my beard in a public bathroom while changing.

I don’t know if that helped us not to get caught, but I’d like to think that it at least confused the trackers who knew what I looked like.

Our second cache was in a more urban environment downtown so we opted for hip-hop clothes to attempt to blend in. I chose loud shoes, long basketball shorts, an oversized basketball jersey, sideways ball cap, and big sunglasses. Oh, and plenty of bling!

We completed our objectives and never even had the opportunity to pick up our third cache with alternative-style clothes. With our tasks complete and our adrenaline still going strong, we convened at a local Chili’s for the debrief.

Only a few in the group were unlucky enough to get caught by the trackers during the FTX, and a few had some other interesting experiences.


Urban E&E 03In all, the knowledge I gained in just this three-day course is better than almost any training or education I’ve received thus far in my life.
I truly feel empowered now after leaving the class, and look at the world a little differently…

I’d highly recommend onPoint Tactical’s Urban E&E class to anyone interested in self-sufficiency, and what we’re trying to achieve here at ITS Tactical.

Reeve and his instructor staff were all very helpful, courteous and professional. Their real-world examples of the course content are what made the information stick for me. I wouldn’t hesitate taking another class with them in the future.

Visit onPoint Tactical at

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  • Selous

    In the above pics of the locks and cuffs, what is the purpose of the wood uprights? (top middle and top left corner)

    • Selous,

      Those wooden blocks are made to hold lock cylinders while practicing lock picking. It’s more realistic to have the cylinder mounted than holding it in your hand.
      Thanks for the question!

      ~ Bryan

    • Thanks for the quote source!

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  • Great review! And, thanks for all the tips which will help me to be a safer person. Now, to just put this stuff into practice…

    • Thanks Shorty, glad you found the review useful. Train like you fight!

      ~ Bryan

  • Thanks for this info, I’m sure everyone would be better off if they just took same basic class or something. It’s always better to be prepared than think that we will “rise to the occasion.” I forget who said it but you don’t rise to the occasion, you fall to the level of your training.

    • Mike,

      I would highly recommend this class to anyone, Military, Law Enforcement, Firefighters, Government Employees, and every civilian. The real world examples of the disaster in New Orleans given in class made me realize why EVERYONE needs this kind of training. We had everyone I just mentioned in the class, and there wasn’t anyone who didn’t learn something great.

      Here’s that quote… It’s one of my favorites.
      “We don’t rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training.”
      -Archilochus, Greek Soldier, Poet, c. 650 BC

      Thanks for the comment,

  • Jac

    One of the more interesting article that I’ve read here! Congrats!

    • Jac,

      Thanks! Glad you like the article.

      ~ Bryan

  • Larry Rocha

    I’ve been checking onPoint out for a while and have been waiting for some courses closer to home. But with your review I will have to stop waiting. One of the most useful posts I have seen here.

    Keep it up!

    • Larry,

      Thanks for your kind words. I’m glad you’ve enjoyed the article, and are considering taking the course.

      ~ Bryan

  • Brian


    Great review. I was also a part of the class and I thought it was a great experience.



    • Brian,

      Glad you feel the same about the class. One of the best I’ve ever attended!


  • Connor

    good recap!

    and yea, the cd’s we originally were the culprit. Later

    • Connor,

      Thanks for the comment! I figured those CDs were bad, couldn’t have been a Mac LOL


  • this type of intensive training is something i have never considered.

    thank you for this post and creating an awareness!!

    • Trublubyu,

      Thanks for the comment, and we’re glad you found the post useful and informative!

  • CJ

    Hi Bryan,

    If anyone is interested in some of the classes offered by onPoint you know my number, I am always availiable to former students and always need a good HK for the next class.

    CJ (Cusin)

    • CJ,

      Good to hear from you brother! I hope you’re enjoying Portland 🙂
      I’ll be in touch!


  • Selous

    Great article.
    I’d like to see a better picture of the blocks for holding the lock cylinder. I’ve considered building one, but thought it would have to be much larger to prevent it from moving around while manipulating the pick. Good to see that something small works.
    Thanks again.

  • Looks like a combo of several different training packages and schools from .mil
    Good stuff!

  • murph

    ok…..what if you are zip tied behind your back? then what?

  • Graham Monteith

    Is there an age limit to take this class?

  • RIP


    Great write up, combined with Niel Straus’ comments in Emergency it convinced me to take the class. Just completed it last weekend. It was worth the money and the time.

    • Thanks RIP, glad you have that experience under your belt. I thought it was well worth the time and money and still look back on some of the things I learned in the Urban E&E class.

  • Dave DeNitro

    Hi Bryan,

    imagine you live in a hood with 85% muslims and ist even illegal here in germany to carry a knife longer than 4″or one you can open with your thumb. Dont even think about a gun if you have sth. to loose like a job or a driving license.
    You first should practice your sense first and then some kravmaga…

    • MS

      Wow, someone´s a racist bigot.

  • Josh

    hey I’ve been interested in these classes and I was wondering how intense the FTXs are. I saw some of the simulated waterboarding on a youtube video Kelly posted and it seemed intense. What happened to the unlucky ones that were caught and what were some of the interesting stories? Good write up though!

  • Marty Black

    Nice write up.

  • Pingback: Urban E&E « CrossFit VictriX()

  • Tightey Whiteys

    Where is the pic of you “…in powder blue shorts, a pink polo and white boat shoes…”? C’mon, you know you want to post it for us!

    Great write up. I am thinking of seriously signing up for the Dec 2011 LA class after reading your review.

    • Dude, I really wish I had a photo of that! I had an umbrella too LOL!

    • Eric Downey

      Tightey Whiteys, did you take that class – I was in the Dec 2011 LA class.

  • you seem to have caches prepared with disguises so lets say you are preparing to be kidnapped in your home town, (i also read the forty gun hide article)

    Make it NuevoLeon in a country south of here, with carloads of sicarios who will kill you for no reason whatsoever or for being gringo and not fitting in, you don’t speak the language well and you don’t have a map or any sense of direction, no friends locally or any phone number to call, especially the police who are also likely to be sicarios or thier halcones. and they took your money and credit card
    to get disguises, you are going to have to steal someone elses clothes. that i moral in a desparate situation, also thier car,
    do you go to the poorer parts of town, thinking poorer people are less corrupt or connected, No, they could be halcones too. You might look to the hotel and tourist part of town and try an approach to some other foriegner, do you tell this person your situation, hell no, try to fit in and act tourist. the stranger should not be confided in in desparation, that person has ulterior motives, connections and perhaps a naive mentality that would think the police are the answer. give no indication of your desparation, hide it well, and use them to learn the local layout as well as they know it without every asking questions, just listen to them talk and occasionally guide the discussion in a direction that will help you learn your way around, you ask the for the way out of town and the pool boy or waiter might overhear, once the tourist hears of your situation you cant stop him/them from talking and when the waiter approachs theywon’t shut up.
    you will need to steal clothes and money but don’t do it right away, keep talking to them while learning where the wallet is, the room number other things, when you get clothes and money, you need a plan, the best one is head to the airport and take the next flight out, destination not critical, go to the capital city or near the northern border, but go on the next flight out. No one is your friend in this kind of situation. the taxi driver will likely be a halcone (eyes on the street,)
    not so much for the money he is paid but from fear. childred and taxi drivers are the most frequently murdered probably for not being willing to join the local gang or for ties to the other local gang. if you have these guys after you, the entire population will consider you toxic to have around and you need to leave.

  • Chris

    I’m new to the site, so I just found this particular article. I spend a fair amount of time every year in Chicago, so this is helpful. I have quick question though in regards to the zip ties. In my line of work we teach that the hand are to be crossed at the wrists and then the zip ties applied. Would the escape tactic shown in the video work the same if the zip ties are applied this way? Looks like an experiment is in order. Now just have to decide whether to zip tie the wife or the kids. Thanks again.

  • NH

    Interesting technique with the zip tie. Can this be done in the trunk of a car?

    • JC

      If you’re determined enough

  • If I ever have the funds, the classes offered by this company seem to be top notch. I am fairly adept at lock-picking and have a substantial writing on my blog regarding it, but not for under duress encounters.
    I have only in the past 4 years started carrying a firearm daily, and have taken what training I can find or afford in my area which is limited. I train as much as I can on my property using various live-fire exercises but know I am probably ingraining bad habits or tactics.
    Great company and I hope to attend one day!

  • April

    If you’re in a strange city or country, how are you supposed to place caches around the places where you might be kidnapped and need to escape or evade?

  • Justin

    Link to the blog?

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