Estimated reading time: 10 minutes
The concept of the Gray Man is a simple one that has been practiced in various formats amongst military and security personnel for years. Simply put, becoming the Gray Man is to blend into your surroundings, into society, without attracting notice or attention.
A Gray Man can move amongst crowds and city streets without passersby or onlookers taking any undue notice—it is to become entirely mundane, boring, and easily overlooked.
Becoming the Gray Man is the art of hiding in plain sight, of blending into your surroundings. You can think of it as a form of camouflage for populated urban areas.
For those who wish to survive in an urban environment when SHTF, avoiding confrontation and unnecessary attention will be a crucial survival technique. The more noticeable you are, the more of a target you become. A good analogy would be the way one would act to avoid being picked to answer a question in class—you do everything you can to meld into the rest of the crowd in the classroom.
The problem, for many, is that successfully becoming a Gray Man is much more complicated than they first think. Many of us have unique quirks or traits that help us stand out, and we become easy to remember when seen day after day. It takes practice and effort to blend in so well that one would have a hard time saying whether or not they had ever seen you before.
In this article, we will explore the concept of the Gray Man and how you can best go about adopting and practicing this idea. Most of the information here will be pulled from military OPSEC (Operational Security) manuals as well as guidelines for embassy workers in hostile environments.
By the end, you should have a much better idea of what becoming a Gray Man in an urban survival scenario will really entail.
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The Art of Blending In
Blending in, in many ways, is an art form. It requires you to manipulate and play with the perceptions of others, and there is no single best way to go about it. Most of the information we list here will help you become nondescript, but there are indeed many ways to blend in, depending on the situation or scenario.
A good example of just how different these methods could be was brought up in another Gray Man article; they pointed out how by simply donning some construction vests, a couple of Vice News journalists were able to wander into several locations without being challenged. While not necessarily discreet, they made themselves easily overlooked.
The trick is in understanding how the brain works when identifying and scanning people. People will quickly notice the basics of what they see, and will need to make a direct effort to begin to pick out details. Change blindness is a phenomenon that demonstrates this nicely. You can literally switch people out mid-conversation with only a slight bit of confusion triggering in the other person.
To become the Gray Man, you need to begin to manipulate the subconsciousness of others. You must move, act, and look like the majority of people around you.
You become hard to key in on and more difficult to notice and describe by avoiding obvious colors, sounds, movements, and threat items.
It goes beyond simply what you look like as well. It also includes your actions and demeanor. The best way to blend in with those around you is to have a purpose. People with purpose are moving; they have a goal. Match the social patterns of those around you and move with them. Look like you have a similar purpose.
Describing the Gray Man
As a mental practice, don your equipment, attitude, and attire of Gray Man persona. Then attempt to give a brief police description of what you look like. If you have a hard time putting down prominent features, then you are on the right track.
For example, compare this profile:
“He’s the man with the green trucker hat and the red shirt with a large cow on it. He had a military-style camo backpack on.”
To this one:
“He was about average height, with darker hair. He had a jacket on; it was maybe brown or greyish black. Something like that. I think he had a black bag or maybe a backpack with him.”
As you can see, one profile is much harder to describe, track down, and remember. Of course, the situation dictates as to what will blend in best, but you get the general idea.
Key Points of Keeping a Low Profile
Keeping a low profile is a skillset common to people like social workers, as well as intelligence officers and general overseas stations. There are a ton of resources and tips for avoiding undue attention and confrontation, and most of them will give you roughly the same advice. Most of the basics of blending in really come down to good situational awareness and common sense.
To Keep a Low Profile You Should:
- Avoid showing off supplies, luxury items, weapons, money, food, etc. Don’t look like a valuable target.
- Don’t engage in arguments or debates. Don’t get into disputes that show your political opinion.
- Don’t divulge information about you or your family to anyone. Create an alias if you must interact.
- Dress down. Don’t wear bright colors or designer clothes or accessories. Avoid wearing jewelry and other valuables.
- Wear footwear that you can quickly move and escape in. A survey of inmates showed that they would often target victims that were wearing shoes that would slow them down.
- Body language is critical and situational. Aim for friendly, confident, but moving with purpose or task.
- Understand what normal or acceptable behavior in the situation is. What do you see the locals doing? Imitate that.
Staying Equipped While Keeping a Low Profile
As a Gray Man, the equipment you can carry with you is naturally limited to items you can carry discreetly or concealed. Most EDC items can be carried discreetly, though you should spend extra time ensuring it stays hidden and concealed.
Practice wearing gear and weapons and quickly accessing them while wearing regular clothes and utilizing standard pockets. Those tactical khaki pants are often a big warning sign to anyone who knows what they are looking at. Get used to wearing a weapon under your armor in the small of your hip and wear clothes that ensure it stays hidden.
The Gray Home
Many of the same concepts used for your out-and-about activities should be applied to your home. You want the ability to slow and ward away enemies, but you don’t want security measures to draw undue attention. It is better to be out of sight than to be in a hard target when dealing with overwhelming force.
Some basic everyday tips:
- Control keys to access points strictly.
- Park your car in a locked garage.
- Shut the curtains in a room before turning on the lights.
- Use multiple points of access and egress.
What if you Cannot Blend In?
In some cases, you may not be able to blend in. For example, say you are 6’5″ and 300 pounds and people think of you as “the big guy” wherever you go. In these cases, you will need to make efforts to use the military method of “developing assets.”
Since you will not be able to blend in, you instead make an effort to get to know people in the local area—those that can help provide you with information and be a friendly set of eyes. These are people that you can base your temperament and actions around. If your friends are nervous or hesitant to be out and about, take it as a sign that today is not the day to be moving around outdoors.
Situational awareness could also be called “The art of not being in the wrong place at the wrong time.” This is the intuition to sense imminent danger and to know when to remove yourself from harm’s way. To be a successful Gray Man, you not only need to be able to operate in open view, but you should also know when it is time to leave an area.
If you are a target, being aware of your surroundings may allow you to sense danger before it occurs.
“A potential assassin must choose a target, learn where the target is going to be, choose and secure a weapon, survey security, develop an attack plan, and consider whether and/or how to escape. Although not every attacker will engage in all of these activities and behaviors, most engage in several of them.”
As the quote states, there are some necessities an attacker must take:
- First, they must choose a target. You avoid this by not being noticeable or an obvious target.
- Second, they need to know where you will be. You avoid this by being unpredictable and changing your routes.
- Third, they will need to survey and understand an area. This gives you an opportunity to notice them and if they are giving you increased attention.
Some key advice given to soldiers operating in a hostile urban area also applies to the Gray Man/SHTF scenarios. Here are some further tips for better situational awareness:
- Unusual activity, or a lack of activity by locals, especially at times and places where they would normally be active.
- New locals in the area.
- A change in the amount and type of trash in an area.
- Sudden or unusual movements of vehicles or people.
- People following you or observing your comings and goings.
- Possible safe havens and escape routes.
- Unusual calm or silence.
- Running vehicles.
- Weapons discharge or racking.
- Cooking food that can indicate newcomers or hiding areas.
- The age of food or trash that can indicate new arrivals.
- Human waste that can indicate new arrivals.
Pay Careful Attention to:
- Has anything changed? Are there new locks on buildings? Are windows boarded up or previously boarded-up windows now open, indicating a change of use of a building?
- Formulating a plan of action for when a bomb explodes or there is gunfire nearby.
- Be sure your vehicle is in good condition and fueled in case you need to rely on evasive driving.
- Avoid using the same routes. Know multiple routes to and from essential sites.
- Avoid routine. Change your timetables and activities—exit buildings through different doors and at different times.
“Like a police officer ‘walking the beat’ in a neighborhood day after day, leaders and soldiers at all ranks and echelons must be able to recognize that something has changed and, if possible, why.”
– Page 2-6 of Soldier Surveillance and Reconnaissance manual
Stay Vigilant and Blend In
The bad guys strike when you seem the most relaxed and lazy with your security. Stay vigilant and ready. Doing all of this, while also maintaining a Gray Man persona will go a long way towards keeping you safe and under the radar when the SHTF.
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Sources Used in this Article
- SOLDIER SURVEILLANCE AND RECONNAISSANCE: FUNDAMENTALS OF TACTICAL INFORMATION COLLECTION
- Overseas Security Advisory Council: Security in Transit
- A SAFE TRIP ABROAD DEPARTMENT OF STATE PUBLICATION
- Protective Intelligence and Threat Assessment Investigations: A Guide for State and Local Law Enforcement Officials
- The benefits of being boring by Grant Rayner
- Tactical Training Reference Manual