Tactical Considerations When Traveling by Bus/Coach
This is part of a series on using a bus or coach as a bug out vehicle. If you arrived here from a search engine or link, you might like to consider starting your reading at the first article in the series, and then working through the complete series in sequence. But you’re of course free to roam through the series in any order you wish. Links to all the parts are at the end of this article.
If a group of you are traveling by bus, you have a very different tactical environment associated with your travels and any threats that may arise along the way than you would if traveling by car. Not necessarily worse, and not necessarily better, but definitely different.
Here is a discussion on some of the things you should consider and prepare for.
Hardening the Bus
Depending on how well prepared you choose to be, and how risky a bug-out experience you anticipate, you might consider doing some things to your bus once you’ve bought it, to boost its tactical resilience.
The first thing to do would be to consider protecting the engine compartment from rifle fire. Our grim expectation is that if you get into a fire-fight, the bad guys are more likely to be using rifles than pistols, and the much more inadequate level of protection against pistol rounds will do no good if they are indeed unloading rifles in your general direction.
If there’s a danger of a single lucky shot disabling the bus, you should ensure that such a lucky shot is not possible, because for sure, Murphy’s Law will otherwise ensure that this single ‘one in a million’ lucky shot will unerringly do the maximum possible damage.
Try and use lightweight materials if possible, and of course, keep the weight down as low as possible to keep the bus stable. The good news is that you have a great deal more extra weight carrying capacity on a bus than you do on a regular vehicle, so why not use some of that weight capacity to harden the engine compartment?
You might also want to consider creating two partial safe zones inside the bus as well. You don’t need to armor the entire vehicle, you just need to create perhaps two safe zones – one around the driver, and the other in an area where everyone can crowd together if the bus comes under fire. As long as there are no people present, you can have bullets shooting into one side of the bus and out the other side without causing any real problems or threatening the viability of the bus or its passengers, but a safe zone where everyone can shelter might be a nice extra feature.
Other vulnerabilities to consider providing protection for would be the fuel tank area, and of course the tires, too.
If you do get in a fire fight, you know that, for sure, you’re going to lose a lot of the window glass. You should have some type of strong plastic sheeting (8 mil Surlyn or nylon, perhaps) and duct tape (of course!) that you could use to put temporary patch repairs in place to allow you to complete your journey without having the bus interior totally exposed to the elements.
It would help to have some support spars as well so that the size squares of unsupported sheeting are not too huge. Even the windows along the side will experience a surprising amount of pressure from the slip-stream and the more reinforcing you can provide, the better it will withstand the stresses on the balance of your journey. As for the front windshield, you’ll need a lattice of support elements to provide some strength, and you might want to consider traveling with some Lexan/Plexiglass type sheets that could be used to cover the largest parts of the front window-glass.
This would be particularly essential if your bug out route takes you places where, at some times of year and some times of day, temperatures drop very low. But even in warm weather, if you get stuck in a dust storm or rain storm, you’ll be desperately hoping to maintain the integrity of the bus interior!
As a related issue, you should have your group bring warm weather gear with them when you bug-out, in case of any problems losing windows and not being able to maintain a comfortable temperature inside the coach.
If it is possible that your bug-out travels will require traveling at night (and, realistically, because there’s no way of knowing when you might initiate a bug-out, it seems entirely possible that there will be some night travel involved), you should ensure the bus has not only excellent headlights, but also has floodlights all around its periphery so if it stops, you can illuminate all the area around the bus and clearly see anyone and anything present.
If you wanted to keep the bus as inconspicuous as possible, these floodlights could be installed inside the bus, shining through the window glass when turned on.
In addition to the floodlighting to reasonably evenly light up everywhere all around the bus, you also want to have several remote controllable spotlights. If a threat does appear, you can highlight them with your spotlights, and being remote-controlled, the operators are not being threatened by any fire that is directed at/around the spotlights.
The spotlights can also be used as a non-lethal defensive countermeasure while driving along – if you have other vehicles that are acting in a threatening manner, you might choose to use the spotlights to dazzle the drivers of these vehicles and hopefully cause them to back off.
Night fighting either involves total stealth and no light at all, or else an overwhelming use of light to the point of literally blinding the enemy. There’s no way your bus can be stealthy, so instead you want to dominate and control the use of light.
Although you’ll be lighting up the area around the coach, if you are stopped or in any type of situation with an elevated element of risk, turn off all lights inside the coach. This won’t make the coach invisible, of course, but it will make you, inside the coach, close to invisible. All that people outside the coach will hopefully see are dark windows and they will have no idea what is inside, apart from light leakage coming in from the other side of the bus and shining through it. You, inside, however, will be able to clearly see outside, and without any internal reflections obscuring your view.
For this reason, we also prefer darker colors on seats, floors, walls and ceilings rather than high gloss light colors. Curtains are a bit of a mixed blessing, tactically speaking. If you draw curtains, you are impacting on your ability to see out, as well as other people’s ability to see in, and if you move or open a curtain, its movement might be apparent to observers outside.
Above and Below the Passenger Compartment
If the bus has skylights, that is a plus. If it doesn’t, you might want to consider cutting two or three skylights into the bus roof, and make sure they don’t just lift up but that they can slide fully back. Have some type of easily erected ladders or platforms underneath them, and these will become very useful at low speed and when stopped as observation posts and defensive fire locations.
These ladder type platforms would need to be able to be quickly rigged and secured to either the bus floor or ceiling (in many respects a ceiling mount is better ) so that a person can stand on it with their head and upper body protruding out the top of the bus, even while the bus is moving.
One more thing. You should also consider a trapdoor in the coach floor, somewhere, that allows people to move from the passenger compartment down into one of the luggage bays underneath. The doors on either side of the luggage bay should be able to be opened from the inside, and maybe there would be another trapdoor from the luggage bay floor to the outside of the bus and the road surface below. If there’s not a lot of ground clearance, this might not allow for people to leave the vehicle, but it might allow for you to disperse caltrops to interfere with any vehicles pursuing you – in such a case, make sure that they don’t get caught in your bus’s rear tires (maybe you have chutes which feed/disperse the caltrops out onto the road surface behind the rear tires).
This trapdoor and internally openable luggage bay doors will enable you to stealthily move people out of the passenger compartment and maybe out of the bus entirely (while it is stopped, of course!).
We don’t know for sure, but our guess is that if adversaries start shooting at the bus, they will probably be shooting up higher into the passenger compartment, rather than down low into the cargo bays. Having an accessible area in one of the cargo bays might be a safer place for people to shelter in just for the simple reason it might attract less fire.
Personnel and Duties
The bus should be managed by a driver, a relief driver (for long distances, maybe you’ll need a third driver too), and a ‘commander’ (and probably a relief commander too). The drivers are in charge of, obviously enough, driving. The commander is in charge of navigating and communicating with any other vehicles traveling in convoy, and monitoring other radio channels to get any possible intelligence about the conditions to expect ahead.
In addition, you need some fire support team members – people who will man the skylights, and people who will exit and secure the bus perimeter whenever it stops. Ideally you’d have at least two skylights (one person on each) and as many people as you can manage for the outside protection team (one on each corner of the coach as a minimum, plus one or two to escort the driver/commander if they need to interact with potentially hostile groups).
When you do bug out, we’d suggest that you have one, two or more ‘escort’ vehicles with the bus – either cars or motorcycles.
Clearly there would be good purpose in having a scout vehicle traveling a mile or two ahead of the bus – sufficiently far for the bus to be out of sight, and sufficiently far for any threat warnings to be radioed back to the bus in time for it to stop while still out of sight. At the same time, you don’t want this scout vehicle to be too far ahead or else conditions might change between when it passes a point and when the bus goes past it, some time later (and you’ll probably only have limited radio range in any case).
Another vehicle should provide rear security – advising of any fast-moving and potentially threatening traffic coming up from behind. It would normally be just out of sight of the coach (so as to have more lead-time to warn the coach), but if it encountered potential threats, it would close up the distance so as to provide closer-in eyes on the situation until it was resolved.
Both vehicles should have at least two people in them – one to concentrate on driving, and the other person to be in charge of spotting issues, communicating with the bus, and, if it becomes necessary, providing appropriate fire support to defend themselves and the bus.
Please remember also our suggestion made in some of the earlier articles that as your group size increases, you should consider splitting up into two buses rather than crowding into one. That way your ‘convoy’ becomes more resilient and the loss of either bus doesn’t mean the total loss of all transportation.
When you plan your route, you should also plan a series of shifts (assuming you have sufficient personnel). To a certain extent, your driver shifts may be constrained by the DoT regulations for duty and rest hours, but these only start to become troublesome when the total travel time becomes more lengthy. Ideally you’d have all people (drivers, commanders, and the personnel manning the escort vehicles) working maybe two hours on and then two or more hours off. That would help everyone to maintain optimum alertness.
On the other hand, you’ve probably driven long distances without a break in the past, and while your alertness and reaction times doubtless suffered, you’ve still successfully completed the journey. This is something we’d recommend, but clearly is not an essential must-do issue.
If you do implement a two hour shift series, we’d probably work them so you alternate between short two minute change-overs and – if the situation allows – longer 10 – 15 minute changeovers, giving everyone on the coach a chance to get off, stretch their legs, get some fresh air, and then get back on again for the next four hours. But if you let people off the coach, you need to keep a tight control on them and not end up with people randomly wandering off in all directions, including into potentially not-safe areas, and causing delay and hassle when it comes time to move out again. People should be allowed off the coach, but if they want some exercise, they can get that by walking/jogging around the coach, close to the coach, and not by going out to some other point and (hopefully) back again. Everyone should stay in earshot and sight of everyone else.
You don’t want to have any blind spots around the coach, either while you are driving or when you are stopped. In particular, directly behind the coach and not in view of your outside rear-view mirrors is a vulnerable area. You can fit a standard back-up video camera that will let you see the immediate zone directly behind the coach, and that could be supplemented by adding a second camera that provides not quite such wide-angle coverage, but aimed slightly further back, so as to help you see not only people and things in the six feet or so immediately behind the coach, but also in the sixty or more feet beyond that, too.
The areas to the front of the bus and to the sides, straight out, can be fairly readily guarded by direct vision, although depending on your location, there might be another blindspot or at least ill-covered spot directly around the coach. We’d probably consider adding a couple of rearward facing cameras, mounted at the front of the vehicle, to give good side coverage.
What to Do if Stopped
If the bus ever does have to stop in ambiguous and potentially hostile circumstances (and when you’re bugging out, pretty much everywhere should be considered as potentially hostile), the first thing to do is not stop in the ‘obvious’ place. If an ambush is being set up, it will be focused on the obvious place where they want you to stop. Stop short of that spot, or past that spot, or off to one side of it. Wherever you do stop, make sure the bus is positioned for an easy getaway, with the wheels already pointing where you would proceed and more or less in line with the most unobstructed path.
The last consideration when stopping is how best to use the size and shape of the bus as a tactical plus rather than minus. You want as little of the bus exposed to possible attack as possible – rather than having the whole broadside of the bus exposed to raking fire, you want to present the front or rear only – ideally the rear. You also want the coach as a shield to protect your entry/exit doors. Think about how a police cruiser parks when doing a traffic stop – it always parks behind the stopped vehicle, and angled or shifted out some feet from directly behind, so as to put the cruiser’s engine block between the stopped vehicle and the officer while he exits his cruiser. You want to think a similar thought when stopping your coach.
We’d advocate having a rapid egress of your defensive support team through all exits in a subtle (or not so subtle) show of force. That is the main reason why we prefer buses with two passenger exit doors rather than one, plus another driver door on the other side, and ideally with emergency exits that can be opened and closed without smashing windows and harming the bus’s ability to continue traveling on after the exits have been used.
Getting your defensive support team off the coach quickly is something you want to practice, and is something that you would initiate prior to the bus stopping. When it seems likely that the bus will have to stop, the support team will already be moving from wherever they were sitting to locations close to the doors, and kitting up with whatever they will choose to take with them off the bus.
In such a case, as the support team exits the bus, some should quickly move to defensive positions around the bus (ie at the corners of the bus), as well as some escorting the designated group leader to participate in the actual interaction with whoever is present. The escort vehicles should keep a moderate distance away (maybe 100 yards) so they can see the ‘broader picture’ around the bus while being close enough to give fire support if needed.
If the coach has skylights, then you should have people positioned in the skylights ready to provide suppressive fire, causing the aggressors to need to take cover while the people off the coach re-board and the coach gets under way. The suppressive fire would continue (and be supported by fire from the escort vehicles) as long as the aggressors were in range and not obscured by turns in the road – a big slow bus is a bullet magnet and probably has its engine at the rear, too (you may or may not have added some ballistic protection to the engine compartment). You want to minimize the amount of fire being sent back at you for as long as possible, and to convey a very strong impression to the aggressors that they should leave you well alone and concentrate on easier more vulnerable targets in the future.
There is one more tactical consideration when using a bus. You should research your route and all possible alternate paths to confirm their suitability for buses. Don’t take anything for granted, particularly on secondary roads. Make sure that there are no problems with clearances, grades, surfaces, narrow bridges, and so on.
Please Continue Reading Our Bus Series of Articles
This is part of a broader series of articles on the concept of using a bus as a bug-out vehicle. You can see our other articles, conveniently linked below, and of course, we have plenty of other articles on the broader subject of bugging out as well.
Part 0 – Introduction
Part 4 – Tactical Considerations When Traveling by Bus/Coach