How To Clear A Room (If Absolutely Necessary)

It’s a compelling scene. A small band of highly-trained, highly-disciplined armed individuals, moving effortlessly from room to room as they clear an opposing force from a structure. It’s become a staple of modern entertainment, especially in video games. Learning how to clear a room is an absolutely vital skill in most first-person games. When it comes to the real world, though, it’s a different story. Knowing how to clear out a hostile force from a structure is a vital skill for military and law enforcement, but is it useful for today’s armed citizen? Let’s take a look. 

How Important Is Knowing How To Clear A Room?

First, let’s examine our mission as lawful gun owners. We are not law enforcement. It is not our job to track down criminals and put them in cuffs. We are also not military. We don’t have to seize and hold territory and keep it out of the hands of an attacking force. There are no additional squad cars and SWAT teams to call on, and we don’t have the military’s tanks and artillery to help us quell an attacking force from far away. 

Rather, as armed citizens, our primary job is to preserve life and limb and break contact with an attacker as quickly as possible. How that happens will depend on the situation. Breaking contact may mean de-escalating a fight before it happens. It may mean a face full of pepper spray. It may mean using a firearm to defend a life. If we understand that we should not go looking for trouble, but instead be ready to bring any trouble to a conclusion that might affect us, we begin to understand how clearing a room integrates into living the armed lifestyle. 

Sometimes, You Have To Go Looking For The Fight

Clearing a room is an active response to a dangerous situation. It means we are pushing through a building, seeking out trouble rather than responding to the aggression of an attacker. At first glance, this is incompatible with our goal of breaking contact with an attacker. Moving from room to room means we are seeking out trouble, and taking on some of the functions of military and law enforcement.

However, our goal as armed citizens also involves preserving life and limb, and that might just mean moving towards the sound of gunfire, or investigating a building where trouble might be waiting for you. You may be the type of person who always locks his doors when you leave your home. You may have a safe room, and your family knows that is their destination if there is a home invasion. However, plans can (and do) go awry. Or you may find yourself coming home, walking through your house and finding out that your back door is open and unlocked. Now you have to make sure you and your loved ones are free from harm. You have to clear a room, probably more than one. 

Assess The Situation

Clearing a room

The modern home is filled with great places for a bad guy to set an ambush.

An intruder has two big advantages. He (or she) gets to pick the time and place they will attack you, either inside or outside your home. They also get to pick the initial level of force. The intruder decides if they’re going to attack you with a knife, gun or whatnot. 

You also have some advantages in this situation which can help keep you alive. Chances are, you’ll know the terrain better than your attacker will. You know how your home or office is laid out.The layout of your favorite grocery store is familiar to you. You can move through these spaces faster and with more ease than an intruder will be able to move through them. Also, you will probably have the law on your side. Lastly, unless there is violence happening at this moment, you have the advantage of time. This is not true if attack is ongoing or imminent, but if that’s not the case, you can wait out an intruder who might be near you, knowing that law enforcement are on their way. 

Learning How To Clear A Room

I recently attended a class on home defense and room clearing in order to get a better understanding of how and when to clear a room. The class was taught by Force IMI, the training arm of Israeli Military Industries. The class covered a variety of topics, such as home invasion prevention and security, as well as using modern innovations such as internet-enabled cameras and social media to keep our homes safe. We’ll be talking more about those topics later, so for now, let’s concentrate on moving through a structure while armed and on your own. 

Clearing from the threshold

Clearing a room from the doorway keeps you out of trouble and helps you process information quicker.

I talked with Haim Geri, the lead instructor at Force IMI training in order to get a better understanding of how to clear a room when you’re the only one responding. Haim is a veteran security officer with the Israeli armed forces, and was in charge of security of a number of Israeli embassies during his long career.  

First Priority: Preserve Life

“If there is an active attack on a loved one inside your home,” Geri said, “that is the problem we need to take care of immediately. Move quickly and with purpose to the area of the threat, as people’s lives may depend on your actions. There is a time for a slow, careful clearing of a building, but that time is not when there are shots ringing out.” 

“If you’re by yourself and there is no active threat,” Geri said, “your survival becomes preeminent. There may not be anyone coming in after you, and if you go down, you won’t be able to take action against an intruder. If you know the terrain, such as inside your own house, use it to your advantage. How does each door open in your house? What is inside any given room? If you know that there is cover or concealment to be found, use it to your advantage.” 

“If you’re by yourself, and you are unsure if there is a threat against a loved one inside a structure, move methodically,” Geri said. “Moving fast in this situation will not save anyone, it will only open yourself up to a potential attack. Plan your moves in advance, and be aware of how you are exposing yourself to open doors or windows as you move through the building.” 

Don’t Walk Into A Fight

20 60 90 rule

Assess what’s inside a room in small portions, not all at once.

“We want to solve as many problems as we can from the threshold of a room. We do this for two reasons,” Geri continued. “The first is that we can take advantage of the concealment or cover that a door frame can provide us. The second is so that we can process what we see in small, easy-to-understand pieces. Charging into a room means you have to spend seconds or even minutes standing in the open, trying to figure out if someone or something is there that shouldn’t be there.” 

Clearing a room from the threshold means slicing up the opening into smaller portions, also called “slicing the pie.” Geri teaches a three step method, where the student surveys approximately the first twenty degrees of what is inside the room that is presented to them from behind their first position behind the threshold. The student then leans outward and shifts position so they can see the around sixty degrees of the threshold, and then complete the movement by leaning around the door and looking towards the far corner of the room. If a target presents itself at any time in this process, it is to be immediately dealt with. 

“Our goal,” Geri says, “is to preserve life. What that means in any given situation will change. You should be ready,” he says, “to deal with a threat to life from either a safe and secure situation like the safe room, or if that threat is in an unknown location inside your house.” 

Accuracy and Speed Are Still Important

Knowing how to clear a room can be a valuable skill, but it’s a skill that depends on your ability to think quickly and act effectively under pressure. If you’re not to the point where you can put rounds on-target, on demand, concentrate on those skills first, then move on to integrating them into moving through a structure. After all, as Geri said in class, the surest way to stop any bullets that might be headed your way is fast and accurate fire in the other direction.