Former CIA Officer Jason Hanson Reveals...

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How And Why To Make A Vehicle Load Plan

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As we rolled through Baghdad, I began to notice the right rear tire of the vehicle in front of mine start to wobble.  My TC (Truck Commander) called the lead vehicle and informed them of the problem.  They found a suitable place to stop and initiated their immediate action drill.  According to the vehicle load plan, the jack and tire iron would be located on the right side as you opened the hatch of the Range Rover.

But it wasn’t.

As the lead team began to dig through their pile of junk stuffed in the back, it became obvious that this was taking too long.  Frustrated (and against policy) I jumped out of the driver seat of my Suburban and went to get my jack and tire Iron.  It was right where it should be.

I handed the items to the lead vehicle crew and returned to my driver seat.  We were back on the road less than a minute later.  The crew knew their tasks, but someone had ignored the vehicle load plan.

As you might imagine, Baghdad is not the place you want to be stuck on the side of the road.

Jordanian Embassy in Baghdad after an exploded car bomb
Jordanian Embassy in Baghdad After an Exploded Car Bomb by MSGT Robert R. Hargreaves | Public Domain

What is a vehicle load plan?

A vehicle load plan is a clear plan that explains where both equipment AND people will be in a vehicle.  While this can be verbal, it’s best to document it on paper.  This allows the information to be shared easily and referenced when in doubt.

Vehicle load plans should include everything from a first aid kit to the spare tire.  By properly planning the location of each item, it is easy to check to make sure that each item is there.  Additionally, in an emergency you can find the items more quickly and easily.

Dr. Pehrson recently wrote an article on the importance of proper information to care for a patient.  By storing your medical records in a planned location, you can easily tell a first responder where your records are.  This may allow them to identify critical details in your medical history that can greatly impact the effectiveness of your treatment.

How do you create a vehicle load plan?

The truth is, you probably already have a basic one in place.  When your family gets in the car, do you sit around discussing who will sit in each seat?  You may ask who’s driving.  But otherwise the plan is usually set for who sits where.  It’s only natural that you establish a routine for something done so frequently.  A vehicle load plan simply encourages you to evaluate and document this process.

There are two aspects to a proper vehicle load plan.


When it comes to assigning people to your vehicle load plan, there are a lot of questions to ask.  Who is the best driver?  Who is the best navigator?  Which is more important right now?  Does a parent need to sit in the back seat to comfort or treat Junior?

The situation affects these decisions, so they may be flexible.  You may not need to put this portion down to paper as critical skills and weapon systems probably won’t play a role.  However, it’s worth considering various options and setting standards based on those options.  You may decide that in the case of an emergency, no navigator is needed.  It may be more important to have a parent in the back seat to comfort a child and leave the driver focused.

As is the case with so much in the world, the right answer is going to be the best decision that can be made with the information available.


The equipment load plan is really where the payoff is.  Not only does it allow you to quickly share where each item is, it also helps you manage your equipment.  Conducting random checks of your equipment becomes much easier when you can simply check a card.

Have you ever loaned someone a set of jumper cables only to realize they aren’t there when you need them?  You forgot to get them back and now you have a dead battery.  It might have been six months ago.  Checking your equipment regularly can prevent exactly this type of situation.  And having a vehicle load plan makes these checks much easier.

Start by organizing your vehicle in a way that best suits your needs.  Documents and a small first aid kit may go in the glove compartment, while larger items belong in the trunk.  Every model of vehicle is different, as well as your individual needs.

I would recommend conducting a complete risk assessment for your equipment.  Conducting a proper risk assessment is its own article, so I won’t go into it today.  If you’d like me to write about risk analyses and assessments, let me know in the comments section below.

Using the results of your risk assessment, place the low impact items in your vehicle first.  Then place your high impact items where they are most accessible.  Make sure to secure these items, as heavy items in a back seat or trunk can become their own risk in an accident.


Once you’ve placed all of your equipment in the vehicle, you’re ready to document.  You can use the example vehicle load plan below to get an idea of how this might look.

Example Vehicle Load Plan

Ref: FM 3-04.500

You probably won’t be loading cases of fragmentation grenades, but the example above is good for demonstrating how an effective card may look.  I recommend doing this on the back of a 5 x 8 index card and taping that index card to the inside of your glove compartment or center console.

Just make sure that the front and back are clearly labeled.  You can do this by marking “Engine” and “Trunk”, or simply using a forward arrow following the direction of travel.

Beginner Checklist

Remember, you need to determine what is most important in your vehicle and how much space you have.  You may want to skip the snow chains if you live in the South.  Yes, it sometimes snows there, but people are so unaccustomed to the snow that being on the roads during a snowy event in the South is it’s own survival situation.

Here are a few generic items you should have listed in your vehicle load plan:

  • Jumper Cables
  • First Aid Kit
  • Spare Tire
  • Jack
  • Tire Iron
  • Water
  • Maps/GPS
  • Phone Chargers

Make this list your own and add to it as appropriate.

Remember, planning ahead can save precious moments in an emergency!

What equipment do you have in your vehicle load plan?


  • says:

    Good piece — taking it a step further, in a SHTF situation, people should get used to carrying stuff in specific places so people you’re with know what’s where. Like in the military, you don’t want it to become an exercise in anal retentiveness (“why don’t you have exactly 3.25 feet of paracord, and why is it red instead of black?” sort of thing), but any insights would be cool.

    • Jason Crawford says:

      Hey Mil News,

      The military has it’s reasons for being exact. Red paracord certainly isn’t going to be appropriate in a tactical environment. I would always have a “minimum amount” required. That way I could just unroll it and rap it around my thumb to arm (like you might a power cord) and know how many wraps would be needed to meet that amount. Getting too specific just takes too much time, but not having enough can be a problem.


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