Like animals, humans are territorial. Territoriality is rooted in our DNA. On a daily basis we make a claim to the space around us. We protect our “personal space.” We place pictures and other personalizing items on our desks and workspaces to ensure that other people know this is our space. If we are students, we sit in the same seat on a daily basis and then get upset if someone sits in that seat one day, because it is “my seat.” We place “no trespassing” signs on our property. We look at people strange if they get too close to our cars. Territoriality has been defined as: “an individual’s behavioral expression of his or her feelings of ownership toward a physical or social object” (Brown, Lawrence, and Robinson, 2004). In other words, humans develop feelings of ownership over the space around them and objects they normally interact with, and they express this ownership through subtle and overt signs—through aggressive postures, explicit warning signs, proxemic behavior, and other such indicators.

D. Kim Rossmo, in his book Geographic Profiling, has defined an anchor point as “The base from which an individual resides or regularly operates; usually the single most important location in a person’s life.” We would extend this definition to include both individuals and groups. Individual criminals, gangs, terrorists and insurgent groups, law enforcement agencies, etc., all use anchor points. These anchor points provide a base of operations for these individuals and groups; these anchor points allow for planning, preparation, rehearsing, refitting, resting, and other such activities. Anchor points are where people and groups leave from in order to conduct an operation, and the place to which they return after the operation is complete. How do anchor points relate to territoriality? Territoriality is at the root of the concept of anchor points.

Because anchor points are so important to individuals and groups, territorial behavior will be displayed to the maximum at the anchor point. Take, for instance, a U.S. Forward Operating Base (FOB) in a foreign country. A FOB is a type of anchor point. A FOB includes both passive and active defensive measures: protective walls, guards and guard towers, limited entry and exit points which are controlled by security personnel, other types of active and passive surveillance and sensing equipment, local patrols, obstacles, etc. Two other aspects of anchor points are boundaries and buffer zones. Boundaries are exactly that—explicit or implicit lines that define the territory, the anchor point. Buffer zones are defined by Rossmo as “An area centered around the criminal’s residence within which targets are viewed as less desirable because of the perceived risk associated with operating too close to home.”  U.S. military forces limit their offensive actions in these spaces, criminals limit the attacks they conduct in these buffer zones.

But FOBs are obvious and overt. However, the same types of indicators can be observed for criminal and insurgent anchor points that are intended to be hidden and clandestine. Criminals and insurgents will still have some type of boundary and buffer zone. The will have observers and lookouts, security and restricted access. If the local populace knows about the anchor point, the a proxemic push will be observable as locals attempt to avoid the anchor point. All of these things may be subtle, but are still visible with detailed observation. Law enforcement personnel, military personnel, and even the average citizen can become more situationally aware by understanding the concepts of territoriality. By observing how people protect particular spaces, or how they react and behave when a particular space is encroached upon, we can begin to understand the importance of those spaces and who (individuals or groups) feels a sense of ownership over those spaces. By looking for things such as security, limited access, active and passive protective measures, proxemic pushes by locals and proxemic pulls by certain individuals, we can gain a sense of the geographic breakdown of our environments. By looking things such as buffer zones, we can potentially pinpoint the anchor points of gangs and insurgent organizations because the concept of “not taking a dump where you sleep” applies to criminal and insurgent activity, and produces spaces around anchor points that lack crime and attacks. By understanding territoriality we can better understand the behavior of those around us, and increase our situational awareness, survivability, and ability to determine threats.


B. B. Brown, “Territoriality,” pages 505-531 in Handbook of environmental psychology, vol. 2 (D. Stokols & I. Altman, eds.; Wiley, 1987).

Graham Brown, Thomas B. Lawrence, and Sandra L. Robinson, “Territoriality in Oganizations,” Academy of Management Review 30 (2005): 577-594.

E. T. Hall, The silent language,(Doubleday, 1959).
D. Kim Rossmo, Geographic Profiling (CRC Press, 1999).

Robert D. Sacks, Human Territoriality: Its Theory and History (Cambridge University Press, 1986).