No discussion of awareness would seem complete without a mention of Cooper’s Colors. Originally publicly introduced and propagated by retired Marine Lieutenant Colonel Jeff Cooper. Cooper was the founder of American Pistol Institute, later called Gunsite and was an early proponent of combat handgunning. In his book Principles of Personal Defense Cooper outlined four levels of mindset:
White: Unaware and unprepared. In this condition you are unaware of your surroundings and unprepared to respond to a threat against you. Unfortunately many people walk around at this level everyday.
Yellow: Relaxed alert. You are aware of what is going on around you and you have mentally recognized that a threat may appear and you may need to respond to it. You are not however in a hyper-vigilant state. This is a relaxed state that can be maintained for long periods of time without fatigue. This is the level you should be in most of the time, in particular whenever you are in public.
Orange: Specific alert or heightened alert. You have identified a particular threat and have made the mental decision that you will act if the threat takes a certain action. This can also apply to entering a location or area where there is an increased threat that requires deliberate attention. This is not a relaxed state and cannot be effectively maintained for long periods of time.
Red: Condition Red is fight. This is pretty self explanatory. You are in a personal combat situation or a survival/self preservation mode.
Cooper’s Colors and variations of it have been adopted by numerous entities, instructors and so forth, sometimes with minor modifications. Some also use a fifth condition call Condition Black that refers to a breakdown of mental and physical performance due to being overwhelmed by a situation – for example moving from condition white to red as the result of an ambush attack.
Many US Citizens may recognize this color scheme from the Department of Homeland Security’s Threat Levels that were originally used and later abandoned in favor of the National Threat Advisory System. The color system arguably better relates to personal security measures than to national threat levels.
In my opinion the key points to take away are:
(1) Awareness levels are scalable.
(2) Condition Yellow is arguably the level we should all maintain most of the time.
(3) We will likely move back and forth between levels yellow and orange as we encounter different people and situations in our daily routine.
(4) There are some inherent dangers in Condition White. We should recognize Condition white and not use it when we are in public.