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Awareness Color Code Chart

jeff-cooper-retrospectiveThe Color Code of Awareness was originally defined by the late Jeff Cooper, Lt. Colonel USMC (ret) and founder of Gunsite.  Cooper is well known for developing "the Modern Technique" of handgun shooting and is one of the 20th century's foremost international experts on the use and history of small arms.  He is also responsible for advocating the four basic rules of firearms safety.
The color codes of awareness are not to be confused with the government’s rendition that corresponds to the amount of danger to which you are exposed to at a given time.  Instead, it refers to your current state of mind and willingness to take action regardless of real or imagined threats.  It is considered a simple system of describing situational awareness.  The most important means of surviving a lethal confrontation, according to Lt. Col. Cooper, is neither the weapon nor the martial skills.  The primary tool is the combat mindset, set forth in his book, Principles of Personal Defense.
coopers code1White Unaware and unprepared. If attacked in Condition White, the only thing that may save you is the inadequacy or ineptitude of your attacker.

Yellow Relaxed alert. No specific threat. You are aware that the world is a potentially unfriendly place and you are prepared to defend yourself if necessary.  You don't have to be armed in this state, but if you are armed you should always be in Condition Yellow. You should be in Yellow whenever you are in unfamiliar surroundings or among people you don't know. You can remain in Yellow for long periods of time.  You are "taking in" surrounding information in a relaxed but alert manner.

Orange Specific alert. Something is not quite right and has your attention. You shift your primary focus to determine if there is a threat. Your mindset shifts to "I may have to shoot that person today", focusing on the specific target which has caused the escalation in alert status. In Condition Orange, you set a mental trigger: "If that person does "X", I will need to stop them". Staying in Orange can be a bit of a mental strain. If the threat proves to be nothing, you shift back to Condition Yellow.

Red Fight or flight. Your threat threshold has been breached and the fight is on.  You are actively engaging a threat and responding to situations until such time as the threat is removed.

The United States Marine Corps uses an additional condition Black, although it was not originally part of Lt. Cooper's Color Code.

Black Catastrophic breakdown of mental and physical performance. Usually over 175 heartbeats per minute, increased heart rate becomes counter productive. May have stopped thinking correctly. This can happen when going from Condition White or Yellow immediately to Condition Red.