June 24, 2017

Levels of Alert; The Cooper Color Code

This week I am going to cover some different types of awareness. You might be thinking; “What does this have to do with preparedness?” My answer is simple; everything. 

Proverbs 27:12:

A prudent person foresees danger and takes precautions. The simpleton goes blindly on and suffers the consequences.”

You can’t avoid the danger if you aren’t aware of it and you can’t be aware of it if you’re not watching for it.  This is a skillset that I developed young.  I was horribly picked on from grade one though grade nine.  I learned that being unaware got my books dumped, got me punched or found me as the target of some other torment. This is a skillset some people are born with and others have to learn.  The information I am going to cover this week is important, especially for my female readers. 

Today I am going to talk about the Cooper Color Code, which was developed by Col. Jeff Cooper, USMC.  Col. Cooper was one of America’s premier firearms instructors, forming the American Pistol Institute.  There have been many variants and this will be my take of the Cooper Color Code.

Condition White

White is the lowest level of awareness.  This is the level you are at when at home and relaxed.  If you are in Condition White out in public, you may be startled by someone as they pass in the grocery store or cut someone off in traffic and not realize it until they’re in your rearview mirror being unfriendly in your general direction.

Condition Yellow

In condition yellow you are relaxed but fully aware of your surroundings.  This is the place where you spend most of your day.  There are no specific threats but you are aware that there could be and you are scanning for them.  I think of it like the Terminator movies; the Terminator would scan every person or target it came into contact with.  If the target was deemed safe, it stayed at Condition Yellow and moved to the next target.  If the target was deemed a possible threat, the Terminator continued to scan the same threat or moved to Condition Orange.

Condition Orange

In condition orange, your mindset changes from relaxed and aware to “I may have to defend myself”.  You are focused on a single target and continue to scan others to see if they mean to do you harm.   You also draw a mental line in the sand; telling yourself “if they do ‘x’, I will do ‘y’.  If they prove not to be a threat, you move back down to Condition Yellow. If they do ‘x’, you move to Condition Red.

This might be the most important part of this entire exercise.  You have to decide right now how you will handle a threat so that when you are in Condition Orange or Red, you already know how you’ll respond.  Your heart will be racing and your mind will be taking in too much information to decide in THAT moment.  In Condition Orange, you just draw the mental line in the sand and already know how you will respond.

Condition Red

You are ready to fight.  You may or may not have to but you are mentally ready.  Most of the time you won’t actually have to.  Mr. Dirtbag is often a coward and the simple act of you being aware will be enough to stop him. If Mr. Dirtbag does move to do you harm, you have already decided your action.  Now you must act with as much force as is needed to stop the threat.

Here is an example:

My wife and I are at home in condition white, getting ready to go to the mall for an errand.  We are both armed.  We leave the house and switch to Condition Yellow.  We remain there until we walk into the mall and three thug-looking guys stare us down as they enter right before us.  We are now in Condition Orange, with all of them. 

We have discussed this previously and agreed that if there was ever the need to draw on a single person, I would be the one to draw.  If there is need to draw on multiple people, I draw on the right person, she on the left.  This isn’t to say that this is our first action, just what we would do if the situation dictates it.

Since we have both moved to Orange, we are both making mental lines in the sand and waiting for one of the three to cross them.  If the three continue into the mall and keep to themselves, we move back to Yellow.  However, if they turn around, we move immediately to Red. 

At this point, we haven’t drawn on Mr. Dirtbag and friends but we are ready to if they take us down that road.  If they turned around because they remember they forgot their receipt in the car and are going back to get it, we move back to Orange until they are out of sight.  If they start to move toward us and clearly mean us harm, we would act according to them and stay in Condition Red until they moved on.  At that point, we would de-escalate, eventually back down to Yellow.

For those of you who don’t have this skillset, try using this today.  It will take more effort in the beginning but will become second nature soon.

Situational Awareness and Training Situational Awareness are two related articles you might be interested in.


  1. Love this!! My husband and I are going to a CCW class in May, and will be carrying after that!! This is perfect for the two of us to start practicing now AND then!!

    • Chris Ray says:

      I think it’s great that you two are taking the CCW course together. You’ll be pros at this by the time you’re carrying.

  2. Cooper color code as been used by gun owners for a long time. Whenever we carry fire arms or any deadly weapon our minds should go into go into this mindset.
    It could save you or your loved ones life.
    Thanks for reminding me of it Chris

  3. Nancy Sims says:

    Another excellent article. Unfortunately for me, this is the first I’ve heard of the Cooper color code. It is sort of what I do automatically. On the defence, always trying to pay attention to my surroundings. Another unfortunate for me and mine, is the fact that we can not carry in California, which really frosts me, as I thought it was my right. Criminals carry!
    Anyway, would love to learn more about the color code, and will look it up on the internet, and ask my shooting instructor. Thank you again for all you do, Chris.

    • Chris Ray says:

      Thank you Nancy, I would recommend looking up Col. Cooper himself as well.

    • Nancy,

      I received some top notch training that incorporated Cooper’s Color coding in California from a group called Suarez International. The instructors that I had (Corinna and Richard Coplin) were very knowledgable of CA’s laws. Richard converted to Judism many years ago, so his out look on things is very simular that of a Christian. I have included a link below to the website. They also have a training specifically on situational awareness, but they do not list it on the website. I hope that this helps you, Nancy. http://www.suarezinternationalstore.com/trainingcourses.aspx

  4. I was not aware you could carry in a mall. Most of the public places has a “No guns allowed”. My husband has a ccp but keeps the gun in the car not on his person.

    On another note, I love your blog and the Christian viewpoint of prepping.

    • Chris Ray says:

      The carry laws vary from state to state, in Minnesota the business has to put up signage. Some do, some don’t.

      Thank you for the compliment.

  5. Cooper, left out one last color. Black. This is when you don’t practice the steps, of the code. And you allow yourself to be “duke” into thinking that there is no danger.

  6. Pretty good code alert system for fire arm owners. But its a lot different than “actually combat” because in a situation you don’t carry arms you need to defend yourself and family with Martial Arts. I’m a Martial Artists! Currently, I’m learning Krav Maga and its been helpful especially if I don’t carry a knife or a gun. All those hours of training paid off so its a good thing I know how to disarm anyone if they threaten me.

    • The color code is for general awareness, and can be used even when not carrying a firearm. I studied a martial art called Haganah that is based on Krav Maga, and in many situations I would rather use it than go right to deadly force. I use the color code for overall awareness, and when I get to condition orange, I will than decide to use either martial arts or my firearm.

  7. grammyprepper says:

    I am a cop’s daughter, so I was raised this way, altho not designated. As a former ER nurse, we used color coding for trauma, so this makes much sense. I had become complacent because of where we live, but have become much more aware as I am spending more time in a major city, and I find I am much more aware when walking the dog at nite than i used to be.

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