Cooper’s Color Code is a simple and effective way to grasp situational awareness. Cooper’s Code (originally intended for police and law enforcement,) separates different levels of awareness into color categories using the colors: white, yellow, orange, red, and black. In this article we will break down what each color represents and in what situations you might use each one.
White- White is the color most of us find ourselves in when we are in our own homes, awareness is not at the forefront of our minds and we are not actively scanning for potential threats. There is nothing wrong with being relaxed and feeling safe in your own home. The problem with this level of awareness is when it is brought into a more unpredictable setting. For instance, when I am in my own home, I can usually trust that a random stranger will not walk through my front door, sit on the couch beside me, change the channel on my tv, and then demand I provide them popcorn. However, a higher level of awareness would be required when I leave my house and enter a more public area such as a gas station, where there is more potential for a threat to arise.
Yellow- Yellow is the level of awareness we should find ourselves in the majority of the time we are in the uncontrolled environment outside of our homes. Yellow is not a state of constant paranoia and worry that something could potentially happen at any moment, it is simply being alert to what is going on around you and minimizing distractions. Let’s go back to the aforementioned gas station setting. You pull in next to a pump and get out of your car. You get a phone call, so you answer while walking in to pay. As you are answering your friend’s question about whether or not you’re coming for dinner that night, a car horn blows loudly in your ear. You realize that while on your phone, you walked right out in front of a delivery truck pulling out. While nothing actually happened in this scenario, you’re probably going to be more careful the next time you cross. Being in yellow simply means knowing your surroundings and understanding that the phone call can wait until you're back in your car with the doors locked. I also believe it’s important to note that if you don't notice the vehicle coming toward you until it honks, you probably will not notice the man coming toward you with the intention of stealing your wallet until it is too late.
Orange- Orange is the next stage. While yellow is just being aware of people and things around you, orange is a more specified awareness. You would be in an orange state when you notice something different about your surroundings, and prepare yourself for action if it must be taken. Consider this, you're getting groceries at the local convenience store when you start to notice a man paying a little too much attention to you, and you keep ending up on the same aisles. This could be nothing more than a shared fondness of peanut butter, but you still begin to consciously make yourself more aware of the location of the suspicious man, while also not forsaking being alert to your other surroundings and the store’s exits.
Red- Red is the stage of awareness you switch to when the subject of your stage orange does something you perceive as threatening, turning them from a potential threat into a potential target. Let’s say the man from the store is now walking toward you in the parking lot. In stage orange, you already would have come up with ways to handle potential scenarios regarding the possible threat. Red is where you decide on and implement a course of action befitting the actual situation. In your current situation the best course of action to take would probably be to acknowledge his presence and ask the man not to come any closer. Anyone with harmless intentions is most likely to stop in their tracks and explain the situation. This would end the confrontation and you could get in your car and drive away. A longer more physical course of action would be required if the subject continued to approach after being warned to stop.
Black- Black is the situation where you never want to find yourself. You see, there are some situations where you find yourself going black instead of red. Instead of executing a plan to get yourself out of a dangerous situation your mind becomes overloaded, your body refuses to act, and you just… Freeze. This happens most often when a situation is unexpected, and doesn't happen as often when you’ve made yourself aware of the potential threat and have thought of a course of action to take. This is why the first three stages are so important, they aren't a foolproof way of staying out of black, but it does increase the likelihood of you keeping a level head.
The Color Code is a great way to think about situational awareness and it is very important to remember that the goal of the first four colors is to keep you safe and out of stage black. The purpose of the color code (when applied to every day life) is not to have you live in a constant state of fear, but to allow you to walk confidently knowing what is around you, and allow you prepare yourself to handle any situation with a level head and a plan.
Stay Alert, Stay Safe, and Train Hard.