Be Prepared: Jeff Cooper’s Color Code of Mental Awareness

The Color Codes of Mental and Situational Awareness

This article will go over the Jeff Cooper color codes of awareness. Sometimes referred to as “mental awareness”, these colors represent different levels of “alertness” and how closely you are paying attention to the environment and people in your immediate vicinity.

The goal is to give you some tips of where you should be and when you should be there. This is also related to the “Combat Mindset” which was created by Jeff Cooper, but I suggest it is useful for everyone in everyday life.

Color Codes of situational awareness

Situational Awareness and the color codes go hand-in-hand. These are skills that can save your life by allowing you to know when something bad is about to happen, and get away! If you cannot get away, you will have the upper hand because you saw it coming and have a plan ready to go.

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Criminals are looking for “easy” targets to rob, rape, murder or whatever their evil minds desire. They are mostly cowards that are looking to take advantage of “soft” targets. A soft target is an easy target such as a smaller, weaker, older person, or someone that is NOT PAYING ATTENTION TO THEIR SURROUNDINGS and can be easily overpowered.

Don’t be a soft target.

In this day and age where people are attacked for a couple bucks, a pair of sneakers, a political viewpoint or no reason at all, you need to be aware of your surroundings.

The color codes of awareness:

  • White
  • Yellow
  • Orange
  • Red
  • Black

Condition White

man in condition white
This Man is Not Paying Attention to His World.

In this day and age of digital devices, everyone seems to be texting or posting selfies on Facebook and Twitter and looking at YouTube and TikTok videos all day long. Doing this leaves most people in what we call Condition White.

Condition white is an awareness level of basically zero. You are looking at your phone and you really have no idea what is going on around you. This means you are not aware of who is watching you or who is following you.

Not only are you open to attack, but you may not know that you’re about to step in a pothole, walk into a pole or slip on a recently mopped floor.

You can go on YouTube and see all kinds of fail videos where people are not paying attention. Some are so involved in what’s on their phone screen that one lady walked right into a fountain in a mall (video above). Another young man walked right into a light pole as he was walking down the sidewalk. Being in condition white leaves you vulnerable to not only an accident but someone attacking you to possibly grab your phone, wallet or your child!

There are Times when Condition White is ok

This is not to say you can never be in condition white. This condition is also when you are sleeping, reading a newspaper (as if anyone does that anymore), reading a good book, focused on a hobby or just setting your mind to thinking about your plans and thoughts.

These are times were condition white is OK, as long as you are in a relatively secure location. Obviously we all need to sleep so your best bet when you are sleeping is to make sure that your home is secure. Be sure you have good locks and appropriate warning devices such as alarms or dogs. You want something to alert you should somebody enter your home.

There are also times when you can be in condition white if you were in the company of someone else who is watching your back.

Condition Yellow

paying attention in condition yellow
This Man is Relaxed, but Paying Attention to His Surroundings

This is the condition you should be in most of the time. Even more so when you are away from the relative safety of your home. In condition yellow you are relaxed but alert.

You are looking around as you go about your day and noticing what is going on in your world. We are not just talking about an attack, we are also concerned with general safety and accident avoidance.

When you walk into a room, restaurant, theater, office, mall, or other enclosed area, you will take notice:

  • Where are the exits? (are they blocked or locked?)
  • Who else is here? (are these the type of people you expect in this venue?)
  • Is anyone here that does not belong?
  • Is anyone dressed in a suspicious way? (heavy coat in warm weather)
  • Is anything out of place? (you walk into the bank or convenience store and do not see anyone)
  • Is there anything happening here that looks dangerous? (construction, man on a ladder, slippery floor)

Look at everyone and everything, including the ceiling. This should only take a few seconds and after a while it will become second nature and you won’t even realize you are doing it, but it could save your life.

Everywhere you go, notice the people that are around you. When you are driving, you know exactly who is in the next lane and how close they are. Take notice of a delivery van parked near your home when you leave for work. Be aware when there are people sitting in a car near your car in a parking lot, etc.

One of the things you’ll often hear in the gun world is to keep your head on a swivel. This simply means as you are going about your business you are looking around to see what’s next to you, in front of you and behind you.

This is all just so you can be prepared if something unusual occurs. If it does, you will immediately go to condition orange.

Condition Orange

condition orange heighted attention
Noticing Something is Not Quite Right…

Condition orange is simply when you notice something that could potentially be a threat, although you don’t have enough information yet. You are on higher alert than condition yellow and are more focused on a particular person or event.

Consider some of these scenarios:

You notice people walking in your direction that look a bit out of place. Suppose you go to your car in a parking lot and noticed there are people hanging around it or people doing nothing in the car or van next to yours. Perhaps one morning when you’re leaving for work you notice a delivery van that is been parked for hours two houses down. The people sitting in it have been looking around the neighborhood.

Start thinking what you will do if the threat becomes real

When you notice something that isn’t right, you go into condition orange, a state of heightened awareness and focus. This is the time to start creating distance between you and the possible threat to you or your family. Maybe you are on the street and now you changed direction to try to avoid any trouble. If you have entered a convenience store and see what could be a robbery going down, you head for the door.

You need to start thinking about what you might do if that potential threat becomes an actual threat. You won’t necessarily draw a weapon or stomp on the gas pedal and run a light, but you will start thinking about your next step should things go sideways. Maybe you place your hand on your weapon just in case. Most of the time, the potential threat will turn out to be nothing at all, and you will return to condition yellow.

If, however, the potential threat turns out to be a real threat, it is time to go to condition red!

Condition Red

Condition red: getting ready to defend himself
Getting Ready to Draw a Concealed Firearm

Condition red is where you need to be when you recognize an actual legitimate threat. Maybe you’re out walking and you are suddenly flanked by two people who don’t seem to be interested in anything but you. Maybe you’re in a restaurant and that suspicious looking man you noticed earlier has just announced a robbery. Maybe there’s someone knocking on your door and you told him to go away but he continues to knock and starts to try to break it down. This is the time to be ready put a plan into action.

Your plan may include:

  • Verbal commands
  • Drawing a weapon
  • Using a nearby item as a weapon if you are not armed
  • Running away if able
  • Stomping the gas and getting out of Dodge
  • Calling 911 if that is your only option

Any of these can be legitimate actions to take depending on your situation. It is imperative that you think about and train for these situations so you know what you are going to do BEFORE you end up in these circumstances.

When it comes to a threat on your life or those of your loved ones, condition red is when you have formulated your defense plan and are ready to execute it a moments notice against a real, verified threat. you will execute when the threat becomes imminent and there is no other option.

Condition Black

You are in condition black when you are in a defensive fight or combat, hopefully delivering enough force to end the threat. (Condition black was not part of Jeff Cooper’s original color code) This is why you need training and practice. You want to be prepared and skilled with empty hands, firearm, or whatever you have handy to use as a defensive tool.


The main point I want to get across with this article is that you need to avoid condition white when you are out of your secure home or other secure area. Stay alert, but relaxed at all times in condition yellow. Always know who and what is near you, and what is going on in your little section of the world.

If you are interested in Defensive Handgun Training, see Front Sight Firearms Training Institute Review.

If you prefer online learning and training, consider becoming a member of the USCCA. They will provide all the concealed carry and home defense information and training that you will need to become the Protector of yourself and your family.

Visit the USCCA Membership Page for all the information.

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I hope you have learned some valuable information in this article. If you have questions or comments, please leave them in the comment section below.

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