Self-defense professionals often advise their students to “Live in Condition Yellow.” This terminology comes from one of the all-time great personal-protection teachers, the late Lt. Col. Jeff Cooper. He was the first to popularize the concept of color codes to describe levels of alertness and preparedness. In Condition White, Cooper explained, one was unaware of his or her surroundings and unprepared to swiftly react to sudden danger. Next up on the scale was Condition Yellow, a state of relaxed alertness. Condition Orange is a heightened awareness focused on gathering input when there is reason to believe that some particular danger is present. Col. Cooper’s continuum ended at Condition Red, when the danger had been located and identified, and it was conflict time. Some of us went with a fifth color code, Condition Black, delineating Red as the gunpoint situation with a threat clearly identified, and Black being “lethal assault in progress” upon us or other innocent people, the point at which we had no alternative but to neutralize the threat. In this article, we’ll focus on Condition Yellow, the cultivation of a constant “relaxed alertness.” We have long called it “situational awareness.” Let’s examine some of its elements.

It begins with knowing where we are and who is around us. Whether you’re driving or walking, ask yourself, without waiting to see the next road marker or street sign, could you tell someone exactly where you are right now? Without checking your driving mirrors or swiveling your head, could you describe the nearest vehicle or pedestrian and know how far they are behind you? The uninitiated think this is paranoia, or hyper-vigilance. On the contrary, it’s common sense. Leave self-defense out of it for a moment. Let’s say you’re driving on a lonely road, whether in the hottest desert or a snow-swept northern landscape, and you come across an overturned automobile, with multiple severely injured people inside. Suppose further that a working GPS is not available to you. Could you vector rescue personnel to the scene in time to save their lives? You are taking a late-night stroll through a park in a city you’re visiting and a jogger in front of you suddenly falls to the ground and stops breathing. Can you describe your location sufficiently to get paramedics there while there’s still time to save him?

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  • Doc Rogers

    Doc Rogers Says: Mr. Massad Ayoob has expertly written a very informative article on situational awareness and how to “Live in Condition Yellow” for personal safety and security. Excellent work. I learned a lot, thank you, Sir.