Why is Situational Awareness So Important?


Spending your life in Condition White is downright stupid, but constantly being in Condition Orange is not an option. Living with effective situational awareness requires balance.

Some years ago, Col. Jeff Cooper USMC designed the Color Code to help us understand the level of mental awareness and preparation needed to deal with violence—or the potential violence—that might encounter. In Condition White, the person is unaware and unprepared. In Condition Yellow, the person is in a state of relaxed awareness, alert for any possible threat. In Condition Orange, the person has observed a potential threat. And, in Condition Red, the person has observed an actual threat.

The armed citizen will rarely if ever, find himself in Condition Red—that is, faced with an actual violent threat. He or she will, however, wind up in Condition Orange quite often. How we deal with a Condition Orange situation directly affects how we can deal with a violent attack or avoid it completely.

Recently, I was having lunch in a little cafe, enjoying my sandwich and reading my book. Since I was sitting where I could see the front door, I immediately noticed a guy come in whose body language just seemed off. Further, he was carrying a walking staff about 5 feet long and 2.5 inches in diameter. To make matters worse, he was talking to himself. Clearly, this could be a problem—Condition Orange.

I kept him under continual observation while he got his meal and sat at a table about 10 feet to my left. He continued to talk to himself but showed no signs of aggression. My response was to shift in my seat, turning slightly toward him, so I could see him without staring directly at him. At the same time, I unfastened my vest so that I could make a quick pistol presentation should the need arise.

The fellow finished his meal and left the cafe, still chatting away with himself. I went back to Condition Yellow.

It is critically important that we keep a subject under constant observation once a potential threat is spotted. This is not the time to watch a while and then go back to shopping, reading your book, or that friendly conversation. We keep the potential threat in view until the threat leaves, we leave, or the matter is otherwise resolved. Let me repeat—don’t take your eyes off of a potential threat.

In the meantime, you should be formulating a plan. Where is the nearest exit? Where is the nearest cover? If you are carrying things, it’s time to put them down and free your hands. It is also time to open whatever covering garments you might be wearing for freer access to your defensive firearm. With a little thought, you can find a way to do all of these things without looking like Wyatt Earp about to enter the OK Corral.

Part of your plan should be what Cooper called the Mental Trigger, “If this person of interest does X, then I am going to do Y.”  You should have a good idea ahead of time what actions you will take in response to the actions taken by the potential threat.

And don’t be so cocky that you forget that the smartest move on your part might be to leave the area. If an argument starts at the other end of the bar, the best move might be to pay your tab and leave. If a gang of punks is wandering around the shopping mall, it might just be time to cut your shopping short and head home.

Although we will rarely draw our defensive handgun while in Condition Orange, it is an excellent idea to make sure it is close at hand. If strangers are on your front porch or wandering around your property, you really don’t have the luxury of leaving. In this case, having the firearm nearby for quick access is critical. Keeping in mind that most situations that put us in Condition Orange don’t escalate, we can still be alert and ready while having a pleasant smile on our face and a kind word on our lips.

If a person truly tries to be alert and aware of what is going on around him, he will go from Condition Yellow to Condition Orange on many occasions. And those occasions of Condition Orange rarely, if ever, escalate to Condition Red. Despite that, we keep the potential threat under constant observation until we realize that it is not a threat or it leaves, or we leave. And, in the meantime, we develop a plan for dealing with a threat. 

It is also important not to ignore a gut feeling in this regard. The fellow I saw in the cafe – my gut told me that he just wasn’t right. I stayed in Condition Orange as long as he was in my presence, but I did it in such a way that neither he nor those in the cafe knew that I was just a step or two away from being ready to fight.

As we’ve observed before, the armed citizen must wait for the criminal to make the first move before responding lethally. Understanding Condition Orange helps the citizen recognize and prepare for the likelihood of an attack and helps to take some of the advantages away from the criminal.

A version of this post appeared in Shooting Illustrated.

This entry was posted in Concealed Carry, Home Defense, Legal, Personal Defense, Training and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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