Situational Awareness- Color Codes of Awareness

By Bob Harvey

Color Codes of Awareness
Color Codes of Awareness
South Florida Gun School
South Florida Gun School

West Palm Beach, FL –-( Jeff Cooper, one of the greatest instructors of modern Defensive Pistol Shooting in our time, coined the 4 color codes of awareness.

Cooper was known for his work at The American Pistol Institute and later Gunsite.

What most people do not realize is that Cooper learned this as a US Marine and it was used before he was born. The major difference is how Cooper taught the color codes.

Here is a statement that Col. Jeff Cooper coined about color codes of awareness:

“Considering the principles of personal defense, we have long since come up with the Color Code. This has met with surprising success in debriefings throughout the world. The Color Code, as we preach it, runs white, yellow, orange, and red, and is a means of setting one’s mind into the proper condition when exercising lethal violence, and is not as easy as I had thought at first. There is a problem in that some students insist upon confusing the appropriate color with the amount of danger evident in the situation. ”

“As I have long taught, you are not in any color state because of the specific amount of danger you may be in, but rather in a mental state which enables you to take a difficult psychological step. Now, however, the government has gone into this and is handing out color codes nationwide based upon the apparent nature of a peril. It has always been difficult to teach the Gunsite Color Code, and now it is more so. We cannot say that the government’s ideas about colors are wrong, but that they are different from what we have long taught here. The problem is this: your combat mind-set is not dictated by the amount of danger to which you are exposed at the time. Your combat mind-set is properly dictated by the state of mind you think appropriate to the situation.”

“You may be in deadly danger at all times, regardless of what the Defense Department or Department of Justice tells you. The color code which influences you does depend upon the willingness you have to jump a psychological barrier against taking irrevocable action.”

“That decision is less hard to make since the jihadis have already made it.”

Col. Jeff Cooper
Col. Jeff Cooper

In my opinion Cooper was right. The color codes are not, I repeat, are not a rule of thumb based on the amount of danger you are in. It is a rule if thumb for when the decision and act portion of the Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act ( OODA ) Loop is used.

It is not used as a trigger for the Observe portion, it is slightly used in the Orientation portion of your LOOP. It is used heavily in the Decision and Action portion of your decision making process. Using these color codes increases your speed, shrinking your LOOP while it slows the speed thereby increasing the size of your opponents OODA LOOP.

Again we are talking about speed/time and distance.

Let’s see how it works. Here are the Color Codes with explanation.

White – This color is when you are totally unaware. You should only be in this condition when you are asleep. Hopefully your backup will watch your 6. Unless your violent opponent is totally inept or you are incredibly lucky the end result is you are maimed or dead. You will be caught totally unprepared for the violent encounter. Where in the OODA LOOP? Nowhere, no actually you may Observe but doubtful. Odds of winning almost 0%.

Yellow – Aware. You may have to and are prepared to make the decision to use deadly force. This is the minimum condition that you should live your life in when you walk out of your house. In a combat zone or highly dangerous area, this is the minimum preparedness you should carry. There is not a specific threat as of yet. Where are you in the OODA LOOP? Observation!!!!!!!!!!!! Odds of winning increases 25%.

Orange –  A Specific threat that you are prepared to destroy with lethal force. You are not in lethal mode yet, but you have drawn the boundaries at which you will enter into your Violence of Action Mode. OODA LOOP? Observation, Orientation, Decision…….Just not Action yet. Odds of winning increases 50%.

RED – Game ON. You will use deadly force if necessary. You are in full blown fight mode. Or you better be. There is no alternative. You are into your LOOP and its time to Act on the decisions you have made previously or restart your LOOP in a hurry or most rikki-tic.

The Marine Corps adds a color Black to their color code. We will not be using that because in Code Black it is FREEZE.

Obviously we are training you to Win not just survive a gunfight. We do not accept FREEZE. This is considered a catastrophic breakdown in Mental and Physical performance.


Bob Harvey
President/ Chief Instructor
South Florida Gun School
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