Situational Awareness. A Priority

Situational Awareness. A Priority

During the training all new, police officers undertake you are taught about situational awareness. You are told it is a skill that can save your life and it can. The during my assessment and training to work under cover they teach you to take it to another level. The more you look at situational awareness and practice to make improvements you will learn two things firstly how important it is and that it is necessary to improve it as a skill.

Before we start to look at how you can improve your situational awareness and teach your children we need to understand what it is. Most people would define Situational Awareness as knowing what is going on around you. That is true but to master it you need to understand more about what it is and how it affects us all.

As I said it is more than just “Knowing what is going on around you.” Some would tag on “The ability to scan your environment and sense danger.” This give a little more depth, but it isn’t just about picking up on dangers or hazards. I would use a definition along the lines of….

“Situational Awareness is being alert to your environment and any changes it. Giving you the knowledge to sense any danger, challenges or opportunities, whilst maintaining the ability to conduct normal activities.”

In one sentence it is “Paying attention to your surroundings, whilst appearing not to be paying attention.”

We live in a society where most people don’t appear to give any concern to situational awareness, many aren’t even aware of what is going on next to them. The biggest enemy to situational awareness is the mobile phone, I am not saying they aren’t good or useful, just that they cause a problem. As you walk down the street you see people walking along and in one hand is a mobile phone and they are glued to it, either chatting away, texting or even just playing games. The problem is if you are looking down at a mobile phone you can’t know what is going on in your immediate area never mind the wider environment. It doesn’t matter where you are or what you are doing situational awareness is essential for everyone.

Jeff Coopers Colour Code

To make it easy to understand situational awareness it is best to start with a system called “Jeff Coopers Colour Code” At some point in the 1970s, Jeff Cooper created what is often called the Colour Code. When he originally thought it up, and as he taught it, his purpose was to describe a shooter’s “…capacity…to cross the psychological barrier that inhibits [the] ability to take deadly action,” i.e. his or her mental preparation to press the trigger on a live target. (Jeff Cooper, “Commentaries,” Vol. 12, No. 5.) Nowadays it has been manipulated into a system for situational awareness. Some will argue this is wrong but personally I believe if it helps keep people safe it is a useful tool however it has been developed.

The Four Colours.

Situational Awareness, A Priority

Situational Awareness, A Priority


This is the time our situational awareness is at its lowest. We are generally relaxed and in an environment, we believe to be safe e.g. our home. This is when we have let our guard down completely. If we are in this state, we are at our most vulnerable and if something happens we are not prepared at all.


If you are in condition yellow, you remain in a relaxed state, but you are aware of who and what is around you. You know what is going on in the area around you. Basically, you are paying attention to the sights and sounds that surround you were ever you are, whether you are at home or moving around in society.

Important Note.

This does not mean you are paranoid or have any other irrational fear of persons or places. You have simply shifted your alertness to a level of attention that will prevent you from being totally surprised by the actions of another person or situation.

As you move up these levels of Situational Awareness you are increasing your observation to what it is happening, and any changes there may be around you, whilst collating information such as where the exits are, fire escapes, what people are around you, what you can hear or smell.

In comparison to White where any change in your situation would be a complete surprise yellow means you are more responsive to change and would be able to make decisions and take action which could lead to further changes in the colour level you are in.

This would be the ideal level to be in when going about everyday activities.


To be in Orange you will have noticed something in your environment or a change which has alerted you and you start to focus on it and anything in its immediate vicinity. Initially this may or may not be a hazard or threat to you or anyone with or near you. You are now prepared, just in case something develops or happens, and you need to act. Although you are in orange and you are focused on something specific you must not lose or stop your all round situational awareness. Depending on what you are doing or where you are it is likely that you will fluctuate between yellow and orange many times and you don’t come across any threats or danger. This is a time to be aware and make an extra effort to ensure you maintain situational awareness always.


If you are in Orange and something you are focused on develops and you realise you are going to have to act, whether it is dealing with the developing incident or just getting out of the area, you are in Red. Once you are in Red you are prepared for action, there are no surprises. You hopefully have a plan and because you have situational awareness you have a plan, because you have been gathering information being in Yellow, Orange prior to Red. Once in Red most of the planning is over and you are implementing your plan.

As you can see this isn’t about being paranoid. Situational awareness is about gathering information or intelligence and being prepared in what ever situation you are in. It is a fact that our society has changed, and we can’t walk around looking at our feet or mobile phone all the time. What you miss one second could delay you acting in a situation that could save your life and or your property. Although I would like to say the chances of being involved in a terrorist incident is unlikely, it has been shown recently that if you are going to be it will be when you are in a situation where you wouldn’t have thought it would happen. For example, a pop concert, sightseeing, catching a bus or train or even visiting a busy market.

Also, terrorism isn’t the only things we need to be aware of fire and building evacuations can be an extremely dangerous situation to be in. There is also that state of the art Smart phone that someone is watching you use whilst walking around and would like to relieve you of and have for themselves.


This isn’t about scaring people, it should hopefully make us stop and acknowledge the world we live in and we can feel safe and reassured that we have situational awareness and be prepared for changes in situations. You wont necessarily be the victim of a crime or get hurt when a situation changes for the worse. Situational Awareness is a skill we all need both young, old and older.

The fifth Colour.

I haven’t included this with Coopers Colours because you can and will fluctuate between  each area as your situation changes. The fifth colour is black and is the one area shouldn’t enter and shouldn’t want to, because black is “Panic” “System Overload” The breakdown of you both physically and emotionally. If you enter black it is game over, you are not in control and you do not have the required control to deal with the situation you are in.

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