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"Cooper's Color Codes" is a continuum of mental states represented by a set of colors, white-yellow-orange-red-black. They represent a system of attitudes and mindsets that are meant to provide structure and order to a person's situational awareness.

White: Unaware and unprepared. You are relying on others or on circumstance to provide for your safety. You are relying on the ineptitude of your enemies.

Yellow: Relaxed alert. There is no specific threat. You make the conscious decision to be aware of your surroundings, particularly among unfamiliar people and places. The commonly given phrase to go with condition yellow is that you have decided "I may have to shoot today." I have been taught that this is where you live if you want to keep living.

Orange: Specific alert. Something specific has your attention and does not feel right. You make an assessment of the potential threat, and you set a trigger for action. You decide that if X happens, or is made to happen, you will have reaction Y. You have realized "I may have to shoot this person today." If there isn't a threat after all, you can drop back down to yellow.

Red: The fight is on. Your trigger has been tripped and you follow through with your plan. You have decided that since X has happened, you must do Y. Or to continue with the canonical example, "I now have to shoot this person." When the threat is eliminated, step back down to orange.

Condition Black: Catastrophic breakdown of mental and physical performance. Panic or unthinking reaction. This is usually the result of being caught in condition white and being forced to go immediately to condition red. You are in trouble. You are a crispy critter. You are back to relying on the ineptitude of your enemies. They've managed to surprise you, so how inept can they be?

When you live and sometimes die by this mental continuum, your subjective experience is altered to match. You spend long enough living in yellow, and you'll never climb back down again. You learn to tread that narrow passageway between vigilance and paranoia. You learn, or you go crazy.


A man rolls up in the summer dusk. He's sweating profusely because he's dressed unseasonably warm. His hands are in his pockets.

Afghans don't walk with their hands in their pockets. They walk with their hands clasped behind their backs.

My brain says, "WATCH."

He's making direct eye contact with the gate guard, and walking with a purpose up to the gate. His hands are in his pockets and he's not stopping to chat with anybody waiting in line.

That means he's not from around here; everyone in line are people from the local village that work on base as day laborers.

CAUTION.

He's still walking towards the gate guard. Not standing in line to get in. He's five feet from the concrete Jersey barrier.

DANGER.

The gate guard is telling him to stop. He keeps walking. He's up on the barrier now.

The guard is screaming, now, and has his rifle leveled.

The man explodes.


A year later, a man rolls up on me in the evening dark outside a bar. Hand in his jacket pocket, hat pulled down low.

It's not cool enough for that jacket. Forecast said maybe rain, maybe it's the only one he has. Collar turned up. It's a nice jacket. Maybe fashion took precedence over the weather. Maybe.

Making direct eye contact with me, now, and moving with a purpose. No bro-nod or passing greeting. He's turning towards me. Still moving.

WATCH.

I take a half step back and turn my profile towards him. He keeps coming, still direct eye contact. Not a word.

DANGER.

I'm watching his hands now. I'm ready to grab whatever comes out of that jacket pocket and turn his knee inside out in a heartbeat.

And this is what I see: He's just outside arm's length. I will have to take a half step to get in grabbing range. If it's a gun I will need to grab by the barrel, stiff-arm it upwards and away from the people inside the building. He's right handed. If it's a knife, I will need to get him by the wrist and try to not get cut too badly. If it's a knife, I will almost certainly get cut. Deal with it. Either way, his other hand is free, but it's my right against his left. I'll need to grab the front of his jacket; his natural reflexes will get his off hand flailing to protect his throat if I try to grab there first. If I can wail on his face once or twice, he'll drop the weapon unless he has some serious training. I hope he runs. I don't want to kill anyone tonight. I hope he runs.

Hand coming out of the pocket, now. The cusp of a decision.

It's a pack of cigarettes. He asks me if I have a light. I do. He offers me a cigarette. I decline.

I am not Jason Bourne. Jason Bourne would not be sweating and shaky in the aftermath of a false alarm adrenaline dump. I ducked back inside and had a glass of water, tried not to talk to the cab driver, and collapsed onto the hotel bed where I slept two hours longer than usual.

I am not Solid Snake. Solid Snake would have dispatched the enemy with a perfectly executed set of exotic martial arts moves, leaving them dazed long enough for a quick getaway. I would have crushed knees and soft tissues with dumb animal strength because without a weapon or a radio the only violence I know is ugly and brutish.


We were watching case study videos. Mixtures of reconstructions and security camera footage. Learning from the ignorance and the mistakes of others. Learning to identify and mitigate the threat in the hopes that we would not get our own case studies one day.

The running joke in the course was "Building a better driveby.™" If you learn to see things from your adversary's point of view, and you can be both quick and methodical, you can beat them to the punch with planning and response.

In some places, drivebys are the preferred method of assassins and terrorists. A lot of times, motorbikes; a lot of times, larger vehicles than the typical small four door, so there's room to move around inside. Ever try to get four shooters into a Corolla? I have. It sucks. Even better when it's a manual, and someone's rifle knocks you out of third on an incline.

In some places, too, drivebys are the preferred method of gangbangers and wannabes.


Both subjectively and objectively, there is far less violent crime in my current zip code than most of the others I have ever lived in. There is certainly far less here than near my first apartment in this city, where shootings and muggings were a daily occurrence in the surrounding five blocks, and I watched several drivebys happen with my own eyes.

At 00:07, walking home from the VFW, I'm coming around the last curve before my driveway and there's suddenly a dark SUV charging away from where it was parked on the curb, half a block up. The noise in the still immediately gets my attention.

WATCH.

The headlights are off, and they're accelerating far too quickly.

Drunk? Moron teenagers? Either way, massive SUVs are not the most stable things in the world at the speed they're trying to reach before taking the corner I'm currently walking around.

CAUTION. Get ready to try to dodge a 4,000 lb. bowling ball if they jump the curb.

The window is rolling down. There are passengers. There's yelling coming from the inside.

DANGER.

"DO IT! DO IT! DO IT! DO IT!"

and my brain is saying DANGER, DANGER; and then all I can hear is POP POP POP POP POP POP POP POP

DANGER!

but I've already got my hands on my wife's arm and waist to throw her onto the lawn to our right.

The part of my brain devoted to identifying loud noises is telling me already that it's got to be a small caliber, .22 or .32, it sounds funny, maybe because it's coming from inside the vehicle; I'm not the meatiest person but I can stop something that small with my body. My feet are planted now, rather than continuing the next step, and I've just started to swivel on the balls of my feet so I can fall on top of her.

But before I fire off the set of neurons necessary to follow through with my preparation, I see the flash and jump of a string of firecrackers in the driveway two houses in front of me. The SUV speeds off, barely making the corner.

CAUTION.

Now I may need to go pull some asshole kids out of a flipped SUV. The trauma bag is in the house half a block away. The ambulance got to the house down the street within 15 minutes, said one of the neighbors, but that was on a good day. Good thing my EMT licenses are expired, so their parents can't sue me for helping.

My wife laughs and curses at the idiot kids and their idiot pranks, and I tell her it's a good thing she was there to grab or I might have gone down when my shoe caught that gap in the sidewalk.

They're gone.

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