Cooper’s Colors

Image of woman walking, unaware of surroundings
Look familiar?

Even after years of involvement in emergency preparedness, I can always learn something new. Today’s “NEW TO ME” is Cooper’s Colors.

I don’t know how I missed them. But suddenly they are in my face.

In just the past week two totally unrelated friends have made reference to “being in the orange.”

The first comment was from a retired policeman who now trains organizations in violent intruder response. The second comment was from a utility company employee who mentioned it in reference to his wife. I felt embarrassed to admit I didn’t know what they were talking about!

If Cooper’s Colors are new to you, too, please keep reading!

Cooper was a retired military colonel and gun expert. In the 70s he came up with four colors (later versions added a 5th color) to represent levels of readiness for violence. The levels have come to be connected to “situational awareness,” which we have talked about a lot here at Emergency Plan Guide.

Here are the common definitions associated with the colors:

Chart showing 5 levels of Cooper's Colors, with definitions for each

The goal is to move consciously between colored zones as appropriate.

It may take effort for you to get into yellow. But with practice, you should be able to operate comfortably there most of the time, with just occasional forays into orange. (Keeping out of RED is the real goal!)

I found a short video that does a good and simple job of illustrating the colors. The video is aimed at business travelers but works for everyone.

Here’s the link to the video. (It’s 1:33 min. long.)

If you’d like more about Cooper’s Colors or situational awareness, there’s plenty of info available! Here on Emergency Plan Guide we’ve written about situational awareness multiple times. (Article with my favorite photo: And there are many longer videos on YouTube on the topic, too.

Now is a good time to be in the yellow or orange, don’t you think?

It seems to me that heightened awareness just makes sense as we head into the midterm elections. Crazy things are already going on. We’ve seen shocking verbal and physical threats being made against candidates, election workers and . . . VOTERS! (That’s you!)

Let me know in a comment if you knew about Cooper’s Colors, and how you have used them in your own life!

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. Joe says that Cooper’s levels of awareness remind him of the DEFCON system – “Defense Readiness Condition.” It’s used by the U.S. Armed Forces. It has 5 levels that increase from DEFCON 5 (least severe) to DEFCON 1 (most severe = nuclear war). As of June, 2022 we are at DEFCON 3, largely in response to Putin’s nuclear threats associated with the war in Ukraine.

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