Survival 101 – Part 1: Be Aware, Stay Alive!



By Linda M. Gilbertson

When you’re talking about Personal Protection, the most important aspect is Situational Awareness.  If you’re not paying attention, you can’t recognize a threat and avoid a confrontation.  It sounds reasonable, but many instructors don’t consider it important.  To them what is important is the equipment (firearm, knife, mace, taser, martial arts) and the competence to use it when necessary.  Rarely is avoidance of a situation even a consideration in the scheme of things.  Avoidance based upon situational awareness should be primary in any Personal Protection venture.  Equipment is only of value if “fight” replaces “flight.”

When I instruct women in how to use a pistol for their personal protection, I would be remiss and negligent if I didn’t talk to them about the “Nike” Defense.  If at all possible, run away.  Avoidance is better than confrontation, and I insist that they “get their heads out of the sand” and pay attention.  I cringe when I see anyone walking and texting.  I shake my head when I see people walking without purpose, not scanning the horizon and the areas around them, and oblivious to potential threats.  How can you sit somewhere and not know what’s happening around you?  It reminds me of the “Knockout Game” that you might have heard of that was popular on the East Coast about a year ago.  A perpetrator would walk up behind someone not paying attention, and hit them on the head with their fist.  If the unknowing person was “knocked out” then the perpetrator earned points.  Unfortunately fourteen people died from falling onto the cement and injuring themselves.  The solution was an elderly woman, who had a gun and was paying attention.  She was aware of what was happening around her and refused to become a statistic.

So, let’s talk Situational Awareness.  The theory is called the Color Code of Awareness.  It is based on four different colors of awareness, and the mental color you’re in at the time will determine your response to something occurring either before you or to you. Based on what transpires, you move to a different mental color to respond:

  • Condition White – Unaware and Unprepared (Ex. Head in Sand).
  • Condition Yellow – Relaxed Awareness (Ex. Driving a car).
  • Condition Orange – Specific Alert.  Something is not quite right and has your attention (Ex. A bump in the night/a person rapidly approaching you).
  • Condition Red – Specific threat. I will use deadly force if it becomes necessary (Ex. Threatened with a Baseball bat, knife, gun, fist, or verbally).

In Condition White (Unaware) you are totally relaxed, completely unprepared and absolutely unaware of his surroundings.  Pilots call the condition: “Fat, Dumb and Happy.”  If you’re attacked in white, regardless of your ability or your equipment, you may not survive.  It is too large a mental jump to get into a combat or reactive mode from white.

In the “White Zone.”

In Condition Yellow (Aware) you are relaxed, but alert to any immediate threat.  You can’t be blind sighted or approached unaware.  As such, you can shift into a reactive or combat mode more easily.  A good example of yellow is when you’re operating a vehicle.  You are constantly scanning your mirrors and constantly looking for someone or something to interfere with your travel, and you’re ready if the vehicle ahead or behind creates a situation.

In Condition Orange (Alert) someone, something or some action has attracted your attention.  Is this a threat, or is there a harmless explanation to what you’ve alerted on?  Before standing down to Condition Yellow, you need answers.  It is much easier to get into your reactive or fighting mode from Orange than from Yellow.

In Condition Red (Alarmed) “the fight is on…”  If your “Mental Trigger” or “Go Button” is tripped, you’re ready to respond.  It may be a firearm pointed at you, a man rapidly approaching you with an upraised bat, a knife or any other gesture that appears to be a threat.  You’re decision to use Deadly Physical Force will be made dependent upon circumstances.  If you do that, I will do this.  Being in Red means you do not have to play “catch up” mentally.  You are ready.

The fight is on!

In addition, perfecting certain Self Defense Principles will help you handle yourself in Condition Orange and Red.  These principles are:

  • Decisiveness is necessary so you’ll select a correct course of action and carry it through without hesitation or deviation.
  • Aggressiveness is not initiated by us but is a response to a threat, which if necessary may result in overwhelming violence.
  • Speed is the key absolute in effective combat.  The perfect fight is over before the loser really understands what is going on.
  • Coolness or Controlled Anger is no obstacle to efficiency.  If you know you can keep your head and must keep your head, then you probably will keep your head.
  • Ruthlessness though distasteful, may be the only alternative.  The attack on you must be stopped.  Your first concern is to stay alive.
  • Strike no more after he/she is incapable of action, but see that he/she is stopped!
  • Surprise will only occur if you’re on your toes.  It is the first principle of offensive combat and something your assailant least expects you to do.

Being in Color White is extremely dangerous.  There is too long of a dwell time for you to play catch-up to reach Condition Red whereby you are ready and mentally able to respond.  You can’t tell an assailant to halt what he/she is doing while you contemplate what you need to do.  If you’re in Condition Yellow, you’ll be able to easily transition to Orange and Red with little difficulty.  Practicing and increasing your awareness with the Color Code will make response to a situation automatic.  Once more, Be Aware, Stay Alive!

In Part II, I will discuss FEAR.  It is one of man’s/woman’s greatest motivators.  We need to examine it and make it work for us.

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