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Mark Clark

Mark Clark is the public information officer for a law enforcement agency in the southwest. He is also a photographer and contributor to POLICE Magazine.
Patrol

In Praise of Condition Yellow

Remain aware of your surroundings while off duty.

August 09, 2013  |  by - Also by this author

Photo via Wikimedia.
Photo via Wikimedia.
Of the legacies endowed to me by my law enforcement career, perhaps none have proven more profitable than living life in Condition Yellow.

Not that it's a 24/7 thing. But more than once I have been appreciative of a better-than-average ability to attune myself to my surroundings. Just as a spider evaluates the vibrations of the filaments of its web for threats and dinner, so, too, do I continually evaluate the atmospheric and environmental changes taking place around me.

Being in Condition Yellow has allowed me to identify a thief before he acted on his intentions, a would-be assailant before he launched his attack. It has given me pause to re-evaluate the decision to pet a dog, or patronize certain establishments. It has even prevented my unwilling participation in more than one traffic accident.

On one occasion I was en route to Las Vegas to finance a wing of the MGM Grand when something about the truck towing a boat in the lane next to me on Interstate 15 caused me to slow down. Less than 10 seconds later, its tire blew and the truck and its cargo jack-knifed and went flying off the roadway. Staring at bits of its desiccated tire pin-wheeling along the roadway behind it, I felt a profound sense of relief that I hadn't been in the same position that I'd been seconds before.

I experienced a similar response the night my wife was driving on Interstate 10 and something about the car in the adjacent lane to us (a slight in-lane weave?) registered with me. It found me telling the wife to slow down not three seconds before the vehicle suddenly swerved herky-jerky and turned 90 degrees before suddenly slamming into the center divider in front of us. Absent her slowing, we would have likely been center-punched by the car and my former employer would have had one less critic to worry about.

A beautiful thing about condition yellow is that it isn't that profound sense of dread that can inexplicably wash over a person. Indeed, there is nothing inexplicable about it. It is the mind's cognitive effort to attune itself to those sensory-derived cues that something out of the norm might soon take place. That telltale sign may be the sudden prompt of sound (dogs barking), or the equally disquieting onset of silence (crickets quieting)—either of which can signal the possible threat of an impending ambush. As such, they become the auditory equivalent of the sea's tsunami-generated retreat from shore that foretells the calamity to follow.

And rather than promote the kind of anxiety or startle response that other catalysts might, condition yellow actually avails you the opportunity to better respond to the situation at hand. It means less time figuring out what the threat is and a diminished likelihood of experiencing the kind of panic associated with an emotionally charged response to a lack of preparedness. True, you might not muster the detached air of the seismologist evaluating a tremor-in-progress ("Ah, yes, there's the P-wave...oh, and here comes the S-wave..."), but you'll be far better off than you'd be otherwise.

Skeptics dismiss intuitions as half-assed rationalizations for things that can't be rationalized. Like so many other things arbitrarily chalked up to an explanation that is invariably more arbitrary than the matter in question—I'm looking at you, "racial profiling"—I think that such intuitions have wholly defensible, while perhaps not easily articulable, explanations. The question is: Is anyone patient enough to listen to them?

There are different books that touch upon these things, and each affords a piece of the puzzle such as Gavin de Becker's "The Gift of Fear" or Malcolm Gladwell's "Blink" that touches upon some of the less desirable ends of sped-up processes such as the Amadou Diallo shooting.

I got to thinking about Condition Yellow while working on a Shots Fired article wherein the involved officer suppressed certain instinctual impulses to his detriment.

I understood his thought processes, as I have on occasion suppressed articulating a concern for the tertiary fear of being deemed paranoid or reactionary. In a profession where it’s all too easy to get terminally blindsided, isn't it best to listen to what our mind is telling us and to act accordingly as opposed to appearing paranoid to those without the benefit of our mindsets and experiences?

It might not be easy to adequately explain what it was that caused you to take some particular action that, in its absence, might have proven fateful for you. Isn't it better to squirm with the discomfort of having to explain yourself, than to lie insensate upon a slab?

Related:

In Praise of Condition White

Personal Threat Levels

Tags: Officer Safety, Off-Duty Life, Officer Psychology


Comments (1)

Displaying 1 - 1 of 1

Nate O @ 8/11/2013 11:45 PM

Ever since I read about Jeff Coopers conditions I applied to every aspect of my life. Some might say I'm borderline paranoid and sure to jump into red (or "black") to quickly but I find myself to be a much more rational person with immediate threats in front of me than most, often been accused of not realizing the severity of a potential threat because of my non-chaulaunt appearance as I calmly recover from a potential incident or actual incident (thankfully the latter is not as often!). When I listen to music on my iPhone I never listen with the earbuds at max volume because I need to hear and 'feel' my surrounds, I can feel the heat of someone walking up on me even at a complete rest, with music playing loud it would only be tell they were VERY close would I feel that. When I go out to eat I try and sit with a view that allows me to see the entrance of the place I'm eating at, I don't like putting my back to the main door. I try and carry a knife with me whenever possible since I am not old enough to CCW yet, haven't had to use it for more than the occasional box taped up really well but it gives me piece of mind and hey someones gotta "paranoid" right? I attribute this thinking to one Police Officer and MP with multiple combat tours that is quoted as saying "I don't leave home to go to the mall or my grandma's house without a gun" when responding to my question of off duty carry, his response was quick and somewhat snarky but it made sense. Sometime later there was an incident where a man shot two store employees and an off duty LEO happened to be in the store and pulled his G22 out and ended the threat almost immediately. I doubt the two injured but alive employees would call him paranoid. Overall staying in constant yellow condition isn't unhealthy, on the other hand if you stay in or switch to orange very often and later review it as unnecessary then it very well might be unhealthy, the overall important matter regardless of these mindsets is how you act

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