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Departments : Officer Survival

Personal Threat Levels

Gauge the hazards of your surroundings with a simple color system.

February 01, 2004  |  by Michael T. Rayburn - Also by this author


White, yellow, orange, purple-it's all too confusing to me. There seem to be more colors for the different levels of national threat awareness than there are in a clown's makeup kit. The problem is there are too many charts with too many different colors to keep track of.  You may have to follow the national standard when an official alert is issued. But there is a simpler way to prepare yourself for the everyday risks you face on the street.

Think of a traffic light. You see one all the time and it only has three colors so it's easy to remember: red, yellow, and green.

The first color to think about on your new threat awareness color code is the color green. Green means go; everything is OK, so proceed on with your life. Condition green is when you are in a safe environment.

Let's say you're in your home getting ready for work. Your doors are locked and that old lazy dog of yours is sleeping by the front door. In condition green you can relax and let your guard down because you are safe and secure.

As you're getting ready for work, the dog starts to bark and there's a knock on the front door. You're not expecting anyone at this time of day so condition yellow has just kicked in. Just like on a traffic light, yellow means use caution because the "light" might change to red at any moment.

As you approach your front door you look out a side window and realize the person standing outside is your neighbor looking for a ride to work. You let him in and lock the door behind him (always conscious of making yourself a harder target to hit by keeping your home secured at all times). You finish up what you're doing and head for the front door.

As you open the door you once again enter into a heightened state of awareness, condition yellow. You do this so you are prepared in case that light does change and turn red. As you drive to work you are reminded of your level of awareness every time you see a traffic light. You drop your neighbor off and head to the stationhouse for work. The closer you get to the station the brighter that yellow light becomes.

The yellow light is getting brighter because you are becoming more aware of your surroundings as well as who is in those surroundings. But as you enter the stationhouse, does your level of awareness drop?

In the past, prisoners have obtained weapons by disarming officers or retrieving a hidden weapon from a location that was missed in the search conducted by transporting officers. More recently, stationhouses have been the scene of sniper attacks as well as "suicide-by-cop" incidents. So even though you may think your stationhouse is a safe environment, it really isn't. Your level of awareness needs to stay at condition yellow.

Understand that condition yellow is not a state of paranoia. It is a state of awareness. In condition yellow you are prepared for what could happen. You are prepared for when that light might turn red and you'll have to stop your actions and take care of the threat.

Let me give you a quick example of how this could happen. While on patrol in condition yellow you observe two males acting nervously in front of a liquor store on your beat. The yellow light within you begins to burn a little brighter as you roll around the block to an area where you can't be seen by the subjects so you can watch them covertly. Just as you get into position you see one of the subjects enter the liquor store pulling a mask down over his face. Your yellow light has quickly changed to red.

Condition red means you have recognized a threat and you are prepared to deal with it. Condition red is the highest state of awareness just like it is the highest light of the three on a traffic light. As you call for backup and exit your vehicle to take a position of cover your internal red light is burning bright. Other officers arrive and the robber and his lookout are taken into custody without further incident. It is not until these suspects are in handcuffs and being transported away by other officers that your level of awareness goes back into condition yellow.

Using this simple color code for threat awareness on a daily basis will help you to be prepared for a possible confrontation. Associating the threat awareness code with a traffic light will assist you in remembering the levels of threat because every time you see a traffic light you should be thinking about your own level of awareness, your own personal safety.

If you're in condition green, go about your life just as you would proceed through an intersection. If you're in condition yellow, use caution and be prepared because condition red may be just around the corner. If condition red does present itself, stop and be prepared to deal with the threat.
Use this simple color code and you'll be able to go home at the end of your shift to that old lazy dog waiting by your front door.

Michael T. Rayburn is a 17-year veteran of the Saratoga Springs (N.Y.) Police
Department and is currently an adjunct instructor for the Smith & Wesson Academy. He is the author of two books and a video on officer survival tactics.

Tags: Defensive Tactics


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