The most important means of surviving a lethal confrontation is the combat mindset.
The color code had nothing to do with tactical situations or alertness levels, but rather with one's state of mind. It relates to the degree of peril you are willing to do something about, and which allows you to move from one level of mindset to another, to enable you to properly handle a given situation.
- White: Unaware and unprepared. If attacked in Condition White, the only thing that may save you is the inadequacy or ineptitude of your attacker. When confronted by something nasty, your reaction will probably be "Oh my God! This can't be happening to me."
- Yellow: Relaxed alert. No specific threat situation. Your mindset is that "today could be the day I may have to defend myself". You are simply aware that the world is a potentially unfriendly place and that you are prepared to defend yourself, if necessary. You use your eyes and ears, and realize that "I may have to fight today".
You should always be in Yellow whenever you are in unfamiliar surroundings or among people you don't know. You can remain in Yellow for long periods, as long as you are able to "Watch your six." (In aviation 12 o'clock refers to the direction in front of the aircraft's nose. Six o'clock is the blind spot behind the pilot.) In Yellow, you are "taking in" surrounding information in a relaxed but alert manner, like a continuous 360 degree radar sweep. Your mindset- "I might have to fight."
- Orange: Your radar has picked up a specific alert. Something is not quite right and has your attention. You shift your primary focus to determine if there is a threat (but you do not drop your six). Your mindset shifts to "I may have to fight that person today", focusing on the specific target which has caused the escalation in alert status. In Condition Orange, you set a mental trigger: "If that person does "X", I will need to stop them". Staying in Orange can be a bit of a mental strain, but you can stay in it for as long as you need to. If the threat proves to be nothing, you shift back to Condition Yellow.
- Red: Condition Red is fight. Your mental trigger (established back in Condition Orange) has been tripped. "If 'X' happens I will fight that person".
The USMC uses condition Black, although it was not originally part of Cooper's Color Code. Condition Black: Catastrophic breakdown of mental and physical performance. Usually over 175 heartbeats per minute, increased heart rate becomes counterproductive. You may have stopped thinking correctly. This can happen when going from Condition White or Yellow immediately to Condition Red.
In short, the Color Code helps you "think" in a fight. As the level of danger increases, your willingness to take certain actions increases. If you ever do go to Condition Red, the decision to use lethal force has already been made (your "mental trigger" has been tripped).