The 5 Situational Awareness Levels

Greetings Everyday Spy,

There are 5 situational awareness levels that put a covert operator in control of your operation.

If you have studied situational awareness (henceforth, SA) in the past, the concept of awareness levels is likely familiar to you. Most SA training – from police to self-defense – teaches reactive SA that is designed to regain control after it is lost to a criminal, an aggressor, or an outside threat. But you will find that the descriptions covert operators use are totally different. That is because we use active SA to stay in control during an operation. 

For spies, losing control means mission failure – an unacceptable situation.

Everything we do is focused on maintaining and keeping control in order to complete our operational act. If we are not in control during the operation, then we cannot execute our operational act safely and we abort the mission. Aborting a mission keeps the objective viable; but a failed operational act exposes the target and permanently ends the mission.

While spies train for situations where we lose control or have it taken from us, it is not considered ‘situational awareness.’ Therefore we will not cover it here. (But keep watching for resistance, escape, and evasion training content!)

There are 5 awareness levels you must learn in order to continue this training and master SA as an active weapon in your everyday life.

Each awareness level has a definition and assigned color status to improve and simplify SA communication between operators.

Awareness Color StatusDefinition and descriptionKey RisksNotes
WhiteThis SA level is considered ‘unaware.’ It is the natural state of untrained people and not considered an offensive tool. It only serves one operational function: physical recovery. White leaves you fully vulnerable to all threats in your immediate area unless you are in an established safezone.White serves only one purpose to an operator: physical recovery. It is the only SA level where you can fully relax/rejuvenate
GreenThis SA level occurs when you are actively aware of your immediate surroundings 360° around you and within 0-3 feet (1m) away from you.Green leaves you exposed to premeditated threats and threats of opportunity because you are now aware of them until they are within striking distance.Green is an unavoidable SA level. Anytime you concentrate on a single task, you force yourself into Green status. While it cannot be avoided, it can be minimized with training.
YellowThis SA level is the ideal status for long-term operational control and personal safety. It occurs when you are actively aware of your immediate surroundings 360° around you and within 3-30ft (1-10m) away from you.Yellow maximizes your long-term protection against outside threats. If overused without time for physical recovery, yellow will reduce your energy, concentration, and cognitive functions. Yellow should be your primary SA level and is central to your mastery of SA. Be aware, it is mentally and physically taxing and requires recovery after prolonged use.
RedThis SA level occurs when an individual in White or Green status comes in contact with an outside threat and loses control of the current situation. (aka – ‘Deer in Headlights’)This is an SA failed state. Your mental and physical systems freeze and you are left totally vulnerable. This status should be avoided at all costs.Red status only occurs when an individual in White or Green status encounters an immediate threat. An individual in Yellow status will always have time/distance to protect them from Red status.
BlackThis SA level is the ideal status during your operational act. It gives you maximum control of your immediate environment during ops act execution and includes active awareness of your immediate surroundings 360° around you and within 3-30ft (1-10m) away from you. Black status is a short-term status that requires significant mental and physical resources to execute. If overused, it will force operators into a White or Green status that leaves them vulnerable to external threats (ie. Red status).Black status only exists in active SA training. It has no equivalent in reactive SA training. It is defined by a hyper-alert SA that puts you in full control of your environment for a very limited time (1-4 minutes).

Mastering SA requires that you know and understand these 5 awareness levels completely.

You must be able to identify them in yourself and others, as well as practice them on a daily basis. Practice will allow you to transition between levels quickly and (eventually) automatically. It will increase your ability to maintain Yellow and Black status, and give you first-hand experience making the mistake of falling into Red status.

If SA is limited only to academic study, it loses all functional utility.

Thousands of soldiers, police officers, first responders and field operators have trained in SA but found themselves trapped in Red status facing an external threat. These mistakes can be avoided with simple daily practice, like those I included in your assigned Skills Exercise.

Godspeed, #EverydaySpy

Skills Exercise

Create a timeline of your average day (wakeful hours only) and break the timeline into 30 minute segments. In each segment, label your predominant SA color status during each 30 minute period of the day. 

For example, the first 30 minutes after you wake up are most likely White status. The 30 minutes where you commute to work in a personal vehicle are most likely Yellow status. If you are a parent with young kids that fight the bedtime routine, you are likely in Red status somewhere between 6pm-9pm.

On the same timeline, go through and create a new mark at the approximate time you execute an operational act during your average day. These times might be when you arrive at the gym, when you drop-off/pick-up the kids from school, when you move between college classes, when you grocery shop, when you refuel the car with gas, or other routine activities.

Looking at your timeline, where are 3 blocks of time where you would like to increase your SA to the next color status (white to green, or green to yellow)? 

Now, set a recurring reminder on your phone to remind you every day this week at the beginning of each 30 minute block where you want to increase your SA status.

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