The OODA Loop and Situational Awareness

The OODA Loop and Situational Awareness

by Home Defense Gun staffer Mike

Osituational awarenessne of the most common themes taught in defensive firearms classes is situational awareness. First designed by Col Jeff Cooperin the 1970s, the situational awareness chart represents the degrees of awareness that a person experiences in relation to their surroundings.

Cooper’s chart is based on a color code from white to red.

Condition White signifies being completely oblivious to your surroundings. This is referred to as “daydreaming” or beisituational awarenessng “distracted”. This condition is probably responsible for more visits to the emergency room or the morgue than any other; not only in a life or death situation such as a gun fight, but with regard to car accidents and industrial accidents.

Condition Yellow is a slightly more elevated state of awareness. In Condition Yellow, the subject is aware of what is going on around him, but has not identified a potential threat. This is a relaxed state of general awareness.

Condition Orange is the next level up and basically means that a potential threat has been recognized. This could be a late night walk to an ATM and coming toward you is someone with his hands in his pockets. He may just be another user of the ATM fumbling for his wallet or a potential robber. What is important is seeing the potential in his actions and formulating a plan, being ready to escalate if necessary or dial back down to Yellow if he proves to be harmless.

Condition Red is the final step before taking action. If the man walking to the ATM produces a knife and demands your money, you will have to put your plan into place. This is not always the fight, itself. Sometimes your plan might entail identifying avenues of escape at this point.

What goes hand in hand with Cooper’s color code is the OODA Loop, which stands for Observe, Orient, Decide and Act. OODA is a decision-making cycle that was conceptualized by Air Force Colonel John Boyd in the Korean War.

Boyd’s concept states that the success in any conflict is all about making correct decisions quicker than your opponent can. The strength of following the OODA Loop is based on the fact that we constantly perform transitions through OODA Loops on a daily basis.

The OODA Loop can be broken down into four stages:

  • Observation
  • Orientationsituational awareness
  • Decision
  • Action

All of these stages are interrelated and can overlap. In the real world situations and even environments change course constantly. From the observation phase, data is collected and then analyzed in the orientation phase. The user then makes their decision based on available choices and in turn acts on them.

The only way to shorten your OODA Loop is through training, this is known as conditioned reflex or muscle memory. This is whymalfunction drills are important in firearms training. If you can work them into your practice sessions, you will know how to act when they occur at the “moment of truth”. By performing drills like these throughout your firearms training sessions, you will begin to perform them as second nature, which will essentially shorten their phase in the OODA Loop.

When it comes to fighting for your life, it is essential to practice and hone the simplest and most natural “techniques” or movements through constant repetition until they become instinctive as opposed to reactive. Then when those techniques are performed in a real world scenario, they will most certainly be extremely effective. Think of the old adage in this case: “Action is faster than reaction.”

Simply put, the untrained will have slower phases of the OODA Loop. This can often be seen at shooting matches when seasoned shooters perform the “tap-rack-bang” drill while the novices may simply stare at a non-working firearm.

Beyond physical training with a firearm, mental preparation can shorten each section of the OODA Loop while transitioning through the color chart of situational awareness. Going back to our ATM scenario, as you transition between orange and red, you are in the decision stage of the OODA Loop. You can sharpen this by playing out similar scenarios in your head well in advance. Granted, you may not fathom every possible outcome, but the simple act of conceptualizing how you will respond to an attacker will shorten your actual decision making process when the time comes.

Do you use Cooper’s color codes or the OODA loop in your life? Tell us about it in the comments.

OODA Loop Photo Credit: Patrick Edwin Moran

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I am a 64 year old former professional bodyguard. Some of my achievements and Certifications include; -8 Styles of Martial Arts Training -PADI Scuba certification -Owned Upstate and Syracuse K-9 -National and Olympic Qualifier in Wrestling -Professional Driving School Training -Firearms Training Certifications