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Boundaries for Trekkies

Where starship operations meet interpersonal boundary enforcement. Star trek alerts remind me a lot of relational boundaries! 

Written by me ( except for Star Trek content from or otherwise noted)

While star trek narrative content is known to be an informative source of relational potential, the operations of galaxy-class starships themselves bear a striking resemblance to how the human nervous system functions – and dysfunctions. In any stardate or quadrant, “Personal boundaries are guidelines, rules or limits that a person creates to identify reasonable, safe and permissible ways for other people to behave towards them and how they will respond when someone passes those limits.” (

“Aboard Starfleet vessels and outposts, a series of color-coded alert signals were issued, usually by the ship’s computer or internal communications systems. The Earth Starfleet began without an alert status system (signal) until one was suggested by Lieutenant Malcolm Reed aboard the prototype Enterprise, an early starship that had a larger crew and a greater need for reaction time during crisis situations.”

Condition Green

“Condition Green” is standard operating condition on a starship, with power distribution and generation on full, non-critical activities allowed, with requests for additional resources routed through Ops. Most episodes of Star Trek spend most of their time in “Condition Green” and it’s not really seen on screen with some exceptions I’ll insert later. 

In life – all inner stations functioning, business as usual, hailing frequencies open on all channels: digestion, sleep, relating with our environment and other beings in it – all smoothly underway. 

Yellow Alert

Yellow Alert automatically energizes the shields but not the weapons systems. It brings all tactical sensors online, and alerts the current duty shift of a dangerous situation. Yellow Alert can be left in place over long periods of time. For example, when investigating an asteroid belt. 

In life, we may have a situation or relationship with previous or current yellow flags because we see risks, but we’re not entirely alarmed. This type of alert is reversed only with evidence the situation is concluded, and even then, this alert could come on every time. Skilled abusers ensure they don’t trigger a Red Alert, and they count on us forgetting or not noticing their subtle trespasses and failing to engage even a Yellow Alert. 

In my life, I used to keep shields down in Yellow Alert, but I’ve learned this is not safe when already in territory identified as Not Safe (because even a little bit of past unsafety has historically had a high chance of continuing to be so, if only at a low level). 

In the nervous system, we only really have safe and unsafe. That some people can stay calm after being betrayed could be a sign of resilience (natural or cultivated) or naivete/conditioning (not realizing autonomy is being eroded or needs being disregarded). Therefore ongoing, low-level boundary pushing can cause lasting damage without the perception by self or others of trauma occurring. And like a starship, a body can’t sustain a yellow alert for extended periods without being well supported or resourced. 

Red Alert

Red Alert automatically energizes the shields and weapons systems, bringing all tactical sensors online, and alerts all shifts to go to battlestations (even people who may be currently sleeping, an interesting thing to think about when you see a ship casually throw itself into Red Alert). Impulse engines go to full power generation as well as the warp core; Structural Integrity and Inertial Control fields go to full power. Transporter rooms are fully staffed. Basically, everything on the ship is turned on except for non-critical power drains, and everyone is awakened and put into a duty situation.

In real life, red alert – fight or flight is not sustainable for long (just like concern with fuel consumption and crew fatigue on a starship). In nature, it’s usually a physical threat that will be over quickly one way or another. Or our nervous system will eventually cause us to pass out, sparing us the final awareness of being eaten by predator. In civilization, few threats are physical or immediate, but rather more psychological and drawn out over time. 

Victims of abuse may be slow to recognize and enable Yellow Alert and get repeatedly caught in a Neutral Zone face to face with a Romulan warbird uncloaking, which is a certain Red Alert (The Neutral Zone is an area of space between the United Federation of Planets and the Romulan Star Empire that measures approximately one light year and serves as a “buffer” zone. Any incursion into the Romulan Neutral Zone is considered a hostile act – We might wonder how we are suddenly in the middle of a conflict. Or we may be able to see the roots of that conflict earlier. 

Blue Alert

“Blue Alert” or “Condition Blue” is used for any non-standard mode on a starship, and the exact effects of “Condition Blue” depend on that starship (keep electromagnetic emissions to a limited level, reducing various power modes to the engines, send waste heat into internal heat sinks to keep profile down). On the other hand, Voyager’s “Condition Blue” involved landing cycles, as the ship was intended to land on planets as required. Also  saucer separation in TNG and the Multi-Vector Assault Mode in Voyager’s Prometheus class could be considered “Condition Blue” modes, except they usually happened while already at Red Alert.
In life – ‘landing’ somewhere new warrants a special mode – a kind of vigilance to anything that is not self. Some stay in rest and digest, others in fight or flight. The ability to control/choose this can be cultivated, and loss of this control comes with trauma. 

Double Red Alert

A “Double Red Alert” is a regular red alert, but immediate, decisive action is required. A “Red Alert” with an “Evacuation Order” could have worked better. For example, a ship going through an Ion Storm would already be at “Red Alert”, so they needed something “More Important.” 

In life, sometimes we need to sound the alarm and be prepared to get out or self defend. Maybe also get help (which can divide groups of friends when two people are in prolonged, severe conflict). Some nervous systems even start to self-destruct (suicidal ideation is less a thought process than a neurobiological response to the damage of severe disempowerment). Known as autodestruct in the Star Trek universe, this end is deemed necessary for a greater purpose if not averted somehow. The nervous system is no different, and blaming people for their interstellar functioning doesn’t make sense when we look at the state of the federation and its galactic peers. 

Condition Grey

Finally, “Condition Grey” is a low power mode – everything that can be turned off is turned off, and strict recycling is enforced. The condition doesn’t refer to specific warning lights but to the lower light levels on the ship involved. 

This reminds me in life of diverting all attention to basics of survival – rest, hydration, nutrition out of need or incapacity to do more. We love to beat ourselves up for not getting enough done, but when we look at the starship command reasons for this state of affairs, it’s quite understandable.  

Other Greenish Conditions

Under extenuating circumstances, Condition Green can be used as a “pre-arranged code term used by landing parties of the USS Enterprise when communicating under duress. It indicated that while the party was in trouble, the ranking officer aboard ship was not to intervene or send anyone to help, as this would only endanger more people… A green alert was used on the USS Discovery-A to signify that the ship was operating its cloaking device. In “A Piece of Reaction“, Commander Riker, under duress from the Sigma Iotians, told the computer on the holodeck to cancel a self-destruct sequence, adding “condition green” as his authorization code, prompting the computer to respond “Condition green acknowledged.” This convinced his captors that the self-destruct sequence had been aborted, when in fact it was actually still running.”

More immediately post trauma, red alerts are hard to avoid broadcasting: I wasn’t able to stop myself from screaming profanity at a stranger who thought it was ok to touch my waist at a bar. Further along (or well before), it can be possible to play Normal to preserve the belief that we are not alarmed into self protection so we can quietly tell security what happened. This can help us get out of the way of human harm without tripping awareness that we are onto them, as doing so can bring greater antagonism than we are equipped or willing to address. Or maybe we don’t think it’s worth any such effort, and Condition Green/acting normal is a way to keep focused and moving on with our lives.

Black Alert 

“Black alert, otherwise known as condition black, was an alert signal used on the USS Discovery and the USS Glenn in 2256 to signify that the ship was operating its experimental spore drive.” (

Spore drives are a big can of space worms I can’t easily open except to say that experimenting with boundaries and alerts can be as risky as it is useful: proceed with caution, intention, and backup. 

I am an exploratory vessel on a mission to seek out new possibilities beyond mere civility. Trigger my defenses, and I will arm photon torpedos, open cargo bay doors, and set new coordinates. Sometimes all at once, or not fast enough, or too soon without a bridge crew. As much as I try to stay away from the Neutral Zone, invariably we have to relate with others, and our needs and styles of relating cannot always align. I am triggered by takers who feel entitled to disregard giver needs and power imbalances. All the more reason I here salute the brave and compassionate crew who stay engaged with me on this journey, and I look forward to seeing you in the holodeck with safety protocols enabled. 

In the meantime, my daily boundary coach is purring at my feet like a warp engine, claws retracted, but ready to pounce at any moment if needed. I promise to be more gentle and patient with anyone seeking my support in these matters until we all get cloaking devices.

Tanya Pillay

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