Secret Code Words For Dangerous Situations

Posted: 14 Feb, 2023.

During an emergency, accurate, fast and trustworthy communication is key to minimising disruption and organising an effective response. Implementing code words and dedicated technology enables staff and security teams to control an emerging situation and put emergency plans into action without causing mass panic.

Emergency codes are inconspicuous words and phrases that are often used in public areas to alert those in charge of possible danger. Situations requiring immediate staff response could include building fires, gas leaks, natural disasters, terror attacks, medical emergencies and helping people who feel unsafe or threatened.

When any of these situations take place, businesses need to act quickly and alert employees in order to protect staff and the public.

Emergency Notification Technology

As an employer, you have a duty of care to keep your employees safe, including during emergency situations. And while implementing a few key emergency codes is a great way to add another layer of security to your business, there might be instances where a worker is unable to make a tannoy announcement or respond to an emergency code. In these situations, the ability to instantly inform staff of a problem via SMS, email or phone notification can be lifesaving.

A critical aspect of keeping everyone safe during an emergency situation is maintaining communication. All employees need to have access to reliable and up to date information about the situation at hand in order to take appropriate action. Our emergency notification system is designed to deliver mass notifications in precisely this sort of situation.

Peoplesafe Alert is a secure, encrypted safety notification tool with the ability to send up to 2,000 messages per second. This allows organisations to send and track safety messages to thousands of employees simultaneously, without compromising security. Messages cannot be edited or forwarded which protects the credibility and accuracy of the information shared.

Unlike traditional SMS or email communications, Peoplesafe Alert can cut through the chatter and override devices set to ‘do not disturb, ensuring important information gets through to those who need it.

Additionally, all messages – opens and responses – are fully auditable, both in real-time and through historical data reports; a vital step in emergency recovery planning. These tools are fully compliant with ISO 22301, which guarantees that an organisation is meeting the HSE’s regulatory standards for business continuity and also aids compliance with the Protect Duty legislation.

Protect Duty Legislation

The upcoming Protect Duty legislation will impose a requirement for an estimated 650,000 UK businesses to have more rigorous counter-terrorism procedures in place. This includes conducting vulnerability assessments, mitigating the risks identified with ‘reasonable practical’ measures and planning against the threat of terrorism.

It is proposed that “compliance would be demonstrated by providing assurance that the threat and risk impacts have been considered, and appropriate measures have been considered and taken forward”.

If a security breach is thought to be serious enough, venues could face prosecution under legislation such as the Corporate Homicide or Corporate Manslaughter Act.

Find out if your organisation is prepared for the Protect Duty Legislation

You may hear cryptic messages issued over a public tannoy or being spoken by a security person. Here’s an insight into some of the common code words for danger used to indicate a variety of threats.

Inspector Sands

Often heard as: “Could Inspector Sands please report to the…”

Means: There is a fire

Inspector Sands or Mr Sands is one of the most commonly used emergency codes for indicating that there is a fire in the vicinity. If a fire has been reported, a tannoy announcement will ask for Inspector Sands to make their way to a specified area, which is where the suspected fire is. This phrase originates from theatres where in the past a bucket of sand would be kept for extinguishing fires. In more recent times it has been widely adopted by public entertainment venues, shopping centres and railway stations including on the London Underground.

On hearing a call for Inspector Sands, station staff have a set period of time in which to investigate before issuing a full-scale evacuation. If you’re a regular commuter, you may already be familiar with Inspector Sands, as on the tube it is often automatically played when a fire detector has been triggered. Underground staff also use a variation of this, ‘Inspector Gravel’ which is code for a bomb alert.

Time Check

Often heard as: “Time check: The Time is…”

Means: Bomb threat

Having a procedure in place to deal with a terror threat has become a necessary measure. Many public places, especially large department stores use a coded time check, announcing the current time to indicate to staff that there has been a bomb threat and they will need to follow the correct procedure for these circumstances. Often this will involve all members of staff stopping what they are doing immediately and searching for a suspect package, before preparing to evacuate.

Code Bravo

Often heard as “Bravo, Bravo, Bravo!”

Means: Security alert

Security is a key priority at airports and on board flights, so there are a number of specialist code words used to indicate different types of emergencies. One of the most well-known is a ‘Code Bravo,’ which means that there has been a security breach/threat.

In airports, security staff may issue the call ‘Bravo, Bravo, Bravo’ and order everyone to freeze, to help them identify a suspect. Other codes used in aviation include ‘Pan-Pan’, a non-critical emergency call often in the case of a breakdown that is less serious and does not require the distress call ‘Mayday’. In the event of a plane being hijacked, the code 7500 is used by the pilot to secretly communicate the danger to cabin crew and ground staff, without alerting passengers or the hijackers.

Code Oscar

Often heard as: “Oscar, Oscar, Oscar!”

Means: Man overboard

Avoiding panic among passengers is even more important in a closed environment such as a ship. For this reason, there are an array of secret terms crew can use. To avoid misunderstandings, a code word such as ‘Oscar’ (meaning someone has fallen off the boat) will be said three times in a row. Although code words used will vary, some common examples are:

  • Charlie, Charlie, Charlie – security threat on the boat
  • Echo, Echo, Echo – imminent danger ahead e.g. collision with another ship, high winds at port
  • Red Party – fire onboard
  • Operation Bright Star – medical emergency, urgent assistance required
  • Operation Rising Star – someone has died

Doctor Brown

Often heard as: “Dr. Brown”

Means: Threat of violence, security needed

Some hospitals, use ‘Doctor Brown’ as a code to protect doctors and nurses, alerting them to the threat of violent patients in the vicinity. In some cases, paging ‘Doctor Brown’ will automatically send for security to come to their aid. Although the exact phrase used can vary, ‘Code Silver’ may indicate that the attacker is armed.

Ask for Angela

Often heard as “Can I speak to Angela, please?”

Means: I feel unsafe and need some help

Bars, clubs, pubs and other licenced venues may use the “ask Angela” scheme, which allows anyone who is feeling unsafe, vulnerable or threatened to discreetly ask for help. Asking for ‘Angela’ will indicate to staff that you require help and a trained member of staff will then look to assist you. This could be through reuniting you with a friend, seeing you to a taxi, or by calling venue security and/or the Police.

Employers looking to safeguard their staff inside and outside of working hours should consider implementing a personal safety service, such as our SOS App. A personal safety service can offer 24/7 support to employees, wherever they are, allowing users to raise an alarm in any situation where they may feel at risk, without relying on external safety schemes. The introduction of these systems can improve peace of mind and feelings of safety while commuting, as well as making employees feel more valued and protected by their employer.

Ask for ANI

Often heard as “Can I speak to ANI (Annie), please?”

Means: Action needed immediately, domestic abuse help is needed

In 2021 the UK Government launched a scheme for domestic abuse victims to secretly signal that they need help inside a pharmacy. By asking for ANI, a trained pharmacy worker will know that help is needed and will offer the victim a private space, a phone and ask if the individual needs help accessing support services (such as domestic abuse helplines).

Using Duress Codes with the Peoplesafe Service

As a business you may choose to implement your own duress codes to discreetly inform our Alarm Controllers of an emergency situation, without alerting the aggressor.

When setting up your Peoplesafe profile, you will be required to enter an escalation procedure to be followed in the event of an alarm. This information is then made available to our Alarm Controllers when an alarm is raised to our ARC. Adding duress codes as part of your escalation response will mean that if this phrase is heard during an alarm, our Controllers will know straight away that the user is in danger and can escalate the appropriate response.

Duress codes can be anything, but it’s important to remember that the phrase should be able to be discreetly dropped into conversation, so shouldn’t be too obscure. Simple phrases such as “it’s in the purple folder” could be used to signal that the user needs police intervention immediately.

Setting up a simple but effective duress code can help to speed up the process of alerting our Controller to the situation you’re in, helping to get the necessary response to you as quickly as possible.

Advice on Using Emergency Codes in the Workplace

When hearing an emergency code, employees may have mere seconds to recognise the danger and act. Therefore, it’s best to consider the following:

  • Make sure emergency codes are known by everyone and people are trained to stay calm and follow the correct procedure upon hearing them
  • Use short phrases that are easy to remember, appropriate for your environment and could potentially be passed off as a normal announcement
  • If possible allow the location of the emergency to be specified within the context of the phrase e.g. ‘please report to the…’
  • Don’t have too many code phrases or people may mix these up, only have ones that are relevant and critical to your environment and avoid using a code word for multiple emergencies
  • Minimise the possibility of confusion, for example, if you have a Mr Sands, don’t use this name to indicate an emergency!
  • Carry out procedural tests to ensure staff are well versed in what these announcements mean and what to do
Subscribe to our newsletter
Receive quarterly emails with the latest Peoplesafe developments including product and technology innovations, upcoming events and industry news and tips.

© 2024 Skyguard Ltd T/A Peoplesafe. Company Registration Number: 04107459. All rights reserved. Peoplesafe is part of the Send for Help Group.