You are on a Caribbean cruise, dining at celebrity chef restaurants, drinking exotic cocktails, and going scuba diving. Suddenly, you hear the name “Oscar” repeated three times over the loudspeakers. The passengers are not paying attention to the announcement. But to a few it becomes instantly clear that someone has fallen overboard. And his name is definitely not Oscar!
Airports, hospitals, shopping malls, and other places where people get together in large numbers use secret words like “Oscar” to inform staff that an emergency situation has occurred. The idea is to avoid panic among the citizens, but also to alert to the danger those trained to deal with such problematic circumstances. Many codes are international in application. Australia, Canada and the United States use relatively standardized codes for hospital, vessel and airport emergencies. Some big stores though, like Walmart, for example, have worked out their own, quite complicated code system.
We have run a list of the most common code words you might find useful to know next time you find yourself in a hospital or while waiting for your mother-in-law in the arrival lounge at the airport.
15 The Ten Codes
The Ten Codes are used by the U.S. law enforcement officers. Police departments have tried to make the code system’s distribution on the internet illegal, but without much success so far. The list of codes was first worked out in 1937, and was further expanded in the 1970s. In the ten-code system, a “one eight-seven” means homicide, a “ten thirty-one” means there's a crime in progress, and all patrols must immediately respond to a “ten double-zero” as it means “officer down.” When a three-number sequence is used, such as “10 – 27 – 1”, the ten is usually omitted. Here are some other sequences:
10 – 31 – Man with Gun
10 – 35 – Major Crime Alert
10 – 38 – Stopping Suspicious Vehicle
10 – 80 – Chase in Progress
14 Time Check
The alternative version of this code is “Time check: the time is 12:00”. It is used in many stores for a bomb threat alert. When the announcement is made, the staff is supposed to immediately put into effect the bomb threat protocol. The procedure requires that the employees either try to locate some suspicious package/bag, or prepare to leave the premises. It may sound immoral, but in most cases, the majority of stores expect from their clerks to start searching for the bomb instead of moving to the exit. In the United Kingdom, in conference halls and movie theaters mostly, if they call for a “Mr. Jet”, that is a sure sign they have received a bomb threat and people must be evacuated.
13 Code Bravo
You are probably familiar with this one and, hopefully, you’ve never heard it in a real life situation, as it is a general alert code phrase at airports. Unlike most of the codes, this one is meant to cause panic. Security officers will yell “Bravo, Bravo, Bravo” at passengers and may also order them to freeze. They will deliberately frighten the passengers in order to avoid interference from the common citizens and thus, make it easier for the agents to pinpoint the source of the threat. On ships, “Code Bravo” is the most serious of all alerts – it means “fire”. If it is not a false alarm or a drill, and the vessel is indeed on fire, that’s really, really bad news for you as you face two options: either jump in the water or burn with the vessel.
12 Doctor Brown
When a Dr. Brown is called on the loudspeakers in a hospital, it is NEVER a duty call for a certain Dr. Brown. “Doctor Brown” is a code phrase used to warn security staff about a threat to personnel. If a nurse or a doctor finds themselves in a situation with a violent patient or a regular visitor, they apply the “Doctor Brown” code. They need to text their location and the security instantly rushes to their aid. In some hospitals, they implement “Code Silver” to alert to a danger coming from an aggressive person with a weapon. Actually, hospitals dispose of huge collections of different codes to describe all types of extraordinary situations. Those codes differ from hospital to hospital and are not internationally recognized. Doctor Brown, however, is as solid as a rock and can be called anywhere when needed.
11 Walmart Codes
We have already mentioned that Walmart is among the first big retailer stores to develop their personal list of emergency codes. Of course, you shouldn’t panic every time you're shopping there and you hear a certain code being announced! For example, “Code 10” means that there has been a wet spill and the greatest danger that this presents to you is that you might slip over if you are not watchful enough. But if you hear “Code Blue” being announced, you can certainly start worrying as it means that there is a bomb in the building. The wisest thing to do in such a situation is to start moving towards the nearest exit, but you certainly must not run or show anxiety, because the security might think it’s you who planted the bomb. A “Code Green” means there is a hostage situation. The most harmless code Walmart uses is “Code C” – it means they need more cashiers.
You will hear this code (but let’s keep fingers crossed that you won’t!) if your airplane has been hijacked or if a threat of hijacking is present. The standard aviation transponder codes have proven to be very useful for flight safety. There have been cases where an aircraft has been in trouble, but due to language barriers Air Traffic Control (ATC) failed to realize the gravity of the situation. And this sometimes led to fatal incidents. With the introduction of those codes, many dangerous situations have been avoided. Besides 7500, the most common ones are: 7600 (which signals loss of communication) and 7700 (the code for general emergencies). However, squawking 7700 will be the last action a pilot will execute in case of general crisis onboard.
No, this isn’t another aviation code signalling emergency, although, in a way, it DOES hint at a potentially dangerous situation. When 437737 appears on somebody’s dating profile this means that the user is trying to discreetly warn the potential lovers they have herpes. Now you probably wonder how they have come up with this exact number. The explanation is simple: on the already widely forgotten telephones with a dialling pad, the letters associated with these numbers spell out “herpes.” Some people become very resourceful when trying to be even more evasive with this number. They usually go for the humorous option to inform they have herpes: they’ll write down they’ve had 437,737 girlfriends, or that this is the plate number of their first car which they got when they were 16.
8 Code Adam
"Code Adam" was first introduced by Walmart, but eventually became an internationally recognized alert. It’s definitely not a good word to hear while in a supermarket or a department store as it means some child has gone missing. The name for the code is not accidental. It was coined in 1994 after a tragic incident with a six-year-old Adam Walsh. In 1981, the kid was abducted from a Sears department store at the Hollywood Mall in Hollywood. The boy’s cut-off head was found two weeks later in a drainage canal. Adam Walsh’s murder forever changed the way the U.S. law is enforced in missing child cases. After Walmart, other big box retailers began using “Code Adam” as a measure to mobilize the store employees when a child is reported missing.
7 Zulu, Zulu, Zulu
If this code is announced, you won’t see any representatives of the Bantu ethnic group walking around causing mischief and trouble. In addition to distress signals like the well known ones, “Мayday” and “Pan-pan”, most passenger ships use other emergency codes to alert the crew, and in some special cases, also the passengers. “Zulu, Zulu, Zulu” is one of those codes. It means that there is a fight aboard. However, when combined with the “Bravo” code, e.g. “Bravo Zulu”, or “BZ”, the signal changes its meaning to “Well Done” with regards to the execution of certain actions or operations. It can also come into a combination with NEGAT, e.g. “NEGAT Bravo Zulu”, but then it will be saying “Not Well Done”.
6 London Bridge Is Down
This code phrase is valid only on the territory of the United Kingdom, but still you may be curious to know what particular situation it describes. British officials will use “London Bridge is down” to inform each other of the Queen’s death. When the day comes and the monarch passes away, Her Majesty’s private secretary has the duty to call the Prime Minister with the coded message. The message will be used in order to prevent switchboard operators from spreading the news before the higher ups have received it. The protocol requires that first each of the Commonwealth governments gets informed about the sad event, and only then the media are told and allowed to make it public.
But we wonder – what would happen if one day London Bridge goes down? Literally. Are they going to use the same code phrase to announce it?
5 More “Color” Codes
In U.S. military jargon, “Code Black” signals a bomb threat or discovery of a suspicious package.
“Code Purple” is sometimes used for child abduction, while “Code Pink” specifically refers to infant abduction. In some hospitals, “Code Pink” is announced to warn the staff about a patient under the influence of illegal substances or an upcoming birth with no available gynaecologist.
“Code Yellow” is for a missing patient. The message also intends to alert the staff that they need to prepare for an external disaster – patients with multitrauma, casualties of a storm or a tornado, etc.
“Code Brown” gets hospital staff ready for action in cases of mass casualties from a natural or man-made disaster, or as a result of a chemical or radiological incident.
4 Sick Passenger
You might have wondered what exactly subway conductors do all day. Well, they actually do a lot of work without, however, being noticed or praised. One of their main duties is to alert the authorities about eminent threats. It is a widespread misconception that the code phrase “Sick Passenger” alerts to a suicide attempt. Actually, it means “Dead passenger on the train”. Sometimes it is also actually a sick passenger, but “sick” refers to some kind of injury rather than to someone who has passed out or is vomiting. The actual code for a suicide or a suicide attempt is “Police Investigation”. When a person puts an end to their life by throwing themselves under the train, the subway service is usually interrupted only for half an hour. The mess though can stay for as long as three hours.
3 Mayday, Mayday
This is probably the most recognized code word indicating that a plane or a ship is in extreme distress. However, few know how the code came into use, and that it has nothing to do with the month of May, but is a misspelled French phrase. In 1923, Frederick Mockford, a radio officer at the Croydon Airport in London, was requested to come up with one single word that would be easy to understand by both the pilots and the ground staff in case of emergency. Of course, he couldn’t use a word such as “help” because the English speakers would use it also in everyday conversation. Considering both the English and the French languages, Mockford came up with the word “Mayday”, which is, in fact, the French “M’aidez”(Help me) with anglicized spelling.
2 ID 10 T Error
Believe us – you DON’T want to see this noted on your file after a service guy has fixed your laptop! Simply put, this code phrase means that you are an idiot. Technical support uses this code to describe a common computer error caused by an ignorant user who doesn’t know what he/she is doing. This “ID 10 T” kind of error is applicable to a situation where the user doesn’t admit responsibility for the damage. Here is a perfect example: a user calls the tech support and claims there’s something wrong with his device because it won’t accept his/her password. To the service guy, however, it is pretty clear that the client must have forgotten the password or has been mistyping it. So, what the service guy does is to log the event as “ID 10 T”.
This a very recently coined code word, or better called safe-word. Unlike the rest of the code words, you ARE supposed to know this one in case you start feeling in any way threatened or unsafe during a date. The word is a significant part of a campaign against sexual violence. It encourages people to ask the staff at restaurants and bars if they can “speak to Angela.” If the bartenders or the waiters are well informed and trained, they will know that you need assistance getting out of the uncomfortable situation you’ve found yourself in. They will call you a cab or help you leave discreetly. However, the campaign promoters don’t say what happens if there is someone in the bar whose name is actually Angela and she appears at the client’s request to talk to her.