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The meaning of secret codes you are not supposed to know

Posted by mandyf on February 9, 2012

Codes are a part of life and have been used to do everything from pass information during wars, to communiques between employees, to secrets between friends. Codes exist because there is a need to pass information without everyone knowing what is really being said – usually for good reason. Imagine the panic that would be created if you went to Target, for instance, and heard over the loudspeaker “An armed gunmen with 15 pounds of C-4 strapped to his chest wants to kill everyone – please remain calm.” It wouldn’t make the situation any better. I’d doodle a little bit right on the spot and I doubt I’d be the only one in need of an anal hygiene check upon hearing that.

Achmed isn't kidding - you'd be mad if a hand was up your butt all day too!

Codes are used for more than that though, and what is cool is knowing what a code means – especially when you are not supposed to. Here you will find common codes used everyday in real life and learn what they mean so the next time some guy at customer support riffs a few official sounding things, or you are giggling that a Dr. with a funny name has been paged in a hospital, you will know what is going on – and maybe what to do as a result of that.


Name Codes

Code Alpha – There is a medical emergency
Code Delta – used on passenger ships to signify there is a biological hazard present. It could be a real threat or just that someone took the meaning of poop deck in the entirely wrong way.
Code Adam – Code Adam was first used by Walmart, but now in English speaking countries it almost always means a child has gone missing.
Code Oscar – Someone on a ship has gone overboard


“Medical”/hospital codes

Some hospitals do have variations of these codes, but these are for the most part the well established standards in the U.S.

Yeah...I'm not trying to restrain Jack no matter what code is called

Dr. Brown – A nurse or doctor is in danger from a violent patient. The call will usually state something like “Paging Dr. Brown to E-Wing of the psych ward.”
Dr. Allcome – There is a serious emergency which requires the attention of all available medical staff.
Dr. Pyro – There is a fire. This is the code used by Kaiser Permanente. Many facilities use “Dr. Firestone” or a similar code that is not the name of an actual person on staff which is somehow related to fire.
Dr. Strong – Requests any available person to offer physical assistance – or restraint –  to a patient in need.



Color Codes

Color codes are very common, but sadly they are rarely if ever universal. Code Black may mean one thing to police personnel and another to the military. To further complicate them, they often change by country, and sometimes by jurisdiction, although that is usually not the case unless you are dealing with a Mayberry RFD type of place where serious crime is someone stealing Aunt Bea’s pie off the window ledge.

Code Black
Australia – Signals a personal attack
Military and most everywhere else – Signifies a bomb threat

Code Gray – A violent person has been identified , but has no visible weapon and has made no threat to use one.

Code Green – A violent person has been identified and does have a weapon or has threatened the use of a concealed weapon (American hospitals). In Ontario hospitals, Code Green means an area needs to be evacuated immediately.

Code Pink – A biohazard has been identified, or has been called in as present on the premises. To the UK First Aid organizations, Code Pink means someone is under the influence of illegal substances.

Code Purple

A totally different Purple code - totally...

In Australia, Code Purple is a bomb threat code. In Ontario hospitals, it is a hostage situation or patient abduction. In the rest of Canada and Wellstar Health Groups (For the most part) it means incoming patients need to be diverted.

Code Orange

In Ontario, Code orange signifies a massive external disaster with mass casualties has occurred. A lock down order usually follows this code.


Calling Center Codes

Fixing ID10T errors since 2006!

Nothing is more annoying than being completely lost and calling a call center to try to get help to fix your problem only to encounter someone that is spewing codes you have no idea about. There are three codes which are near universal in the world of call centers, and if you hear one of these used just hang up because you are not going to get any help. They all mean the same basic thing – the tech thinks you are a moron.

Picnic – Picnic is used at computer call in centers and is an acronym with a specific meaning: Problem In Chair – Not In Computer.

ID 10 T Error – Take a look at that for a second and figure out what word it looks like… If you guessed IDIOT (ID10T) then you are brighter than they are giving you credit for.

PEBKAC – This is another acronym which stands for – Problem Exists Between Keyboard And Chair

While knowing what these codes means can be fun, and maybe useful, keep in mind that they can mean different things in different places. These are just examples that are commonly used everyday. Also, knowing what they mean does not mean that you are to respond to them or that you should announce their meaning to everyone – they were disseminated in code for a reason.


5 Responses to “The meaning of secret codes you are not supposed to know”

  1. sallykwitt said

    Fun post!

  2. thanks . didn’t know some of these

  3. This was a very informative post, I hadn’t heard of some of these codes!

  4. Christian said

    Sure you remember the exact meaning when the code is passed through over the loudspeakers? Might not even be certain in wich country you actually are. Topic is sort of influenced by your personal military history, isn’t it?

  5. mandyf said

    Actually I said it varies by country for many of them, and many I include are outside the US (I am a US resident). If my military background were to have influenced it much, it would be closer to flight codes and launch codes which are now antiquated. The only influence from my personal life into this really was my year and half in an insane asylum That taught me a lot about medical codes.

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