Emergency codes are important announcements to ensure facilities operate in accordance with their mission and to the best of their capabilities. The Department of Homeland Security released a report in 2008 citing the importance of using standardized plain language codes. The report writes, “The use of plain language (clear text) in emergency management and incident response is a matter of public safety, especially the safety of emergency management/response personnel and those affected by the incident. It is critical that all those involved with an incident know and use commonly established operational structures, terminology, policies and procedures. This will facilitate interoperability across agencies, organizations, jurisdictions and disciplines.” The guidelines for standardized emergency codes have also been promoted by The Joint Commission for events or threats that can inflict harm on hospital staff, patients and visitors.
The District of Columbia Hospital Association’s (DCHA) hospital leaders see the value in creating uniform systems that enable their staff to be adequately informed during an emergency as well as equipping visitors with adequate information to protect themselves. This was important for the District’s hospitals as many of our staff are employed by multiple hospitals and often work between facilities. The DCHA Emergency Management Committee (EMC) completed a standardization initiative to enhance the emergency preparedness and response efforts for District hospitals’ staff, the patients they serve, and the communities they protect.
Leveraging the collective expertise, the EMC reviewed all member hospital codes for a series of emergency events/alerts. The Committee agreed to use a combination of color and plain language following national trends and best practices. It was further determined the minimum requirement for implementation would be to standardize the nomenclature (with a focus on plain language) and definition for the select emergency codes across the hospitals. Each facility would be given the flexibility to designate their color code for the specific emergency as they deemed appropriate.