Uh oh. A customer puked and you need to avoid a Vomit Chain Reaction. Or perhaps you've just spotted a disgruntled ex-employee walking in the doors carrying a semi-automatic. Maybe there's a fire in the building but you don't want to evacuate just yet.
Fortunately you have a pre-arranged code for just such an emergency and you can put out a message that will alert your co-workers to the situation while leaving your customers none the wiser! This is of course Truth in Television, although in practice some of the most ubiquitous codes (such as "Mr Sands" for a fire in a theatre) are well-known enough to make them useless for their original purpose, mainly due to people posting exhaustive lists online.
See also: Code Silver. A subtrope of Trouble Entendre. Compare Police Code for Everything, where a convoluted scenario is described by a short numerical code. Related to Covert Distress Code, where it's the bad guys you don't want to alert.
- A mall in Code Geass has a prearranged P.A. message to announce that someone has made a bomb threat against the mall. Unfortunately, the employees can't help but talk about it in earshot of the customers, so when the fire alarm goes off, there's a mass panic anyway.
- The subtitle for Cells at Work! CODE BLACK is a term for different but equally bleak things in a hospital emergency (in Japanese, it's a reference to a term for bad working conditions). It lives up to this, being a spinoff where the host body is not in good shape at all.
- In The Rescuers Down Under, The Rescue Aid Society calls a Code Red emergency meeting to announce that Cody has been kidnapped.
- In Monsters vs. Aliens, a guy at a UFO-spotting station in Antarctica is rather shocked to actually pick up something, and on the verge of panic calls in to headquarters to report a "Code Nimoy".
- The Simpsons Movie has Mayor Quimby issuing a "code black" emergency to clean up Lake Springfield.
Lenny: Code Black? That's the worst color there is. No offense, Carl.Carl: Nah, I get it all the time.
- In Toy Story 2, a second Buzz Lightyear toy gets involved in the gang's quest to save Woody. Like Buzz in the first film, this Buzz also thinks he's a real space ranger, so our Buzz just tells him, "It's a Code 546." in order to explain what's going on. This causes the second Buzz to call Woody "Your majesty!"
- In Johnny Mnemonic Dr. Alcome is code for a general call to doctors when the clinic needs lots of help, but doesn't want to spook the patients. Amazingly, one of the characters doesn't get it and has to have it spelled out for her - All come.
- This is also at least partly Truth in Television, as many hospitals will use this code if they need a lot of medical personnel in a particular part of the hospital (e.g., "Doctor Alcome to the emergency ward.")
- In Lean on Me, Principal Clark declares that, when the fire inspectors are spotted (he put the chains on the doors to keep gangs out of the school, but as the doors are fire exits, barring them violated the Fire Code), he'll announce a "Code 10", subtly telling the staff to get the chains off the doors. Of course, the idea is kind of ruined when the inspectors do come, and he starts screaming, "Code 10! Code 10! This is Joe Clark! Get those chains off those doors!" over the radio. Not so much What an Idiot! as You Are Too Late: by the time he tried to get the word out, the fire inspectors were already inside.
- John Woo's Broken Arrow gets its title from such a code. "Broken Arrow" is code for an accident involving nuclear weapons; in the film, a weapon is stolen (known as an "Empty Quiver") under the pretense of such an accident.
Giles: I don't know what's scarier, losing nuclear weapons, or that it happens so often there's actually a term for it.
- In A Beautiful Mind, when the main character is in hospital, the staff uses "code red" for when a patient starts cutting himself.
- Brandon and his friends in Galaxy Quest have apparently sorted out a system of emergency codes for any Galaxy Quest (the in-universe TV show)-related crises.
Brandon: No time for pleasantries, Kyle, we have a Level 5 Emergency!
- The Title Drop of Olympus Has Fallen is one of these. It stands for "White House taken by hostile forces, all agents on-site are dead."
- Different codes are used in Chuck Palahniuk's Choke, by a renegade mother to covertly contact her son.
- Also by the hospital looking after her... when Nurse Remington is summoned to the front desk, it probably means you have outstayed your welcome.
- One Running Gag in Robert Rankin's Armageddon II: The B-Movie was to have police disagreeing over which code was specifically required for a particular emergency. (Since they included "demon-possessed vehicle in a towaway zone", we can safely say that whoever came up with the codes has either Seen It All or is Crazy-Prepared.)
- The City Watch Discworld Diary contains a clacks-based parody of police emergency codes, with codes for crucial messages such as "Knocking off early for lunch" or "Gargoyle officer ate messenger pigeon (message included), please re-send".
- In The Stand, the code in the early part of the book that meant everything was screwed was 'Rome Falls'. Another military squad had a code that signaled them to take out a guy with a camera who'd gotten footage they didn't like.
- The Animorphs sometimes did this in case any controllers had the phone bugged. They'd talk about hanging out or going to the mall to signal a need to meet up.
- Sherlock uses "Vatican cameos" — a reference to a Noodle Incident mentioned in The Hound of the Baskervilles — as a warning to John that something dangerous is about to go down.
- In Alas, Babylon, the titular phrase is a running joke used by the protagonist Randy Bragg and his brother Mark when things go wrong. At the novel's beginning, Mark, a Strategic Air Command colonel, uses the phrase to get a message to his brother that the Cold War is about to go hot.
- Played with in Chuck, where the staff have "Code Pineapple" to rapidly evacuate the store in case of emergency, but when they actually try to implement it they manage to induce a panicked stampede for the doors. Which, ironically, helps to avert the actual emergency.
- A Season 3 episode of ER has Dr Doyle mention that someone did a "major Code Brown" in the hallway.
- In the Grey's Anatomy episode "It's the End of the World," "Code Black" is passed between doctors and staff. It apparently stands for an explosive on the premises. It's an unexploded bazooka shell in the innards of a man about to undergo surgery.
- Hospitals do have codes for a large number of unbelievably unlikely situations. The horror comes when you realize there wouldn't be a code for it if it hadn't happened before.
- There's also a Code Silver in Season Six.
- On Kings Silas' staff has a "code for when [he takes] too long in the bathroom".
- Which is a funny reference to the Biblical story where a Israelite assassin was able to escape because all of the guards and servants assumed that the king (whom he has just killed) was simply taking his time in the bathroom.
- Scrubs played with this once (as well as having some straight uses of it). J.D. fakes getting a 'Code 3' on his pager to escape a patient. When asked by the patient what it is, he replies "It's worse than a Code 2 but not as bad as a Code 4" and hurries out of the room.... barreling straight into a stretcher placed across the door and pitching headlong over it. Carla, still standing in the room, comments "That's a Code 2."
- Red Dwarf:
- On Starbug, upgrading from a "Blue Alert" to a "Red Alert" requires manually unscrewing and replacing the colored flashing lights.
- In the episode Back in the Red, Cat suggests they forget Red Alert, and go straight to Brown Alert.
- Parodied a bit in the new generation of Doctor Who, when the Ninth Doctor gets a color coded emergency, Code Mauve, which is apparently the galactic standard. Earth's normal Code Red, apparently, is camp. "All those Red Alerts, all that dancing."
- Parodied in Community episode "The Politics Of Human Sexuality" when the security officer informs Dean Pelton that there's a 'five-nine-seven' currently occurring in his office:
Dean Pelton: "There's a dog-fighting ring in my office?!"
- The West Wing:
- The characters used a code to get someone to immediately stop whatever they were doing, come quickly, and not ask questions by making a casual reference to an "old friend from home."
- Additionally, the Secret Service was operating on some kind of color code. When serious disaster befalls the Bartletts at the end of Season 4 (Zoey getting kidnapped) SS Agent Butterfield tells Leo "We're up at black."
- In the second season premiere the hospital where President Bartlet is taken after being shot uses the code "Trauma One Blue" to inform the staff that they need to evacuate the other emergency room patients.
- Star Trek had "Condition Green", which was code that the landing party had been captured and/or was otherwise communicating under duress and that the ranking officer aboard ship was to take no action unless an opportunity presented itself.
- Grant Imahara mentioned behind the scenes of MythBusters that when they enlisted the help of the police to test the "Bed Sheet Rope" myth, the cops were unusually amused at the fake prisoner number of "3.14" (for pi) he gave himself. Turns out it was because they misread it as "3-14", which is the California police code for "indecent exposure".
- On Hotel Babylon, asking someone if they've got any purple requisition forms was the code for "Immigration Raid Incoming!" Given how many of the staff are immigrants, this code got used quite a bit.
- The Big Bang Theory:
Nurse (into PA system): I need an orderly with a wheelchair. I got a robot hand grasping a man's penis out here.Howard: Could you be a little more discreet?Nurse: I'm sorry, we don't have a code for "robot hand grasping a man's penis".
- "Code Milky Green" from Season One is Played for Laughs. It's the alert for when Sheldon falls sick and at his most annoying and needy, so his friends need to regroup and avoid him for days.
- Subverted when Howard has to go to the hospital:
- In one Emergency! episode, there's an explosion and fire in the hospital basement. "Doctor Evac" is paged over the intercom to signal the need to evacuate without alarming the patients.
- Ghostwriter had "Rally", usually with the appropriate character initial to signal a need to meet up and discuss the case; it was developed after Jamal attempted to ask for help and Ghostwriter treated it as a signal, confusing everyone. Ironically, if a character is actually in distress, they likely won't use "Rally" for the simple fact that they're probably not in a position to go get help, such as an incident in one of the books where Hector had been kidnapped by the villain behind a trilogy long arc and writes a call for help with his finger before miserably thinking that it probably wasn't readable and help won't come (he's almost right but fortunately the rest of the team puzzled it out).
- The Muppets: In "Hostile Makeover", Miss Piggy is furious that she doesn't have a date for the People's Choice Awards, and her staff goes into a "code red" emergency protocol.
Kermit: We've created a color-coded alert system to track Piggy's moods. "Green", she's calm; but we've never been at green. "Yellow", she's in tears. "Orange", I'm in tears. But with a "Code Red", if she locks eyes with you, it's already too late.
- The Museum of Everything often lampshades these messages. As well as the one in the page quote, they've had:
'"Can Inspector Bomb please come to the suspicious packages gallery?"
- In the Cabin Pressure episode "Gdansk", a nervous passenger mistakes one of the MJN crew's word games for a Code Emergency. Carolyn explains that a real emergency would be announced on the intercom. Unfortunately, this happens to be the flight that Martin chooses to recite his answers to the word game over the cabin address.
- In the episode "Qikiqtarjuaq", Carolyn calls Arthur away from trying to lecture a passenger about different species of bear by saying "Code Red". This code means that Arthur should stop what he is doing at once and leave. In the later episode "Timbuktu", it's explained that "Code Red" specifically means "Arthur, you're being too helpful."
- Paranoia has a few dozen of 'em, such as Code 15 ("traffic accident") or 38 ("renegade mutant using unauthorized mutant power") or 54 ("free Hot Fun back at Central"). Confusingly, numeric codes are also informally used to gossip / treasonously wager about how many clones will get killed during a mission; clones normally come in six-packs, so when a "Code Seven" mission comes along...
- In Modern Warfare 2, there's a scene in which the hijacking of a Russian submarine with nuclear missiles takes a sudden turn for the worse. Much, much worse. Everything Ghost can do is scream "Code Black! Code Black!!!" and watch a nuke heading for the US.
- Lampshaded completely in Final Fantasy XIII when boarding the airship Palamecia: When first intruders are detected, the bridge declares Code Red, which later is raised to Code Green and eventually Code Purple. But it gets ridiculous once the intruders disappear from the security scanners:
Col. Nabaat: "That means... we're Code Yellow. No, wait, Code Blue? If we were Orange, that would mean..."Primarch: "Desperate times demand flexibility. Code White."
- Code boom! from Sluggy Freelance. Used on a few other occasions.
- Vexxarr, from the webcomic of the same name, at one point decides to create a color code system to try to quantify the craziness aboard his ship. Although he never gets around to it, that doesn't stop his crew from taking the idea and running with it. For instance, "Technology That Can't Possibly Function is Functioning" would be indicated by Code "Houndstooth tinged in chartreuse."
- The characters in the Robert A. Heinlein-esque The Saga of Tuck use American Sign Language, rotating numeric call signs and shortwave radios to maintain communications. It would probably be more light-hearted, seeing as they're all high school students, if someone hadn't nearly died.
- Parodied in EVE Online machima Clear Skies. The title vessel has fifteen color codes; of these four are known: Code Red ("Imminent Ship Destruction"), Code Orange ("Imminent Judith Chalmers Encounter"), Code Yellow ("It's time to start running"), and Code Blue ("Armed incursion of the ship"). Charlie- who wrote these things- mentions a fifth code, Fuschia, though what it means is unknown.
- Several Protectors of the Plot Continuum missions in Middle-Earth are Code 10, meaning the Sue is joining the Fellowship as a "Tenth Walker". The number goes up with the number of additional Mary Sues added; one mission was a Code 18 (nine added characters).
- In Steven Universe episode "Reunited", when Yellow and Blue Diamond's ships appear after Ruby and Sapphire's wedding, Steven informs Nanefua to evacuate everyone while saying they have a code blue and code yellow.
- In Generator Rex, Rex has problems keeping his codes straight. He once tells some friends not to worry as its "only a Code 2". When a giant EVO crashes through a building, he remembers that "the lower the number, the worse the situation".
- From The Fairly Oddparents episode, "Shelf Life":
Timmy: We're in crisis mode, "Alpha Niner Delta!"
- The Disney Prep and Landing specials take this and run with it. There are different Christmas-related codes for a lot of different things. One of the most serious was "Figgy Pudding", which meant forget the gifts and get out of the house.
- The Simpsons: In "Mona Leaves-a" has Lisa telling Marge they have a "Code 4" situation when Homer goes ballistic at the Stuff-n-Hug store due to one of Bart's pranks.
- The Loud House: In "Brawl in the Family", the Loud sisters establish a "Sister Fight Protocol" to deal with how heated and violent their feuds get; the threat levels are (from lowest to highest) "Field of Daisies", "Thunderstorm", "Hissing Cat", "Stampeding T-Rex", and "Erupting Volcano".
- In William Poundstone's Biggest Secrets, he mentions that hospitals use codes like "Dr. Red" and "Dr. Firestone" for fires, and "Dr. Strong" for patients who are putting up a fight. They do this because some patients may have heart attacks if they hear and comprehend the frightening news.
- In live stage shows, movie theaters, train stations, etc., "Mr. Sands" or "Inspector Sands" means fire. So if you hear an usher being told "Mr. Sands is waiting in the dressing room" and then everyone gets quietly ushered out, you know why. This dates back to the olden days of fire buckets, which usually contained sand.
- This is such an Open Secret that some venues have dropped the pretence and started using a recorded message to the effect of, "The fire alarm has been activated. Please go about your business while we determine whether it's a real fire or just someone ignoring a 'No Smoking' sign."
- Schoolbus drivers have a specific code they use while on the radio if they need to call for an officer or say there's a hostage or gun/knife/etc. on board.
- Disneyland has a bunch of these sorts of codes: There is "protein spill" for when someone has upchucked; "101" means that an attraction has broken downnote ; "Treasured guest" is a warning to staff that you are being rude, unruly or basically a douche.
- Circus lore states that the bands are only to play "Stars and Stripes Forever" in life-threatening emergencies; which in turn acts as a cue for the rest of the staff to start evacuation procedures. One of the most notable instances of this happening was the Hartford Circus Fire of 1944.
- In the 1970s the ship-based pirate radio station Radio Caroline regularly broadcast numbers at 8 PM. Some of these were numerical codes representing different emergencies, but there were also a whole bunch of dummy codes so the listening authorities couldn't tell when the station was calling its office for supplies or assistance.
- Code Adam is used in stores when a child goes missing. The store's doors are locked, and nobody goes in or out. A detailed description of the child and what he/she was wearing is obtained and broadcast over the store. If the child is not found in 10 minutes, law enforcement is called. If the child is found and just lost, they are returned to their parent/legal guardian. If the child is found with someone other than their parent/legal guardian, employees try to delay their departure from the store without risking anyone's life.
- Now accompanied by Amber Alert, a police/emergency services program that also sees frequent use as an analogue emergency page for "missing/abducted child." "Amber Alert" is not, itself, an example: it is named in honor of a young girl from Texas who was abducted and murdered in 1996.
- Hospital color/number codes are legion, and sometimes aren't even standardized between hospitals in the same system, let along hospitals in the same state. However, some calls are common enough to have generally recognized meanings:
- Code Blue/Code 99/CPR Team: cardiopulmonary emergencynote (code team responds; usually a team of nurses from ICU or Emergency, a house doctor, and an anesthesiologist or nurse anaesthetist from the OR)
- Code Red/Red Alert/Dr Firestone: fire alarm, activate department fire protocol (close fire doors, move patients past fire zones, evacuate if ordered)
- Code Orange/Code Purple/Code Silver: internal incident (psych patient missing, active shooter in building, active bomb threat, etc; activate case-specific disaster plans)
- Code Black/Code Yellow/Code 10: external incident (natural or man-made disaster, incoming mass casualties; activate department disaster plan)
- Code Pink/Code Adam/Amber Alert: missing infant/child (lock down all exits, be on lookout for suspicious persons)
- Code Green/Code 00/All Clear: all clear, resume normal duties
- There are informal codes too. "Code Brown" universally means... just about what you'd expect.
- Also "He has Hi-5" or Hi-5 on a chart means that the patient is HIV positive but gets combative if mentioned.
- On film sets "10-1" is given to indicate when someone is in or on their way to the bathroom. This is because most communication is primarily done over walkie-talkies, and since radios can be a less than perfectly clear method of communication due to various factors affecting the signals sent and received (interference from the building you are in, or electronic equipment/transmitters near you, or just something like a damaged radio antenna), so easy to recognize codes called Brevity Codes (or "Ten Codes", in the case of cops saying stuff like "Ten-Four") are used to quickly and clearly pass information along despite poor signal quality. The codes can of course also be designed to make eavesdropping difficult.
- In one school district, a "Code 3.03 meeting" was known universally, even among the students, as the code for a bomb threat.
- "Mr. Fawkes"note and his parents being in the office meant bomb threat, "Professor Norris"note needing to meet his wife in the teacher's lobby meant weapon/stranger on site, and a "ROTC Club Meeting"note being cancellednote meant that something really, really bad was happening that required immediate staff-wide attention (via email or intercom). They had regular enough drills on the three... but never got around to testing the fire alarms.
- At one college, instructors use a phone code to alert security that a student they're meeting in private may turn violent. If we want a security guard to linger near our offices as a precaution, we call the campus switchboard and say we'll be a little late for our meeting with "Dr. Barry"; if we want a guard to come in immediately, we say the appointment needs to be postponed. (Dr. Barry was a founder of the college, long deceased.)
- Some student travel programs arrange codes with students that are departing for homestays in a foreign country. For example, a student in a bad situation could tell his/her host family that it was the chaperone's birthday, and ask to call to congratulate her.
- At one supermarket, the code for theft was 'Service 100' (it's changed since). The code for 'Two mafiosa guys are asking about what you did with the Don's daughter', apparently it was 'Service Oh, f-.
- At one bar, they use one humorous code in particular (spoken over the phone); "I would like to order one anchovy pizza", it's a code that signals the arrival of the health inspector.
- Walmart stores use a color-coded system, with various colors representing a different type of emergency.
- Likewise with Target stores.
- If you spend a lot of time riding in airliners, you might have stopped noticing the various bings and bongs and chimes you hear over the intercom during the flight. Many of these are coded signals for the aircrew (specifically the flight attendants) to pass on routine information without disturbing the passengers (especially an issue on long flights where passengers are expected to be sleeping). Sometimes, these codes can include messages about possible problems on the plane, but often are just a signal that a passenger is paging the flight attendant or that the attendant needs to pick up the intercom phone to talk to the flight crew.
- Transponder codes, known as a "squawk", are used to relay information about a particular flight and emergencies. 7700 is for a general emergency, 7600 for a loss of communications, and 7500 for unlawful interference (hijacking).
- Since some hijackers know this, it's not uncommon for pilots to be told to scroll through the 7500 frequency but not stop for long, and then ATC will contact the pilot for a check, allowing some information to be relayed.
- Since most school children now know what "Code Yellow" or "Code Red" mean—or, at very least, that it is something bad—some schools now page visitors from the "Yellowstone School District."
- Since the theme park Sesame Place is supposed to be family friendly, staff are very restricted in their verbiage. Thankfully, they came up with interesting color codes: Code Elmo-Bleeding/Blood, Code Zoey-Vomit. Code Snuffy and Big Bird are pretty obvious.
- Many security organizations use the APCO ten-codes, under which an emergency is "10-33".
- Disney Monorails used 10-codes, with some (alleged) additions.
SIGNAL 96-S: There's a huge snake on my train!
- A Bay Area night club reported used the phrase 'Tango Nacho Underpants' as a shorthand code for 'someone is stripping on the dance floor'.
- After the Erfurt massacre, German schools created the phrase "Mrs. Koma is coming" ("amok" spelled backwards) to warn staff of active shooters. It was later used during the Winnenden school shooting.
- The common practice of teaching children a code word or code name for use if someone other than their parents has to pick them up for some reason. If the driver uses the code word, the child will know it's okay to go with them.
- At the ExCel exhibition centre in London, "Please, will Mr. Goodfellow report to the Security Suite" is the code for a fire. A report that "Mr. Goodfellow has left the building" is the code for the fire being successfully dealt with. "Staff Call 100" is the code for a bomb threat, ordering all staff to find the bomb. "Staff Call 100 has been cancelled" is the code for the bomb being safely dealt with.
- Aside from the '10-codes', police also have a series meant to tell them how to respond to a call. These were mostly made famous by Adam-12 which made the Los Angeles system famous. For example, Code 2 meant to respond with due speed but without lights and sirens, Code 3 meant do use lights and sirens, Code 4 meant no more need for assistance, etc.
- Ambulance crews use a similar system, but in reverse. It runs from Priority 1 (lights and sirens) to Priority 3 (non-emergent). A "Priority 4" exists in some jurisdictions for scene calls involving deceased patients; a physician is called to pronounce time of death over the radio, and the call proceeds as any non-emergency event.
- British emergency responders have a broadly similar system, with colour codes to denote the severity of the call:
- Category 1, or Red calls: Immediate and serious threat to life, lights and siren are mandatory. (Ex: Building on fire with persons trapped, person with a life-threatening injury or medical event, violent crime in progress.)
- Category 2, Yellow/Amber: Situation is serious but not immediately life-threatening, lights and siren can be used at driver's discretion. (Ex: Person trapped in a building by a jammed lock or some structural issue but not in immediate danger, person needing transport to the emergency department but conscious and breathing, shoplifter being detained by security guards.)
- Category 3, Green: Non-emergency call, no lights or siren. (Ex: Assistance needed to prevent a storm-damaged building from collapsing further, patient requiring transfer between hospital sites, burglary or similar crime that was only discovered after the perpetrators are long gone.)
- On a less serious note, most IT departments have codes for when a computer problem was caused by the user, but the user is someone that IT can't cross (like an executive) or who thinks their computer skills are above reproach. Some of the more common are 10-T (short for ID: 10-T, "idiot") and PEBCAK ("problem exists between chair and keyboard").
- A retailer may call their bank and request a "Code 10 Authorization" if they think a customer's credit card is fake or otherwise suspicious.
- Many teaching hospitals will page "Doctor Mortimer Post" to a particular operating room to let the medical students/interns know where an autopsy (a postmortem exam) is happening without upsetting the patients that much.
- In professional kitchens, the phrase "on the fly" is used as a code for "drop everything and handle this order because it needs to be done right the fuck now!" Its usually reserved for emergency situations when an order is sent back, or an order has been forgotten, or a seriously important VIP has walked into the restaurant. Such items go right to the head of the line of stuff the kitchen needs to do, circumventing everything in there before it. Woe betide the server who abuses "on the fly" when it isn't strictly necessary, because chefs can be the most creatively vindictive human beings on the planet.
- In addition to paging Inspector Sands to the Operations Room, the London Underground also has another pair of major brevity codes: Code Amber and Code Red. These refer to a contingency plan to evacuate and shut down the entire network as quickly as possible in the event of a major incident such as a terrorist attack - Amber instructs drivers to proceed to the next station while Red instructs them to stop immediately and evacuate passengers into the tunnel.