Emergency service response codes
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The emergency services in various countries use systems of response codes to categorize their responses to reported events. One of the best known is the Code 3 Response, which is used in several countries, particularly the United States, to describe a mode of response for an emergency vehicle responding to a call. It is commonly used to mean "use lights and siren".
In some agencies, Code 3 is also called a Hot Response. Code 1 is also called a Cold Response.
Some slang may be used, such as "Running Hot", or "Running Cold".
Some departments may use the terms "upgrade" and "downgrade" as well. If a unit is responding to a call without lights or sirens (code 1), and the unit later needs to turn on lights and sirens (code 3), the term upgrade may be used. The term downgrade may be used in the opposite situation.
A similar variation is to "reduce" or "increase code." For example, if there is a code 3 response to a situation, but the first units on scene have sufficient control of the situation, they may announce over the radio that responding units may "reduce code." In this example, to "reduce code" would mean to continue responding, but at code 2, rather than discontinue altogether; to alert units to discontinue altogether—e.g., because the suspect is in custody or there are already enough officers on scene—they would likely say they are "code 4."
- Priority 1 - Dead On Arrival Trauma/CPR
- Priority 2 - Emergency
- Priority 3 - Non- Emergency
- Priority 4 - Situation Under Control
- Priority 5 - Mass Casualty
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The use of lights and sirens is up to the individual police officer driving to the call. The nature of the call is an aggravating factor when deciding when to use them. Calls are graded by either the control room direct (in the case of emergency calls) or by some sort of first contact centre (nonemergency calls). Grading is effected by such factors as the use or threat of violence at the incident being reported. Even though the grading is done by the control room, officers can request an incident be upgraded if they feel in their judgement they are needed immediately. They can also request to downgrade an incident if they feel they cannot justify using emergency equipment like blue lights and sirens.
There is no nationally agreed call grading system with a number of different systems being used across the UK and attendance times given the grade varies between forces, depending on how rural the county is. For example, Suffolk Constabulary break down Grade A emergencies into further sub-categories of Grade A Urban and Rural, with Urban attendance times attracting a 15-minute arrival time and Grade A Rural attendance would attract a 20-minute arrival time. Some of these are listed below but is not exhaustive.
|Grade||Meaning||Audible and visible emergency equipment||Target time|
|A||Immediate response call||Use advisable||8 minutes|
|B||Significant call, routine call||Can be used if driver thinks police are needed immediately||20 minutes|
|C||extended call, Scheduled appointments||Not to be used||No time limit|
|D||Non-attendance||Not to be used||Non-attendance|
|Resolved||Non-attendance||Not to be used||Call is resolved at point of contact.|
Another variant in use within the UK.
|Grade||Meaning||Audible and visible emergency equipment|
|IM||Immediate Priority||Normally used, examples of incidents graded as an immediate priority include incidents in which life is at risk, there is serious injury (or risk of), serious road traffic collisions, and where serious crime is in-progress or has just taken place.|
|H||High Priority||Normally used - incidents graded high are of serious nature and have the potential to develop into immediate priority incidents|
|N||Normal Priority||Not used - incidents are graded as normal that do not depend upon a timely police response.|
|L||Low Priority||Not used - incidents graded as low that do not depend upon a timely police response and may be resolved by phone or pre-arranged appointment.|
|NA||Non-attendance||Not used, no police attendance required.|
|Grade||Meaning||Audible and visible emergency equipment|
|1||Emergency response||Road traffic exemptions usually utilised as is audible and visual warning equipment.|
|2||Urgent response||Road traffic exemptions may be utilised along with audible and visual warning equipment.|
|3||Non-urgent response||Audible and visual warning equipment is not used.|
|4||Appointments||Audible and visual warning equipment is not used.|
|5||For information only||Calls not usually requiring police attendance that may be logged for information only.|
Ambulance responses in the UK are as follows. Some ambulance services allow driver discretion for Category 3/4 calls; this may be dependent on the type of call or how long it has been waiting for a response for.
|Grade||Meaning||Audible and visible emergency equipment||Type of call||Initial response target||Response details|
|Category 1||Immediate Life Threat||Always used||Cardiac arrests, Choking?, Unconscious, Continuous seizure, Not alert after a fall or trauma, Allergic reaction with breathing problems, Major Inidents||7 min||Response time measured with arrival of first emergency responder
Will be attended by single responders and ambulance crews
|Category 2||Emergency||Always used||Stroke patients, Fainting – not alert, Chest pain, Road Traffic Collisions, Major burns, Sepsis||18 min||Response time measured with arrival of transporting vehicle|
|Category 3||Urgent||Usually used (service policy dependent)||Falls, Fainting – now alert, Diabetic problems, Isolated limb fractures, Abdominal pain||120 min||Response time measured with arrival of transporting vehicle|
|Category 4||Less Urgent||No||Diarrhoea, Vomiting, Non-traumatic back pain, Health Care Professional admission||180 min||Maybe managed through hear and treat
Response time measured with arrival of transporting vehicle
|GP Urgent||Urgent response||Not usually used||GP urgent admissions to hospital. Urgent interhospital transfers||1–4 hours or scheduled timeframe, decided by admitting HCP|
The use of flashing lights and sirens is colloquially known as blues and twos which refers to the blue lights and the two-tone siren once commonplace (although most sirens now use a range of tones). In the UK, only blue lights are used to denote emergency vehicles (although other colours may also be used as sidelights, stop indicators, etc.). A call-out requiring the use of lights and sirens is often colloquially known as a blue light run.
Ambulance Victoria The information provided to Ambulance Victoria at the time of the triple zero call generates a case type and ambulance response code depending on the severity of the emergency.
There are three types of ambulance response:
Code 1: A time critical case with a lights and sirens ambulance response. An example is a cardiac arrest or serious traffic accident.
Code 2: An acute but non-time critical response. The ambulance does not use lights and sirens to respond. An example of this response code is a broken leg.
Code 3: A non-urgent routine case. These include cases such as a person with ongoing back pain but no recent injury.
Please note additional codes are used, but these are for internal purposes.
Country Fire Authority There are two types of response for the Country Fire Authority which cover the outer Melbourne Area. These are similar to those used by Ambulance Victoria, minus the use of Code 2.
Code 1: A time critical event with response requiring lights and siren. This usually is a known and going fire or a rescue incident.
Code 2: Unused within the Country Fire Authority
Code 3: Non-urgent event, such as a previously extinguished fire or community service cases (such as animal rescue or changing of smoke alarm batteries for the elderly).
New South Wales
Marine Rescue NSW
Code 1 Urgent Response - Use warning devices
Code 2 Semi Urgent Response - Use of Warning devices at skippers discretion
Code 3 Non Urgent Response - Warning Devices not needed
Code 4 Training - No Warning devices to be used unless specifically needed for training
The New South Wales Rural Fire Service uses two levels of response, depending on what the call-out is and what has been directed of the crew attending the incident by orders of the duty officer:
- Proceed: To drive to an incident, without displaying lights and/or sirens and to obey all road rules.
- Respond: To drive to an incident, urgently but safely, whilst displaying lights and/or sirens. Some exemptions exist for emergency drivers (for example: proceeding through a red light after stopping and when safe) though all road rules still must be obeyed. The siren can be switched off at the discretion of the driver when it is not needed (for example, when the road ahead is clear of traffic and easily visible) and reactivated at possible traffic hazards.
The New South Wales Police Force uses two distinct classifications for responding to incidents. In order to respond 'code red' a driver must be suitably trained and have qualified in appropriate police driver training courses.
- Code Red: Vehicle responding with lights and sirens activated.
- Code Blue: Vehicle responding without lights or sirens activated.
SA Ambulance Service use a Priority system.
|Priority||Case Type||Lights & Sirens Used||Crew Type|
|1||Emergency||Yes||Emergency (Paramedic or Intensive Care Paramedic)|
|2||Emergency||Yes||Emergency (Paramedic or Intensive Care Paramedic)|
|4||Urgent||No||Emergency (Paramedic or Intensive Care Paramedic)|
|5||Urgent||No||Emergency Support Service (Ambulance Officer)|
|6||Routine||No||Emergency (Paramedic or Intensive Care Paramedic)|
|7||Routine||No||Emergency Support Service (Ambulance Officer)|
|8||Routine||No||Patient Transport Service (Ambulance Officer)|
Note: Priorities 0 and 3 have been reserved for future use. Priority 9 is used for administration taskings.
|Priority||Type||Local Event Triage||Lights & Sirens Used||Response|
|1||Emergency||Can't wait||Yes||Multiple Units Sent, Life-Threat|
|2||Urgent||Can Wait||No||Single Unit Responded, Potential for Life-Threat|
|3||Routine||Will Wait||No||Used Primarily by SES, No risk of Life Threat|
All calls are routed through the Metropolitan Fire Service (Call Sign "Adelaide Fire") including State Emergency Service 132 500 calls.
During significant weather events the State Communication Centre (SCC) unit of the SES take over call taking responsibly. This operations centre is manned by volunteers routing calls for assistance to the closest unit who will dispatch the events to individual teams.
Queensland Police uses the priority system;
Code 1 - Immediate risk of death to a person. Proceed lights and sirens. Permission granted to disobey road rules.
Code 2 - Immediate risk of serious injury to a person or damage to property. Proceed lights and sirens. Permission granted to disobey road rules.
Code 3 - Routine job. Proceed without lights or siren. Road rules must be obeyed.
Code 4 - Negotiated response time. Proceed without lights or siren. Road rules must be obeyed.
For Queensland Police code 1 and code 2 are exactly the same response time. Rarely will a job be given a priority code 1, instead officers will (in most cases) be told to respond code 2.
St John Ambulance Northern Territory uses terms to determine the response.
Emergency or Non-Emergency. Emergency can be broken down into Life-threatening or Non-life-threatening.
Emergency: Life-threatening - Respond lights and sirens
Emergency:Non-life-threatening - Respond without lights and sirens
Non Emergency: Respond without lights and sirens
St John Ambulance Western Australia uses the following codes to determine a response.
Priority 1 represents an Emergency call. (Response time target is to attend to 90% of emergency calls within 15 minutes)
Priority 2 represents an Urgent call. Use of lights authorised and siren allowed only when passing through heavy traffic and clearing intersections. (Response time target is to attend to 90% of urgent calls within 25 minutes)
Priority 3 represents a Non-urgent call. (response time target is to attend to 90% of non-urgent calls within 60 minutes) ..
The Western Australian Police uses the following codes from 1 to 7 to determine response actions.
Priority 1 is an emergency call. Lights and siren authorised. An example of a Priority 1 call would be an armed holdup call, or an officer down.
Priority 2 is a less urgent emergency call. Lights and siren authorised, but follow basic traffic rules. An example of a Priority 2 call is a serious shots fired or officer in trouble/officer requires urgent assistance
Priority 3 is an urgent call, lights and siren authorised, but follow basic traffic and road rules.
Priority 4 is a less urgent call. Lights and siren authorised but follow more advanced traffic rules and the speed limit.
Priority 5, 6, and 7 is a standard call. No lights or siren authorised and follow all traffic rules.
Possible shift to plain language
In the U.S. the National Incident Management System (NIMS) states "it is required that plain language be used for multi-agency, multi-jurisdiction and multi-discipline events, such as major disasters and exercises" and federal grants became contingent on this beginning fiscal year 2006. NIMS also strongly encourages the use of plain language for internal use within a single agency.
San Francisco (CA) EMS Agency 0905 Policy Manual ,
Saratoga (NY) EMS Dispatch Changes ,
Amherst (NY) Annual 2005 Memo ,
Middletown (CT) EMD .
- Head of CCR (Norfolk); CCR Chief Inspector (Suffolk) (25 July 2016). "CCR Call Grading Policy" (PDF). Policy No. 81. Norfolk & Suffolk Constabulary. Retrieved 21 June 2018.
- "Scottish Policing Performance Framework". gov.scot. Scottish Government. Retrieved 21 June 2018.
- NIMS Integration Center. "NIMS AND USE OF PLAIN LANGUAGE". (2006). Accessed 14 May 2008.