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Inspector Sands is a code phrase used by public transport authorities in the United Kingdom, including Network Rail and London Underground, to alert staff and other agencies, such as the police, to an emergency or potential emergency such as a fire or bomb scare without alerting the public and creating panic. The exact wording depends on the station, and the nature of the incident, for example "Would Inspector Sands please report to the operations room immediately" or "would Inspector Sands please report to platform 2".
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The automated public address announcement can be generated automatically by the station's fire warning system, or can be triggered from the station control. The message audio file is usually stored as the primary standard emergency announcement on the station PA/VA system. The message may indicate that a single fire alarm call point in a public area has been operated. If an automatic fire detector in a non-public area is operated, or more than one device or zone reports a fire, the system will start the evacuation procedure and the fire brigade is automatically called. The announcement can be triggered by the station controller to alert station staff of other incidents which need urgent attention. The automated nature of the announcement and its high priority means that it has occasionally been known to cut into manual (lower priority) announcements being made by station staff.
"Mr Sands" has long been used in theatres as a code for fire, where sand buckets were used to put out fires. The word "fire" backstage would cause alarm to either performers or audience.
American hospitals similarly use "Mr. [or Dr.] Strong" as code to alert orderlies that a patient or visitor at the stated location is in need of physical restraint.
- Utley, Tom (2003-11-22). "When a voice calls 'Inspector Sands', terror is never far away". The Daily Telegraph.
- "Notes and Queries". The Guardian.
- BBC documentary - Fry's Planet Word: Episode 3: "Uses and Abuses" 9 Oct 2011