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Inspector Sands

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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 to a fire alarm without needing to evacuate the station.[1][2][3] 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."[4]

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. Fire alarms in small buildings automatically activate all fire sounders to instruct occupants to evacuate the building whereas larger public buildings such as railway stations require a staged evacuation procedure to avoid false alarms. The message may indicate that a single fire alarm call point in a public area has been activated and which needs to be corroborated by a station staff before a decision is made whether to evacuate the whole station.

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.[5] 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. On some railway stations the announcement is also triggered during the routine testing of alarm systems.


The code phrase "Mr Sands" was used in theatres during the late 19th and early 20th centuries to let the staff know that there was a fire backstage. When audiences were alerted of a fire within the building, stampedes occurred. To prevent further disasters, a codename was adopted. As sand buckets were sometimes used to extinguish fires, the code word Mr Sands was used.[6][7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Utley, Tom (22 November 2003). "When a voice calls 'Inspector Sands', terror is never far away". The Daily Telegraph.
  2. ^ "Notes and Queries". The Guardian.
  3. ^ "What the secret codes used in Tube announcements really mean". The Independent.
  4. ^ Haigh, Phil (11 August 2017). "Who is Inspector Sands? Why you don't want to hear this name on the Tube". Metro. Retrieved 15 August 2017.
  5. ^ Olafare, Fola; Male, M.C. "Policies on the use of the Inspector Sands voice message (FOIA request)". WhatDoTheyKnow . Retrieved 10 September 2016.
  6. ^ Smith, Oliver (4 February 2016). "The emergency codes you're not supposed to know about". The Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 25 December 2018.
  7. ^ Richards, Evelyn (15 November 2021). "All the 'secret' London Tube announcements". Metro. Retrieved 20 June 2023.