Secret Codes in Public Places

July 12, 2010 at 5:00 am 45 comments

By Chad Upton | Editor

I was at Walmart today and I realized, I absolutely love that place — I feel like a supermodel in there.

While there, I heard an announcement for “Code C” and I had to know what it was.

You see, airports, retail stores and hospitals all have secret codes to announce information to staff without causing alarm to the general public.

Walmart actually has a lot of these codes and for good reason. Perhaps the most well known code is “Code Adam.” It was invented by Walmart 1984 and it’s now used by many different companies, all over the world.

It’s named after Adam Walsh, son of America’s Most Wanted TV host John Walsh. Adam was kidnapped from a Sears store in 1981 and murdered. Walmart actually has a very strict policy about this code. All employees drop what they’re doing, some watch the doors and other sweep the store looking for the child. Employees do nothing else until the child is found.

Other Walmart Codes:

  • Code Black – Severe weather (ex. tornado warning)
  • Code Blue – Bomb threat
  • Code Brown – Shooting
  • Code Green – Hostage situation
  • Code Orange – Chemical spill
  • Code Red – Fire
  • Code White – Accident
  • Code C – Customer service or cashier needed
  • Code 300 or Department 51 – Security

Walmart also has color coded pillars in their stores:

  • Blue – Telephone
  • Red – Fire extinguisher
  • Orange – “Spill-O-Magic” station

Boat/Ship/Vessel Codes

  • Code Oscar or Mr. MOB – Man overboard
  • Bravo, Bravo, Bravo – Serious incident such as a fire
  • Mr Skylight – Minor incident
  • Code Blue – Medical emergency

Hospital Codes

  • Code Blue, Code 90, Code 45 – Cardiac arrest
  • Code Red, Dr Red, Dr Pyro, Dr Firestone – Fire
  • Code Grey, Code Silver – Combative or violent person
  • Code Orange – Mass casualty incident
  • Code Black, Code Brown – Extreme weather warning

These are the most common codes, obviously some of these codes will be known by other code names in certain places. Some countries such as Australia, Canada and the United States have standards for these codes, but they differ from each other and many other countries do not have standards.

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Sources: Wikipedia, Google Answers, Wal-mart Info, UPHAA, Vessel Emergency Codes, Hospital Codes

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45 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Sara  |  July 12, 2010 at 9:26 am

    this post is really cool. love it!

    Reply
  • 2. Charyl  |  July 12, 2010 at 10:58 am

    While working at a Canadian Department Store we had some similar codes
    Code White-all employees with first aid training respond
    Code Red- fire
    Code Black-bomb
    66-loss prevention needed, theft in progress
    99-loss prevention needs assistance
    Code 22-assistance needed at cash or in department

    Thank goodness we haven’t had the need for the Code Brown (shooting) but then we don’t sell guns at our department stores in Canada

    Reply
    • 3. James  |  December 27, 2014 at 2:55 am

      Who cares at whether or not your department store sells guns? If a shooter is going to start shooting people, you can best believe that he has his own gun already.

      Reply
  • 4. Kristen  |  July 12, 2010 at 11:47 am

    Very interesting. I didn’t know where code Adam originated from, or that it’s been around so long.

    Reply
    • 5. EMT9999  |  October 15, 2010 at 10:43 am

      Code Adam comes from name of the host of Americ’s Most Wanted TV program Mr. John Walsh. His son Adam was abducted and his body never found and it prompted him to start the program in conjunction with the FBI’s Most Wanted program.

      There has also been the child abduction code of “Code Annie” to signify the abducted child is a female and where “Code Adam” signifies the child is a male. It was done to make people more aware of what type of child to be on the look out for.

      Having worked as a manager at Lowe’s Home Improvement, if there was ever a call out for Code Adam or Code Annie, employees were trained to proceed to all possible exits from the buildings as well as to enter the bathrooms looking for any signs of trouble. When entering the bathrooms the employee would announce they were a restroom cleaning attendant. If anyone was in the restroom, the employee would excuse themselves from the restroom and immediately call an LP (Loss prevention) or Senior Manager, MOD.

      People have become more aware of trouble while shopping. If you see a parent grabbing a child by the arms or talking loudly to them, step in and see what is going on. Stop being afraid of someone saying something to you. You might just save a childs life. I have confronted dozens of people over the years and have been involved in domestic violence cases as a volunteer support counselor, stand up for those who have no voice!

      Reply
      • 6. meandean68  |  March 21, 2012 at 2:17 pm

        They found the boys body in a canal.

      • 7. Juli  |  March 21, 2016 at 9:05 am

        They found his head in they can all this happened in my hometown! :(

  • 8. danger  |  July 12, 2010 at 6:56 pm

    I think “violet person” comes after
    Code Blue, not Code Silver :-)

    Or, more likely, that’s a spell-checked
    tpyo for “violent person”.

    Reply
  • 9. Dave  |  July 12, 2010 at 9:59 pm

    At the hospital where I work, and several others in this area I’ve been told of, “Code Blue” has been replaced by “Dr. Leo.” Due to the popularity of medical TV shows, many people are familiar with the meaning of “Code Blue.” The substitution of “Dr. Leo” is the result of facilities’ reluctance to advertise the (probable) death of a patient over their PA systems.

    Also our code for an aggressive or threatening person is “Code Purple,” perhaps a variant of the “violet person” noted above.

    Reply
    • 10. Bill Lindemann  |  October 23, 2010 at 2:50 am

      The reason for using “Dr Leo” is not immediately apparent. “Code Blue” presumably derived from the cyanosis (bluish skin color) that appears when blood circulation is impaired. Actually, “Dr Leo” would be a straightforward code for “security needed”, from the acronym for “Law Enforcement Officer”. Although, come to think of it, heart failure IS referred to as cardiac *arrest* …

      Reply
    • 11. Smith, MD  |  February 25, 2014 at 4:24 pm

      The real history of the Code Leo comes from a Dr. Leo who was an internal medicine resident at Brackenridge hospital in Austin, Texas during the 1960’s. One month he was on the cardiology service and the hospital’s trauma status had just been upgraded so they kept paging Dr. Leo on the PA each time a code heart was called. After his month on the service his name was synonymous with a code heart or code blue. The terminology was soon used all throughout the rest of the city. I am unfamiliar with how widespread it became in the rest of the country.

      Reply
  • 12. Josh  |  July 13, 2010 at 12:54 am

    I used to work on a cruise ship, the correct codes are

    Code Alpha: Medical emergency.
    Code Bravo: Fire. Only Fire.
    Code Oscar: Man Overboard.
    Code Green: Flood, usually resulting from busted pipes.

    Code Brown: Inside joke amongst the crew. When someone had a Code Brown, this meant they where in quarantine due to diarreaha.

    Reply
  • 13. cole  |  July 13, 2010 at 6:20 am

    The real secret is, sometimes the codes have NO meaning. I used to work at wal-mart and we’d occasionally make announcements for code whatever to frighten folks who looked a little.. dubious if you know what I mean. Just to make people wonder if we were watching (of course we were). Interesting enough, I’ve never heard of Code C or Code 300.

    Reply
    • 14. Norman  |  October 14, 2010 at 9:47 am

      I always suspected that they made random security code announcements just to spook anyone who might be thinking,or someone in the act of shop lifting without the knowledge of security.

      Reply
    • 15. Dan  |  November 21, 2010 at 12:06 pm

      I heard somewhere that Code C is customer service.

      Reply
  • 16. Ian  |  July 13, 2010 at 6:41 am

    Great post. The color codes always make me wonder when I hear them at stores.

    My mother works in a maternity ward and a Code Pink is a missing/stolen baby. Thanks to matching ID bracelets and locked wards she has luckily never heard a Code Pink called.

    When I worked at Target the warehouse/backroom guys would always call out Code 13 and a location on their channel to point out attractive women… I’m pretty sure even they knew it was lame of them to do.

    Reply
  • 17. Robin  |  July 18, 2010 at 3:59 pm

    I worked at Jordan Marsh (New England based Department Store) in the 80s, we had a system of melodious “Bongs” that you’d hear overhead which were standard codes for basic info like store closing time or to request security to your area. No one was allowed to make overhead announcements in voice, as I recall.

    Reply
  • 18. RochUni  |  July 19, 2010 at 2:29 am

    Working for a hospital emergency room in the USA for 3 years as a technician made me realize a lot of hospitals actually have a generic ‘status’ code system that they communicate every so often with other hospitals and ambulance services.

    Green was low patient flow.
    Red was that the trauma rooms were full.
    Blue was that the patient flow was high, but no trauma rooms.
    Yellow was that the trauma rooms were about half full.

    This ensured that an ambulance with a gunshot wound victim or similar trauma could know with relative certainty where they should go to receive the quickest admission for someone requiring medical attention and they could call that particular hospital ahead of time to let them know they were coming.

    Reply
  • 19. polymathamy  |  July 20, 2010 at 3:00 pm

    Code Orange in a school usually means a child has thrown up, named because of the orange color of the clean-up product used to absorb the vomit.

    Reply
  • 20. Adam  |  October 4, 2010 at 10:06 pm

    I love this. At the theme park I used to work at (I worked in the games) we would say “my apron is ruined” when we received counterfeit and code brown means someone took a poop in the maze.

    Reply
  • 21. Rick  |  October 14, 2010 at 5:52 am

    At my hospital Code Brown means a patient has had an “accident”

    Reply
    • 22. Shawna  |  October 7, 2012 at 11:43 pm

      At our hospital code brown is for a run away

      Reply
  • 23. angie  |  October 14, 2010 at 10:38 am

    in the hospitals in colorado, ‘mr. gallagher’ is used for emergencies.

    Reply
  • 24. Mark Savage  |  October 14, 2010 at 11:54 am

    Hi,
    used to work at Kmart and other retail stores years ago and my son used to work at Walmart; most all make these security announcements like: “attention security, check dept. 51, or, security, check the toy dept.” As others have noted, most of the time, stores use the security alerts to hopefully frighten off would be thieves; I do know that when I was in management with Kmart years ago, we constantly had “security” ( whether they were working at the time or not ) announcements to check various dept’s. I hear these a lot in Walmart and my son told me they often make these random announcements for the same reason. Stores loose a fortune to shoplifting and its unfortunate, for the innocent ones like me and you are the ones paying for the thugs to walk out without paying for they’re goods. In one store I worked at, after inventory one year, they gave us a figure of 180,000 in loss for just the empty packages they found; if they took the whole package ( containers ) like many do, the figure was much higher. Every time retail stores find a way to help combat these low life’s stealing from them, the thieves find another way to get they’re items for free; its a cat/mouse game. Just like my friend with the highway patrol said: “every time the state buys a new speed detection device, someone comes up with a way to defeat, or help reduce the chances of they’re new speed detection devices being effective.”
    I don’t know if its true or not, but one police officer once told me that one of the makers of one brand of speed detection devices also makes the detectors to warn drivers of this speed detection device they use.
    I thought I’d also throw this in for humor; when at the Lumberton, NC store many years ago, they had a Code 100, which meant “pretty woman” in whatever dept they gave out; Code 99 was handsome man. The code 99’s were rarely used, but the code 100’s were almost comical they used them so much. You’d hear the code 100 ( say ladies wear ) and then see stock room doors open, male employees walking that direction, and others looking that way. Its probably no longer used, but we all used to get a good laugh out of them when I worked there.

    Reply
    • 25. Paris  |  November 7, 2010 at 10:47 am

      Loose: “This screw is loose.”
      Lose: *We lose a lot of inventory to theft.”

      Reply
  • 26. Diane Thompson  |  October 15, 2010 at 4:09 am

    So what does it mean when the grocery store constantly does a call for the CSEA rep?

    Reply
  • 27. andy Tanner  |  October 15, 2010 at 6:13 am

    So, since walmart has changed their paging policy, and taken out most all of their phones from the stores, How is a worker supposed to make a code adam call or an accident call for help? Run half way across the store to do so while a person dies or perhaps a child is walked out the door while they try to get to a phone? they went overboard with these changes because of one, ONE little punk in New Jersey made one stupid teenaged page. I hope no one suffers because of walmarts stupidity. especially not a child.

    Reply
    • 28. AMBTHomas  |  November 2, 2010 at 2:53 pm

      Since the changes they expect you to direct the parent to customer service and have them ASK a member of management is it okay to make the announcement for a code ADAM and if the person missing is an adult then the child is asked to stay in customer service but an adult is asked to walk around the store looking for the missing adult. If an employee does not comply they are automatically terminated. It is an unwritten rule about not following walmart policy. I used to work there and many parents cussed out many employees because of this rule. We thought it was stupid but the few ppl who didnt follow the rule were fired.

      Reply
  • 29. Troy M  |  October 15, 2010 at 6:53 am

    We have a local talk radio station that streams video from the booth. They call a “bluebird alert” and the sound of a chirping bird when there is a good looking woman in the studio so all the guys can go to their computers real quick to see her.

    Reply
  • 30. messypants  |  October 15, 2010 at 10:25 am

    “Code Brown”….we use that in the construction/home improvment
    industry, usually when the boss-man is out in his truck wait’n for us to get to the jobsite and we’re stuck in the crapper tak’n a massive dump. “Code Red-Brown” is more severe and you better
    get to your proctologist.

    Reply
  • 31. Hosptital Codes  |  October 19, 2010 at 4:54 pm

    A few corrected Hospital Codes

    Code Pink = abducted infant (sometimes code white)
    Code Silver = person with a weapon
    Code Orange = haz mat spill

    Reply
  • 32. NTHP  |  November 12, 2010 at 7:00 pm

    Here’s a little piece of awesome:a McDonalds code; only one though, I worked there twenty years ago as a 16 year old…

    When asking how long an ordered item such as burgers or fries would take to be ready, the cashier announces to the back, “3-to-1 on fries” or, “3-to-1 on Mac”. The response from the responsible “cook” is a number, relating to the number of minutes the item is away from delivery. It could be “2-point-5”, at which point your friendly McDonalds service staff will say, “That’ll be a three minute wait sir, is that ok?”

    The term “3-to-1” just means “how long” and has no reference to anything vaguely in triplicate….

    Reply
  • 33. Stuff that makes you go Hmmm #23 – Sending coded messages to programmers in public – The Blogs at HowStuffWorks  |  November 29, 2010 at 10:49 am

    […] Secret Codes in Public Places […]

    Reply
  • 34. James West  |  February 9, 2011 at 5:03 pm

    Louis Profit is the loud speaker code for Loss Prevention and “Have you seen Bob” is for a shopper trying to sneak something out on the bottom of the buggy

    Reply
  • 35. James West  |  February 9, 2011 at 5:04 pm

    the above was for Wal Mart by the way

    Reply
  • 36. JJ  |  April 24, 2011 at 12:36 pm

    I’ve heard “Code Green” a number of times at a several different Walmart stores and it was always because the cashier needed change. Not exactly a hostage situation, eh?

    Reply
  • 37. Vincent Robinson  |  October 27, 2011 at 11:07 am

    When I worked for Wal-Mart in the late 90’s early 00’s, “Department 51 call (whatever extension)” was to get loss prevention to your department. If there was a fight or violent person in the store you paged the store number to the department. (example “0947 to the customer service desk”). This got every available male associate to the service desk pronto. If you saw a suspected shoplifter, you’d page “rotate security cameras to (department)”. Even though most of our cameras were just empty “dummy” domes and the few real ones we had didn’t even rotate! But it made thieves think twice! I’m sure it’s all different now. I heard the regular hourly associates aren’t even allowed to use the intercom anymore.

    Reply
  • 38. Jeremy raider  |  April 10, 2012 at 2:45 pm

    if walmart says bob report to (then a department) there telling secret shoppers to follow a person that brought outside bags (b.o.b) because they think they are stealing

    Reply
    • 39. Tamela Bennett  |  April 28, 2014 at 9:43 am

      Regretfully people who bring in outside bags without checking in at front desk “to match shoes” or to have shoes died” probably are stealing. Those HUGE Dillard’s bags is a mall that does not contain Dillard’s is a HUGE RED FLAG! They really think people are that stupid. Another thing some people use DISCUSTINGLY is a baby stroller. One girl in a shoe store I was working at was trying to put shoes in a PAPER sack, Yeah right, a paper sack! She was “trying on shoes” with her jacket over her legs then you would hear them go in the sack. Mirrors overhead people! Strategically placed so employees can see what you are doing!
      AND THOSE WHO AREN’T – QUIT LEAVING A MESS IN THE SHOE STORE!! THE STORE IS NOT YOUR CLOSET JACKHOLES!!

      Reply
      • 40. Tamela Bennett  |  April 28, 2014 at 9:44 am

        *in a mall. Please excuse.

  • 41. Neal  |  August 4, 2012 at 1:22 pm

    i work for Harrods in london england. but before i worked for the London eye they use loads

    10:16 wheel chair
    10:15.5 someone who cant walk and needs the wheel stopping
    10.07 suspect package
    10.100 bomb
    ZODAK Bomb search

    Reply
  • 42. vimal kumar  |  October 25, 2015 at 11:44 pm

    Nice

    Reply
  • 43. guci56  |  July 7, 2016 at 6:43 am

    nice post

    Reply
  • 44. Jennifer  |  January 19, 2017 at 12:43 pm

    They don’t use these codes as much as they used to. Modern tech means u don’t have to call stuff out in public so much. 3 things we found when we installed touchscreens in the store. 1 – secret things stay secret. If cash needs to be delivered or collected, the operator presses a button and the cash team discreetly appear. No more “code 14 at checkout 5”, which people soon learn means money is being moved. 2 – embarrassing things stay secret. Most checkout operators try to “hold on” till the end of the shift, which can be several hours, because they don’t want to ask for a toilet break in fromt of a queue of people – and “code 99 at checkout 8” to call for the relief cashier tells the whole store that Laura needs to go to the toilet *again*. So when they eventualy asked to go, they were about to pee themselves. Now they request a break by touching the button on the screen. They ask in good time, I have plenyy of time to organise someone to take over, and everyone stays calm and dry :-) And 3 – not so much “message fatigue”. In the old days it was Tannoy messages all the time, so you tuned the m out and risked missing something important.

    Reply
  • 45. Jennifer  |  January 19, 2017 at 12:47 pm

    Oh yes – one nore thing. We still use the codes for general alerts, like suspected theft in progress, first aid wanted etc. Also, we have a secret name for Top Brass. “Will customer XXXX XXXXX please report to the information desk” means make sure your work area is tidy and your uniform is OK cos someone from HQ is arriving.

    Reply

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