Clear, concise and consistent communication is key during any emergency. As part of the MGH’s ongoing efforts to improve and strengthen its emergency program, a new set of plain language codes has been implemented.

“This new structure enables our staff, patients and visitors to more quickly understand that an emergency is occurring,” says Paul Biddinger, MD, director of the Center for Disaster Medicine and vice chairman of Emergency Preparedness. “It also clearly states what they need to do, such as avoid or evacuate a certain area or be on alert for a missing infant or child. We believe this system will ensure that staff, patients and visitors immediately receive the information they need in an emergency without ambiguity.”  

The new standardized language follows a national best practice model and is the result of an in-depth review of emergency practices of health care institutions throughout the country. The MGH Emergency Preparedness team also collaborated with other Partners HealthCare institutions to develop the structure to ensure consistency across the system.

“The former code system included the use of colors to differentiate emergencies, which were found to cause confusion,” Biddinger says. “Because there is no set of universal color codes, hospitals were
using different colors to represent different situations. Instead, the new alert type is now divided into four categories – Security Alert, Weather Alert, Facility Alert and Medical Alert.”

Employees are encouraged to pick up an updated orange emergency card – to be worn with their MGH ID badge – weekdays from 7:30 am to 5 pm at Police, Security and Outside Services on Wang 2.

For more information, visit

This article was originally published in the 06/15/18 Hotline issue.