Virginia asks emergency responders to use common language

Published 6 October 2006

Approach takes HSPD-5 and NIMS requirements seriously by asking agencies to abandon 10-codes; confusion often resulted during inter-agency responses due to different associated meanings

10-4 — oops, I mean message received.” Such will be on every Virginia emergency responders lips in the future due to a new policy by governor Tim Kaine to encourage the use of “common language”, what we know as regular English, rather than the ubiquitous 10-codes. The initiative is intended to solve an interoperability problem not addressed by new radios. Too often, experts complain, different agencies that arrive on the scene of an emergency use the same code to mean different things. In one case described to us by Charles Werner, fire chief in Charlottesville and chair of the state’s interoperability executive committee, 10-50 meant auto accident to one responding agency but officer down to another, leading to all kinds of trouble.

The new approach relies on the National Incident Management System (NIMS) manadate contained in HSPD-5 requiring standardized communications for inter-agency operations. Virginia, however, goes one step further by suggesting the common language be used for all day-to-day operations. “If responders do not use common language on a daily basis they will revert back to the codes they have always used in a crisis situation,” said Werner. He also noted that a small number of codes will remain. The reason? Police officers want to retain the ability to ask covertly for back-up so as not to upset a suspect being questioned.

-read more in this State of Virginia news release