N.C. public safety officials to cut the code, switch to 'plain talk'

Charlotte Observer

Responding to a signal 14 may not mean much to the average person.

To police, it means finding a child. To paramedics, it means treating a puncture or stab wound.

They're speaking a language all their own, which consists of 10-codes and call signals. The lingo varies from county to county or agency to agency, causing confusion when they're called to work together in a disaster.

After years of confirming information with a 10-4, police, firefighters and paramedics are ready to call their code language a 10-42, ending its duty.

Within the next couple of years, York County officials plan to phase it out. The replacement? Plain English.

York County Sheriff's Maj. Robert Hudgins said it won't be easy, but officers will have to adapt.

"Standardization is always good if you have multiple agencies coming together to know what they're talking about," he said. "It increases the emergency responders' efficiency in performing the task they need to perform."

The change was designed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

In York County, losing the 10-code is just part of the change. County public safety officials also plan to switch their scanners to the 800 megahertz broadcast spectrum, where they'll operate together on a radio frequency reserved by the Federal Communications Commission for police, fire officials and paramedics.

The radio towers are under construction, according to York County Emergency Management Director Cotton Howell. He expects the transition will take place sometime next year.

Lancaster County will not be turning to the 800 megahertz system any time soon, Lancaster County Sheriff's Lt. Lee Blackmon said. Instead, deputies will continue to rely on their current radio system and the 10-code language to encrypt calls.

Under FEMA rules, the changes need to be made if the agencies want to receive money from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Though the changes are still some time away from becoming a reality, Rock Hill Fire Chief Mike Blackmon looks forward to simplifying communication, especially in emergency situations.

"There's things you've got to do and your time frame is very short and we need to be able to speak to all the agencies," he said. "That's what our time is all about: saving lives."

Mixed Signals
*While most of the 10-codes are the same among York County public safety agencies, the meaning of signal calls vary by agency. Here are a few examples. *

*Signal 2* | To police, it asks to meet with someone filing a complaint. To paramedics, it means heat stroke.

*Signal 10* | To police, it refers to a homicide. To paramedics, it means the victim's dead on arrival.

*Signal 14* | To police, it means kidnapping. To paramedics, it means a puncture or stab wound.

*Signal 16* | To police, it's a hostage situation. To paramedics, it refers to a burn.

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