Plain-Language Emergency Alerts
The Texas Hospital Association, through its Board of Trustees, has endorsed a voluntary adoption of plain-language alerts for use inside all Texas hospitals to:
  • Promote the safety of patients, visitors, physicians and hospital staff;
  • Reduce errors;
  • Increase transparency of communications and safety protocols;
  • Align with national safety recommendations; and
  • Reduce confusion for staff or physicians who work in more than one facility.

The decision to support the voluntary adoption of standardized, plain-language alerts follows an extensive vetting of THA member hospitals. As a member-driven initiative, the plain-language alert project was launched when several member hospitals inquired into the use of a uniform alert system beginning in 2013. THA’s Hospital Physician Executive Committee reviewed the issue in 2014, and a full member survey was completed in 2015 to analyze the extent of current code variation and to gauge member interest in a uniform system. Following the survey, THA staff convened a workgroup of members to review the issue and make recommendations.

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Each hospital should review the endorsed alerts and determine which are most appropriate for adoption. However, although participation in the initiative is completely voluntary, it is THA's hope that every Texas hospital adopt all of the standardized, plain-language alerts. All hospitals that choose to participate are asked to complete and return the plain-language pledge as soon as possible.

Standardizing emergency codes across Texas hospitals is another step in our industry’s efforts to improve and provide higher quality, safer care.

Brad Holland THA’s voluntary standardized, plain-language emergency code project is a tremendous resource for all THA-member hospitals. I’ve seen firsthand the confusion that can arise from the use of color codes to announce an emergency within the hospital. Different hospitals use different colors to describe the same emergency. This variation easily creates confusion among physicians who may practice in multiple hospitals, the visiting public and employees who may have worked in other hospitals or health systems. Using plain language is the most effective way to communicate clear information and instructions when an emergency occurs and time is of the essence.

Brad Holland, FACHE, CEO, Cedar Park Regional Medical Center

The goal of the plain-language alert project is to encourage all Texas hospitals and health systems to use plain-language alerts in the event of an emergency in lieu of hospital-specific color codes. Learn More

All hospitals that choose to participate are asked to complete and return the plain language pledge as soon as possible. Learn More

This policy is intended to provide all staff specific guidance and instruction on how to initiate a plain-language alert within the hospital. Learn More

The Plain-Language Alerts are the result of a multi-hospital workgroup. Learn More

The Standardized, Plain-Language Alerts Implementation Guide is based on the 2013 Emergency Code Implementation Guide from the Missouri Hospital Association.

Event Recommended Plain Language
Bed Capacity “Facility Alert + Bed Capacity + Descriptor (location)”
Emergency Plan Activation “Facility Alert + Emergency Plan Activation + Descriptor (location)”
Fire Alarm Activation “Facility Alert + Fire Alarm Activation + Descriptor (location)”
Hazardous Spill “Facility Alert + Hazardous Spill + Descriptor (location)”
Event Recommended Plain Language
Medical Alert Code Blue
Event Recommended Plain Language
Armed Violent Intruder/Active Shooter/Hostage “Security Alert + Descriptor (threat/location)”
Civil Disturbance “Security Alert + Descriptor (threat/location)”
Combative Patient/Person “Security Alert + Security Assistance Requested + (location)”
Lockdown “Security Alert + Descriptor (threat/location) + Instructions”
Missing Person “Security Alert + Descriptor”
Suspicious Package “Security Alert + Descriptor (threat/location)”
Event Recommended Plain Language
Severe Weather “Weather Alert + Descriptor (threat/location) + Instructions”

Plain Language Alerts

Download the plain language alerts whitepaper


Carrie Kroll, vice president, advocacy, public policy and political strategy, 512/465-1043

Code What? Improving Hospital Communication in an Emergency