Overview of Plain-Language Alert Categories

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. The alerts are constructed purposefully to allow hospitals to personalize the information to their facilities and provide site-specific details.

The intent of using plain-language alerts is 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.

Special thanks are owed to the Missouri Hospital Association for its leadership on this issue and generosity in sharing its resources.

The recommended plain-language alerts are divided into four categories: facility alerts, medical alerts, security alerts and weather alerts.

Facility Alerts

The purpose of facility alerts is to provide for the safety and security of patients, employees and visitors at all times, including the management of essential utilities.


  • Evacuation;
  • Fire;
  • Hazardous spill (but not mass patient decontamination); or
  • Loss of electrical power
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)”

Medical Alerts

The purpose of medical alerts is to provide medical care and support to patients and incident victims while maintaining care and safety of patients, employees and visitors within a health care facility during an incident.

This is the only category where the recommendation is to keep the existing, widely used color code – Code Blue – and not replace the color with plain language. The rationale is that Code Blue is almost universally used and understood by health care providers and lay people alike as indicating a medical emergency.

Event Recommended Plain Language
Medical Alert Code Blue

Security Alerts

The purpose of security alerts is to protect employees, patients and visitors from any situation or person posing a threat to the safety of any individual(s) within the hospital.


  • Missing person;
  • Armed violent intruder, active shooter, hostage;
  • Bomb threat;
  • Suspicious package; or
  • Combative person/patient.
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)”

Weather Alerts

The purpose of weather alerts is to provide clear, plain-language instructions and situational awareness to hospital employees, patients and visitors in the event of dangerous or extreme weather events.


  • Flash flood; flood watch; flood warning;
  • Severe thunderstorm;
  • Tornado watch; tornado warning;
  • Heat advisory;
  • Winter weather advisory;
  • Blizzard; or
  • Wind chill factor.
Event Recommended Plain Language
Severe Weather “Weather Alert + Descriptor (threat/location) + Instructions”


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