Why use Clear Text in an incident?

The “us and them” mentality of the Public Safety community has been in existence forever, or so it seems.

The use of abbreviations, 10 Codes and other terms and jargon came into being as a sort of verbal shorthand for personnel to communicate over the radios.  Departments nationwide had 9-Codes, 10-Codes, 11-Codes, Q-Codes, numerical status codes, etc.

Once radio scanners became popular with the consuming public in the 1980s, our fascination with the radio jargon took off. Suddenly, Public Safety personnel who used to speak the equivalent of a foreign language found themselves surrounded by nerds and gadget-geeks who were as eager to learn what these codes and phrases meant as the archaeologists who discovered the Rosetta Stone were.

And then along came the Incident Command System (ICS), and suddenly Public Service agencies were tossed together in the giant bowl that became known as Incident Management.  They had to talk to each other! And even worse, they had to talk to outsiders! Those VOADs that had always been seated at the kid’s table during meetings.

They had to communicate! But, my codes don’t mean the same as their codes do!  What to do!

Behold, the wonder of Common Terminology and Clear Text! 

The ability to communicate within the Incident Command System structure is absolutely critical. During an incident:

  • Communications should use common terms or clear text.
  • Do not use radio codes, agency-specific codes, acronyms, or jargon.

The goal is to promote understanding among all parties involved in managing an incident.

What a novel concept.  Once you think about it, it makes perfect sense. But…

Why Plain English?

The following meanings of a common acronym illustrate the importance of using clear text.

EMT = Emergency Medical Treatment
EMT = Emergency Medical Technician
EMT = Emergency Management Team
EMT = Eastern Mediterranean Time (GMT+0200)
EMT = Effective Methods Team
EMT = Effects Management Tool
EMT = El Monte, CA (airport code)
EMT = Electron Microscope Tomography
EMT = Email Money Transfer

Get the point?

This is still anathema to some agencies. These are usually the same agencies who went to scrambled, encrypted radio operations as soon as the general public started listening in on radio scanners. Because, you wouldn’t want the crooks to know where the good guys were having coffee, right?

Through retirement and death, hard-held beliefs are changing, and the secretive little core of “tell them nothing” leadership is disappearing.

Plain english on a Police Radio?  Wow.  Does that mean there might be hope for the CB radio crowd? 10-4 good buddy.


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