'10-4' is deep-sixed

Thursday, March 31, 2005

The days of hearing "10-4" on the police scanner or the phrase "10-46" to describe an automobile accident with injuries will become a thing of the past next year when Bedford County dispatchers adopt new "plain English" standards being implemented by the federal government.

According to Cathey Mathis, director of Bedford County 911 Communications, all federal preparedness grants could be lost if the county does not comply with the new plain talk standards.

"That's my understanding," Mathis said. "But it's not just communications, it's going to be for all emergency departments, fire, EMS (emergency medical services) sheriff's department and police. We're all going to have to go to plain language."

For years, the "10-codes" have been the standard on emergency communication frequencies nationwide and have been popularized in many television shows about law enforcement, such as "Adam 12." But now, the Department of Homeland Security is developing the National Incident Management System (NIMS) at the request of the president.

"The way I understand it, is that if one department doesn't use plain English, then there will be no grant funds for anybody," Mathis said. She said she became aware of the changes last week during a district meeting of EMA and 911 officials and directors.

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), NIMS "integrates effective practices in emergency preparedness and response into a comprehensive national framework for incident management."

"The NIMS will enable responders at all levels to work together more effectively to manage domestic incidents no matter what the cause, size or complexity," according to FEMA.

So instead of saying "10-46," emergency personnel would now have to say "motor vehicle accident with injuries."

"Instead of saying '10-4' we would say 'affirmative," Mathis said. "Instead of '10-50, you would say 'negative.'" Mathis was not sure which of the standard words would be used, but if someone reported a fight, "it would be called a fight."

NIMS was developed to provide a system that would assist emergency managers and responders from different jurisdictions and disciplines to work together more effectively to handle emergencies and disasters.

While most incidents are handled on a daily basis by EMS, fire personnel, and law enforcement in a single jurisdiction, cooperation and coordination between the organizations makes for a more effective response, FEMA states.

According to the federal agency, when the NIMS is adopted and used nationwide on Sept. 30, 2006, which is the deadline for full NIMS compliance, it will "form a standardized, unified framework for incident management within which government and private entities at all levels can work together effectively." Mathis confirmed that they will be making the changes by the federal deadline.

The NIMS will provide a set of standardized organizational structures such as the Incident Command System (ICS) and standardized processes, procedures and systems, FEMA reports. The procedures are designed "to improve interoperability among jurisdictions and disciplines in various areas -- command and management, resource management, training, communications."

Mathis said she had downloaded a manual from FEMA and said she would probably have to take a test to come into compliance with the new standards. "The responding agencies are going to have to (take the test) and I'm sure I will too." The test can be taken online and the federal government is giving classes as well.

The federal agency says that "ability to communicate within ICS is absolutely critical. Using standard or common terminology is essential to ensuring efficient, clear communication. ICS requires the use of common terminology; that is, the use of plain English."

"We already talk plain English to EMS, and have done it for several years," Mathis said.

"Common terminology in communications is necessary to support mutual aid and the infusion of new responders coming to an event so they will be able to communicate with one another," FEMA states on its NIMS website. "All exercises you participate in should feature plain English commands so they can function in a multi-jurisdiction environment."

Mathis said there would no doubt be some cost involved with all the changes, training and testing, but she did not have an estimate of how much it would be.

FEMA states that field manuals and training would be revised also to reflect the plain English standard, "but it is our intention to take a practical common sense approach to this, and not cut off funding to a city because we hear of first responder who happens to use ten codes."