Code responses should be tailored to your facility

The prospect of uniform codes has been floated in Wisconsin by, of all things, the local media. After a reporter in Marshfield, WI, who was covering a disaster drill at the Marshfield Clinic noted that the overhead announcement of color codes confused employees at nearby St. Michael’s Hospital, he ran a follow-up article illustrating the different codes used by hospitals statewide. The article also included arguments pro and con from emergency response experts across the state.

But it’s not the color codes that are the problem, says Michael Neely, director of facility services at St. Michael’s Hospital in Stevens Point. "While on the surface, standard codes may seem like a great idea, every hospital and ED still will respond differently," he asserts.

For example, a seven-story hospital will respond differently to a fire than a one-story hospital, Neely says. A larger hospital that has full maintenance and security staffs will have different responses than ones in rural facilities that don’t have those staffs, he explains. "In other words, every hospital will tailor their responses to the kind of facility they are," Neely says.

Neely is not even convinced that the issue of using staff from different facilities during a disaster is an argument that would hold water. "The argument out there is if you had to bring a physician in from the outside to help during a disaster situation, if he did not know what the overhead codes were, he would not know what to respond to," he notes. "But in my mind, and from the point of view of our central regional disaster groups, we’d rather have patients sent to where the doctors are — that is, getting the right patient to the right hospital through EMS in field triage."

In addition, he notes, it may be ill advised for hospitals to make their internal codes and responses known to the public, as they are likely to be if uniform codes are adopted. For example, parts of the Southern California code and specific responses are cited and quoted in articles readily available on the Internet.

"If we have an agitated patient, I would not want him to know what we might do," Neely explains.

The bottom line, he adds, is that uniform codes are not as big an issue as some people make them out to be. "There are issues of such greater magnitude out there in terms of local and national emergency response, that I really consider this to be a low-hanging fruit," Neely says.


For more information on uniform emergency code issues, contact:

  • Michael Neely, Director of Facility Services, St. Michael’s Hospital, 900 Illinois Ave., Stevens Point, WI 54481. Phone: (715) 346-5440. E-mail: