Police Codes Infographic

Today’s Police Codes Infographic explains law enforcement communication using 10 Codes, 11 Codes, Code Signals and two alternative phonetic alphabets.  Thanks to ZipScanners.com for providing the infographic.

Police Codes


Hand and Arm Signals – The Army Way

Communications MeansBeing able to communicate silently in the field using Visual Signal is good skill survival skill whether you’re a Soldier or a Prepper.  I was lucky to learn about hand and arm signals, a subset of Visual Signals (also includes light signals, flags, panel systems and the like) at the Fort Benning School For Boys.  In fact, the Army has developed an entire Hand and Arm Signals vocabulary and this hand and arm signal vocabulary is actually pretty intuitive.  This vocabulary is also worth learning to keep in that preparedness library between your ears.

Scroll through the gallery below to review a selection of U.S. Army Hand and Arm Signals that I’ve gathered for the Prepper crowd from the September 1987 edition of the Army’s FM 21-60 Visual Signals.  This manual has been “Approved for public release; distribution is unlimited.”

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I hope that you’ll find some of these Hand and Arm Signals useful and don’t forget to practice with your preparedness group or family because while most of these signals are pretty intuitive… to most people…not all are of the signals are intuitive…and neither are all people.

Check out  FM 21-60 Visual Signals if you need additional signals for maritime operation or mounted operations.. there’s even an entire vocabulary for tracked vehicle operations..  FM 21-60 does a good job covering one of the five tactical communications methods.  Just as an aside, the other methods of tactical communications can be useful to the preparedness community as well.  They include: Wire, Sound, Radio & Messenger.

Challenge & Password For Preppers

Here on Prepography we regularly learn to be better Preppers by adapting military skills to preparedness uses… or as we refer to it, Military Pedagogy.  Today we’re adapting the Skill Level 1 Army Task of ‘Challenge & Password’ to the needs of the prepper.

Scenario:  About six weeks ago it finally happened, the currency collapsed and since then the security situation has rapidly deteriorated. Over the weeks since the precipitating event crime has begun to run rampant as people grow more and more desperate to fill their and their family’s bellies. At some point the majority of the police officers realized that their entire paycheck couldn’t even buy their family a single loaf of bread and every minute they spent protecting your family was one that put their own family at risk. Now the few police that are reporting for duty can’t adequately keep the security situation from spiraling out of control. You’ve been up the last 20 hours warning strangers away from your home and watching for a couple of friends you’re expecting to come shelter with you and your family. You sure hope they arrive soon because you’re not sure you can stay awake much longer and the moon will soon set… dropping the neighborhood into total darkness now that the power’s out. Finally, you see the outline of three people headed directly for your home…your friends must have picked up another on the way. It sure looks like Jim and Carol walking in and all you need to do to confirm it is hear their voice so you call out. “Who’s there?” and receive the expected reply “It’s me.” With great relief you step out from your hide and walk up to meet three people that you suddenly realize are strangers as they grab you and take away your rifle.

Challenge & Password is a technique used by military forces to recognize friendly forces in hostile environments or while guarding resources.  While the need for such a technique when encountering a soldier from an adjacent unit that you haven’t met before is apparent this technique also assists service members in recognizing friendlies in low light and no light situations.  As a Prepper you may believe that you will always recognize those you should let in…in reality it’s very easy for a tired and hopeful mind to ‘see’ what you hope or expect to see when the reality is something else entirely… even in good lighting.  Challenge & Password and the other recognition techniques we’ll explore today are meant to double-check what your eyes and ears are telling you to ensure that those really are friendlies walking up on your position.

Challenge & Password

Challenge & Password is nothing more than a sign and countersign that let’s two parties recognize each other as friendlies.  Here’s how it works:

  1. The stationary party sees and/or hears the traveling party walking up on his/her position and observes until the other party is vulnerable in the open and within voice range then calls out “HALT”  just loud enough to be heard by that party and hopefully no one else.  This command should be called out from a position of safety where you can cover the other party with any weapons you may have.  If you think that this might be your party or friendlies that know the procedure continue, otherwise send them on their way. At this point the other party takes one of several actions that telegraph their intentions but the most likely results are that they run, they fight or they halt.
  2. Assuming that the other party halts you should command the party to lower their weapons or take other actions as required to assure your safety before directing one member to “ADVANCE AND BE RECOGNIZED.”  During this entire procedure make sure to continually observe the other party and your surroundings for your own and your family or party’s safety.  Additionally, make sure to use a clear, commanding voice when giving these instructions…do not show weakness or hesitancy.
  3. Once the indicated person has advanced far enough that you can easily talk with him or her in a low tone that doesn’t carry to hidden watchers you once again command “HALT.”
  4. At this point you present the Challenge in a low voice.  For this example we’ll use the Challenge, ‘Thrifty’ and the Password, ‘Flower.’  As mentioned, in a low voice you clearly Challenge, “THRIFTY” and wait for the response.  Any response but ‘Flower’ indicates that this is not your party and should be sent on their way.  A proper response allows you to bring the person in.
  5. If there are multiple members of the party entering your area then have the person you have vetted individually identify and bring in each person to make sure that there are no straphangers.
Note: that a Challenge & Password should be two words that are unrelated and form an unusual phrase as in you’d be unlikely to use them together. ‘Thrifty Flower’ is a great example of how a Challenge & Password should work but ‘World Series.’ ‘Puddle Jumper’ or ‘Fig Newtons’ are examples of poor choices because there is a chance that an unknown party could actually guess the proper password response. At the end of this article is a series of words that could be combined to form properly unusual phrases for your Challenge & Password.
Challenge & Password combinations should be changed on a set schedule once usage becomes commonplace and necessary. Determine the schedule based on the security situation in your area.

The Running Password

As you can guess by the description of the Challenge & Password procedure above…it takes a while to do it right.  If you’re being chased and need to get to safety quickly you use the ‘Running Password.’  There is no time for subtleties when you are running for your life so as you run across the security perimeter you shout the Running Password to make sure that the friendlies know you’re coming and know that you’re a ‘good guy.’

Needless to say make sure keep an eye out for tailgaters following and mimicking your guy yelling the Running Password.  Additionally, make sure to change the Running Password as soon as it’s used.

Other Recognition Codes

Now that we’ve discussed the use of both Challenge & Password and the Running Password let’s explore some other potential recognition codes for use in a security compromised environment.

Noise or Knock Signals

Knock CodeIn Matthew Bracken’s near future novel, Enemies Foreign And Domestic the protagonists gain entry to the bad guy’s rec room by mimicking the distinctive knock that the bad guys were using as a recognition code to gain entry.  Needless to say, loudly knocking out ‘shave and a haircut’ wasn’t very effective for the bad guys.  However, I can foresee certain situations where a noise or knock code would be an appropriate recognition signal.

Two places I can imagine a knock code being useful are if you are forced to shelter in an apartment or an industrial area.  In an apartment where multiple groups and families have access to common areas like hallways, your security perimeter by necessity, may have to be your own four walls and door.  In an industrial area you may also have to limit your security perimeter to the four walls if there’s not a more appropriate perimeter like a security fence or you have limited personnel to secure your building.

In designing a recognition code from knocks, make sure to knock as lightly as practical so as to reduce the chance of being overheard.  Additionally, I recommend using a mathematical code to reduce the likelihood of the bad guys figuring out how to get in and allow each party to recognize that the other is the desired party.  Here’s how it works:

  1. The party outside knocks in four knock increments by prior arrangement.  Think of this as announcing the outside party’s presence.
  2. The inside party responds with 2-5 knocks (randomly chosen)…let’s say 2 knocks in our example.  This is the Challenge.
  3. The outside party responds with one less knock than the inside party used.  For instance if the inside party knocked three times than the outside party responds with (3-1) 2 knocks.  This is the Response.
  4. If you want to make sure that the inside party is as expected you could add another Response by adding or subtracting one knock from the previous Response.
It’s important to keep in mind while telegraphing your location by knocking that most walls and virtually every door are permeable to shots fired of sufficient caliber.

Panels or Flags

An interesting recognition system that we tested while I was in the 82nd Airborne Division (we used them for reconstitution after a jump) were panels.  By using placards or flags you can signal a simple message like “friendlies here,” “DANGER,” “meet here” or “meet at X.”

Panels used in this manner do lack the Challenge and Response mechanism of the other techniques we’re discussing but may serve a useful purpose and maritime military units have historically used flags for Sign and Countersign (Challenge & Password) at sea.


One if by land and two if by sea may be familiar to you from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem, “Paul Revere’s Ride” and demonstrates the successful use of lights for signaling but lights present problems when used as recognition codes because they can be seen so well over great distances at night.  If you do determine that you must use lights for recognition codes I recommend using a mathematical code as described in Knock Signals above or perhaps the use of distinctive colored lenses to make mimicry less likely or successful.

Duress Codes

An interesting addendum and safety mechanism that can be added to any of the techniques discussed above is the addition of a Duress Code.  A Duress Code signals to the other party that the person signaling is under duress and being forced to make the contact under threat.  A Duress Code signals the other party to be wary and set a trap for the bad actors forcing the hand of the signaler.  A Duress Code could be a word, a phrase, a series of knocks, ‘body language,’ a series of knocks or a particular color of light.  Duress Codes could also be outgoing to warn a party coming into a presumed safe area and could be signaled by a light in a particular window, a flag or panel or some other noticeable change in the environment that will only have meaning to those parties ‘read into’ the code.

We’ve used the concept of the Duress Code with all of my daughters whereby they could call us and utter an innocuous code phrase and we would drop everything and come retrieve them from whatever mischief their friends had in mind.  My daughters could extract themselves from unsavory or dangerous situations without losing face and they could blame their desertion on their pesky parents.


Listed above are some of the considerations and mechanisms of practical implementation of a Challenge & Password system.  Proper implementation of a Challenge & Password system may not only save your life but may also save the lives of those closest to you.  Take some time to think about how you would implement such a system now so that you could rapidly transition to using a system if you needed one… better yet, discuss the system with your family or group and practice it’s use.  Just remember as you develop your system that there’s no need to completely reinvent the wheel if you take these lessons from what has worked for military forces for thousands of years.  Let me know how it goes!


Sample Challenges & Passwords

Listed below are some sample Challenge and Password phrases to serve as examples and get you started developing your own system.

Lofty Snakeskin
Scramble Proof
Baggage Quality
Daughter Interest
Calorie European
Picture Staircase
Dandelion Sky
Eyesight Elbow
Temporary Scrubby
Regular Salmon
Firewood Ceiling
Beautiful Newspaper


5 Means of Tactical Communications Infographic

5 Means of Tactical CommunicationSource:  This Means of Tactical Communications Infographic is from FM 21-75 Combat Skills of the Soldier August 1984, Approved for public release; distribution is unlimited.

Andrew’s Note:  These means of communications are timeless and even hold true to a world a little more basic than one that includes e-mail, fax, text, phone, and high definition television.

International Whistle Code Infographic

 International Whistle Code

Prepper SALUTE Report – An Observation and Reporting Tool

The SALUTE Report, also known as the Spot Report is(as in ‘I spotted something’) is a U.S. Army Skill Level 1 Task (Skill Level 1 Tasks apply to everyone from the brand new recruit to the senior General Officer) that makes it easier for a soldier to observe and report information of intelligence value or information that can be used to immediate advantage.  Essentially the SALUTE Report is an observation and reporting mnemonic and technique.  The Prepper SALUTE Report is an easy skill to learn and it’s definitely worth learning whether you’re a prepper and just a concerned citizen.

SALUTE is actually an acronym and does use a little military jargon so I’ll interpret and help you apply this tool to situations as diverse as use in a Neighborhood Protection District (neighborhood watch on steroids when law enforcement can’t be relied upon) or by a concerned citizen who sees potential criminal or terror activity like the recent bombings in Boston.


Building a Bug Out Bag – Part VI, Communications

In Building a Bug Out Bag Part I we discussed why building a Bug Out Bag is important and what type of bag to select.  In Part II we discussed the Transportation Items to consider, in Part III we explored Water preparedness, in Part IV we explored Food preparedness, and in Part V we tackled Shelter, Clothing and Protection from the elements for your Bug Out Bag.  Today we’ll discuss Communications preparedness and the communications elements to consider while building a Bug Out Bag.  Remember, this is your last ditch, carry on your back, walk away from trouble Bug Out Bag…not what you hope you can get to your bug out location if your car, SUV, or DUKW makes it.


Ham Radio Cheat Sheet

I’m not a licensed Ham (amateur radio operator)…at least not yet.  However, I am familiar with radio procedures from my military experience and radio theory from my time as a Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) Officer.  I found this Infographic from OffGridSurvival to be a great refresher.  Learn more about the licensing process at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) website.

Ham Radio Cheat Sheet

Preparedness Alert Code – Alas Babylon

If you’re a military veteran or a fan of the book Alas Babylon you’re likely already familiar with the term or at least the concept of an ‘Alert Code.’  Simply put, an Alert Code is a trigger to move from peacetime, business-as-usual to deployment for war (in a military context) or survival mode in the case of a preparedness alert code.

In the military an alert code is an unclassified, ‘for official use only’ phrase that tells the service member to grab designated items, a deployment bag for example, and report to the unit for deployment within a set number of hours (or minutes).  There are usually two types of alert codes, the real alert code and a practice code for ‘exercising’ an alert roster to make sure that the roster is accurate and sometimes perform a dry run of selected actions.

If you’re familiar with the alert code concept from Pat Frank’s (pen name used by Harry Hart Frank) 1959 novel, Alas Babylon you may recall that the name of the book was taken from the alert code that Colonel Mark Bragg, a U.S. Air Force STRATCOM Intelligence Officer worked out with his brother, Randy so that Randy would know that nuclear war was imminent.

Why Establish a Preparedness Alert Code


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