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
There are a number of reasons to establish a preparedness alert code and none of them have anything to do with skirting government censors as I can imagine Frank’s character, Colonel Mark Bragg intended.
- Initiate Action: Establish a preparedness to set actions in motion. Perhaps a child in college grabs their get home bag and returns home immediately to beat the anticipated mad rush. Perhaps the family secures their bug out bags and rapidly moves to a previously identified location, hopefully surrounded by friends and family. Perhaps everyone just returns home and begins security procedures.
- Initiate the Preparedness Chain of Command: I don’t know about you, but with a couple of teenagers in the family and a wife, I catch a lot of grief and argument when someone isn’t happy with a decision I’ve made. My invoking the alert code I’ve put the family on notice that arguments and second guessing of commands will not be tolerated. Instant obedience to commands can mean the difference between life and death in a crisis. Read more about establishing a preparedness chain of command. It is VERY important that you not abuse the alert code and initiate the preparedness chain of command unless there’s an actual emergency. If you abuse the code to avoid arguments it will not be effective when you need it…which can mean the difference between life and death!
- Maintain OPSEC: Operational Security (OPSEC) is key to keeping your family and group members safe in a crisis and out of the local gossip mill in the absence of one. OPSEC is simply limiting the number of people who know about your preps or the extent of your preps to those that truly need to know. Single event preppers are often notoriously bad at this…remember the Year 2000 preppers who got ready for a digital meltdown, told all their friends that they were doing so and then had to suffer the humiliation when their ‘event’ thankfully didn’t happen. Hopefully, any use of your alert code will be false alarm…when you trigger or hear the alert code, quickly and quietly take the required action and keep your concerns to yourself. A pre-established cover story could also make it easier for you to re-enter your regular life should your alert prove to be a false alarm or premature.
Types of Preparedness Alert Codes
As mentioned previously the military often has two codes, an alert code and a practice alert code. We don’t currently use a practice alert code in my family but I can see value in adding it to our preparedness repertoire. If we lived in hurricane, tsunami or wildfire country a practice alert code would be what we used to initiate practice bug out drills.
Selecting a Preparedness Alert Code
Alert codes should be:
- Simple enough to remember
- Complex: Use words that have multiple syllables to avoid confusion with other words or phrases
- Uncommon enough that it doesn’t enter conversations accidentally
- Common enough that it can be dropped into conversation without being obvious.
- Length: Your preparedness alert codes should be short phrases, not too short and not too long.
NOTE: Do not use “Alas Babylon” as your code…the librarian in the book figured it out and she didn’t have a bestselling book by the name to clue her in.
Sample Preparedness Alert Codes
Your family or group should chose its own phrase(s) and keep them within the family or group. If possible, include all family or group members in code creation… it will be a good teachable moment and you’ll get better buy-in from your less enthusiastic members. The following are sample preparedness alert codes to help you develop yours and each is followed by a way to drop it into a conversation:
- Roaring Lion: “That neighbor lady’s as loud as a Roaring Lion”
- African Honeymoon: “Uncle Bob just got back from his African Honeymoon”
- Glass Football: “…played like it was with a Glass Football”
- Sporting Ballerina: “…the outdoor channel’s featuring a special on Sporting Ballerinas”
- Professional Basket Weaver: “…career aspirations of a Professional Basket Weaver”
- Underwater Debate Club: “…as entertaining as joining an Underwater Debate Club”
- Whitewashed Cast Iron: “…makes as much sense as Whitewashed Cast Iron pans”
You can make your preparedness alert code procedures as simple or as complex as your situation requires. Just make sure that everyone who needs to know the preparedness alert code and procedures does and those without a ‘need to know’ don’t.
Bonus Tip: While you’re developing or reinforcing your preparedness alert code(s) create one additional code…a duress code. This code is only used when the person invoking the code is under duress and being forced to say or do something. This code must be very subtle because the individual using the code will be under a great deal of scrutiny.