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Practicing emergency color codes

June 19, 2015
by Steve Wilder
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CODE GREEN...”What’s that?”

CODE GRAY...”Is that a...?”

CODE PURPLE...”What do I do for that one...?”

CODE CHARTREUSE...”We have too many color codes!”

CODE RED...”I think that’s a fire...”

CODE BLUE...”Wait: I know that one!!!”

Ah yes...the beloved Code Blue...the granddaddy of them all! The one that launched this entire array of color codes that we are  expected to remember at all times, no matter how deep on the color charts we go (as you might be figuring out already, I despise color codes and would prefer we just speak in plain English).

As a risk management/safety consultant, one of the more frequent questions I am asked is, "Should we be practicing Code Blues?"  Every time I hear that question, it brings back memories of being a young fire department paramedic student many years ago. Much like nursing school, paramedic classes were difficult and intense. We would all look forward to those rare occasions when the lectures would end early and we thought we would enjoy early dismissal. Were we ever wrong! Getting done early meant one thing: STAR Station exercises! STAR was the acronym for shock, trauma and resuscitation...Code Blue practice, if you will. Some scenarios were traumatic resuscitation, others were cardiac, others were crazy and out of this world, but all had one thing in common: they developed a great level of competencies in all of us when it came to resuscitation skills.

I realize that some long-term care residents have Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) orders, and our focus is to maintain and preserve their dignity as they pass from this earthly world into the next. In many cases, attempting to keep them alive is clearly the inappropriate thing to do. But all the same, there are other times when a resuscitation is required. The resident may wish to be resuscitated. The person in the cardiac arrest may be someone other than a resident. And in these cases, a Code Blue response may be warranted.

The people on your Code Blue team are there for a reason. Their training, their skills, and their ability to work together as a team are all reasons they were assigned to the team. But just as in any sporting event, if a team doesn’t practice together, they don’t perform well together. Think of any other industry that works together...they practice. Athletics. Performing arts. Manufacturing.  If a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, then your Code Blue team needs to practice together to develop the ability to respond together and perform in synch.

So in a word, the next time I’m asked if a community should have Code Blue drills, I’ll answer in one word...YES!



Steve Wilder

Steve Wilder


Steve Wilder, CHSP, STS, is president and chief operating officer of...