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WASHINGTON -- The way law enforcement, firefighters and paramedics talk to each other over the radios is changing.
Instead of using "codes" to communicate with each other, some agencies are just saying what they mean.
East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's deputies, for example, no longer say they are on their way to a "signal 45," the agency's code for a shooting. They say they are on their way to a shooting.
"It simplifies the communication process," said Col. Ricky Adams, who implemented the use of plain talk at the Sheriff's Office three months ago. "It eliminates confusion."
The Federal Emergency Management Agency started pushing first-responders to ditch code and use plain English after communications were garbled among agencies responding to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.
On Oct. 1, 2006, FEMA's National Incident Management System told first-responders that federal preparedness grant funding is contingent on the use of plain English in incidents requiring assistance from other agencies and jurisdictions.
Using such language is "critical and essential to ensuring efficient, clear communication," a National Incident Management System document on FEMA's Web site shows.
Barry Mounce with the Baton Rouge Fire Department teaches classes on the incident management system and said he doesn't know of any jurisdiction that has been penalized for not using plain English.
Most agencies throughout the state, Mounce said, are complying with FEMA's edict by phasing out the use of codes.
"It's a gradual thing," he said. "It's not as easy as turning off a light switch."
First-responders have been using code to communicate since at least the 1930s when the 10-code system was developed, the Association of Public Safety Officials' Web site says.
Individual agencies have their own codes, called "signal codes."
"Signal codes identify an incident, such as a shooting," Adams said. "Ten-codes are more of a confirmation about radio communication."
Most 10-codes, such as "10-4," are universal, Adams said.
The Sheriff's Office has eliminated use of signal codes, Adams said, but it still uses 10-codes when people talk to each other.
"We are looking at going completely to plain talk," he said. "But, we are trying to get through the signal codes first."
East Baton Rouge Parish Emergency Medical Services started using plain English in October, said Mark Olson, an EMS spokesman.
EMS workers try to use plain talk whenever they communicate over their radios but sometimes find themselves reverting back to code, especially the 10-codes, Olson said.
"It was really hard in the beginning," he said. "But we are getting better."
Other agencies are going to plain English only when talking with other agencies.
Col. Michael Edmonson with the State Police said using plain talk is cumbersome for troopers on a day-to-day basis and could be harmful.
When a trooper is around a criminal and has to ask a question over the radio, Edmonson said, it might be best to use code.
"We tell our troopers to use common sense," he said. "They are not going to be mandated."
Unless, Edmonson added, troopers are working with other agencies. Then, he said, they should use plain talk.
Sgt. Don Kelly with the Baton Rouge Police Department said officers use plain talk when dealing with other agencies but use plain talk and codes when talking to each other.
"Just because it's plain English doesn't always mean it's clearer," he said. "It's a lot quicker and cleaner to say '10-4' than, 'I received and understood your previous transmission.' "
Baker Police Chief Mike Knaps agreed. FEMA or the National Incident Management System should establish rules for plain talk, he said.
"The last thing you want is someone taking up 10 seconds on the radio when they could have taken two," he said. "Other people might need that radio space."