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Monday, February 23, 2009

Inspector Sands in Action

In the last couple of weeks I was reminded that not everyone knows who Inspector Sands is. My friend Jemimah was evacuated from
Queensway Tube station a couple of weeks ago due to a small fire.

Queensway Station Small fire by Jemimah Knight

In true British fashion everyone left the station in an orderly fashion. Jemimah said "People were more curious than panicked. Over the tannoy we first heard "There is a good service on the Central Line" which mildly amused most of us. Then there was a repeated tannoy message asking for Inspector Sands again and again. If I was paranoid I would have thought that was code - it was certainly a recording rather than live tannoy call. Then we were told to please leave the station."

Another friend's brother, Alex, had similar experience of repeatedly hearing an announcement for Inspector Sands at Earl's Court Tube late one night. He said in his blog:

"This was getting really creepy. A dark platform with hardly a soul anywhere and a dismembered voice eerily repeating the same message over and over in the exact same manner.

Since it sounded like it could have been a recording, and by now my curiosity was well and truly piqued, I Googled the phrase. I expected to get no results, assuming that it really was a staff announcement, albeit a strangely delivered one.
"

After Googling he learnt that it's a coded phrase (which I actually thought a lot more people knew about) to alert staff to a fire alarm going off but without having people running around Dad's Army stylie saying "Don't Panic, Don't Panic"

"Smart. A bit more research and I found some TfL staff saying that it usually means a fire alarm has been tripped and 90% of the time it's a false alarm. There's even a couple of theories on the origin of the name Inspector Sands. "The use of the word "Sands" may be a pun on the fact that staff must investigate and reset the alarm system before a set period of time elapses, as might be measured in a sand-timer, and the station systems automatically switch to a fail-safe evacuation mode. Alternatively, it may reflect the fact that sand can be used to put out fires."

Apparently the Sands name came from theatre evacuation code. Mr Gravel was the code name for a bomb alert. But Inspector Sands is pretty common now, I wonder why don't TfL don't have another code name for the fire alarm being triggered?

It must be a bit awkward if your surname is Sands and you work for the London Underground. Does this mean that you could never be promoted to "Inspector" level? Otherwise you'd be making your way to the control room quite a few times under false pretences.

I'd also like know if there are more coded Inspectors who are called for on the London Underground? Like making an announcement for Inspector Ash if people are seen smoking on a platform, or asking for Inspector Boris if there are people drinking on the Tube?


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