When a call comes into Harford County's 911 dispatch center, it now gets labeled with what might sound like a mysterious nickname.
An emergency of the highest order will be announced as an "echo." A simpler case, in which a person perhaps just needs a ride to the hospital, gets called an "omega."
The county's emergency medical responders have been getting used to these new "response determinants," as they are called, but although emergencies are getting labeled differently, the responders say it has not been an especially difficult adjustment.
Russell Strickland, the new emergency operations director, has been on the job for less than a week but said the new labels have not seriously affected how the dispatchers do their jobs.
He explained that the way the codes are assigned is fairly strict.
Rich Gardiner, spokesman for the Harford County Volunteer Fire & EMS Association, said it has also been working fine for first responders.
"The field has fallen into place quite well," Gardiner said. "For the most part many companies have already been following these type of determinates internally even if they didn't yet call them alpha, bravo, etc., etc."
"For example, Bel Air has always been handling calls such as lock-ins, carbon monoxide detectors, smoke detector investigations, non-emergency," Gardiner said.
The "response determinants" place each call into one of six levels, ranging from "echo" (most urgent), "delta," "charlie," "bravo," "alpha" and "omega" (least serious).
Callers are asked a series of questions when they call 911 to determine what the response should be.
For example, callers who report a fire are asked if they see flames or smoke, what type of building the fire is in, how many floors it has and which floor the fire is on, and whether there are known injuries.
An "echo" response would be for a person on fire, while a "charlie" response might be for a case in which nothing is actively burning, the emergency operations center explained earlier this year.
In a medical case, where someone reports the common complaint of chest pain, the dispatcher would ask if the person has altered consciousness or is completely alert, whether the person is breathing normally, is changing color, has a history of heart attacks and what types of drugs the person has taken and whether they have had any effect.
A caller who is breathing normally and has no altered consciousness might get a "delta" response.
Gardiner said it remains to be seen whether the system has resulted in more calls being labeled emergencies or how much it has really changed how drivers operate.
"It is still only a month into the program, so we will have to gauge that with more time," he said.