Inspector Sands

Inspector SandsI learned something last night. I was standing on the platform at Earl's Court Station at about 11:50pm waiting for a train back to Parsons Green when over the PA comes a very odd announcement. An announcement came over the PA in perfect Received Pronunciation and in a clearly rehearsed manner said:

"Would Inspector Sands please come to the operations room immediately."

I dismissed it as a staff announcement albeit strangely different than the normal London dialect that usually delivers station announcement. I was about to plug back into my music when just a few seconds after the first announcement came:

"Would Inspector Sands please come to the operations room immediately."

Same delivery, same tone, same voice.

And again:

"Would Inspector Sands please come to the operations room immediately."

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.

Well, I was wrong. Google lit up with results.

Here's what I discovered.

"Inspector Sands is a code phrase used by public transport authorities in the United Kingdom. The phrase is used in public address announcements in public places to alert authorities to a potential emergency, and possibly its location, without causing panic amongst members of the public by explicitly mentioning its nature. The exact wording depends on the station, and the nature of the incident, for example "Would Inspector Sands please report to the operations room immediately.""

There's even a couple of theories on the origin of the name Mr. 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.[citation needed] Alternatively, it may reflect the fact that sand can be used to put out fires. "Mr Sands" has also long been used in theatres as a code for fire."

Ahh, it all makes sense. A coded phrase to alert staff to a fire alarm going off or something of that nature but without causing undue panic among travelers. 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.

So nothing creepy at all.

Until I read this:

"During the 7 July 2005 London bombings, the phrase was announced repeatedly on a continuous loop."

THAT is creepy.