Emergency Beacon Lights, Colors
Beacons are used in a variety of community settings to notify, warn, and inform the public about their surroundings or circumstances. They carry the main part of the message to the viewer and signal how the viewer should respond. The type of beacon light is another important factor. Emergency response agencies must consider both of these factors before investing in beacon lights.
Determining the best color for a beacon depends upon the message that a particular color sends to the viewer based on geographical or cultural norms. In the United States, colors are fairly standardized for federal, state, and local agencies, though some jurisdictions may vary from the norm in their use of beacon color. The most common colors used for beacon lights include red, amber or yellow, blue, green, and white.
Red is used for strong warnings about hazards or danger and is most often seen on law enforcement or firefighting vehicles. The implied meaning is to stop or move out of the way to safety. When combined with flashing or rotating lights, red sends a powerful nonverbal message to the viewer about the possibility of immediate danger.
Amber or Yellow encourages the viewer to have caution, to slow down or to become more aware of the surroundings. Service vehicles use amber lights to indicate slower moving traffic or areas of congestion on roadways. Amber or yellow lights can be also be used to warn the viewer of potential hazards, for example, low visibility conditions.
Blue is an alternate color used by some jurisdictions for EMT, firefighter, or law enforcement vehicles. Agencies should check local laws to determine if blue beacons are appropriate for their use.
Green are associated with safety or security. Green beacons might be used for local emergency response teams, at mobile command centers, or on vehicles used by safety representatives. Green sends the message that the crisis is being handled to ensure the viewer’s safety.
White is often alternated with colored rotating lights. Flashing white lights may be used in some jurisdictions on school buses or at railroad stops as alerts or to enhance visibility.
The type of light used within the beacon is also an important consideration. Steady burning lights stay continuously on, creating a safer environment for emergency workers or others on site. Rotating lights are usually colored and spin to attract the attention of viewers more deliberately; they are often paired with steady burning lights on top of vehicles. Strobe lights use a special type of gas to emit short bursts of light that pulse and glow. LED lighting has become popular in recent years as it provides reliable, long-lasting, convenient lighting that can be seen from a long distance or even in sunlight.
The use of beacons is essential to ensure public safety. The messages implied by color, along with the type of lights used, are both important when choosing appropriate beacon lights. Emergency response agencies should consider both these elements when making such an investment.