Contingency deployment equipment

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At Stansted Airport near the security checkpoints I saw a closet labeled CONTINGENCY DEPLOYMENT EQUIPMENT. I reflected awhile, as I put my belt and shoes back on after a very thorough body-fondling search, on the meaning of that remarkable sequence of Latinate lexical selections, and I decided that it meant "things to use if stuff happens". But of course that doesn't really distinguish the things in that closet from the things in almost any other closet. I wonder what was in there. Things that are either too heterogeneous to classify or too secret to openly name, evidently.

There's probably an established security-guy jargon in which "contingency" and "deploy" have specific meanings that I don't know about, so the labeling of that closet will be clear to those who need to know. Perhaps some airport security employee will inform us about it in the comments section.


  1. Bob O'H said,

    September 14, 2008 @ 3:56 pm

    Could it not mean "Stuff to use if nothing else works"? Which would suggest that it contains the dust jacket of The Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

  2. Carl M said,

    September 14, 2008 @ 4:52 pm

    Perhaps it means "things to use ONLY if stuff happens" (a subtle distinction to be sure). :D

  3. Tim Silverman said,

    September 14, 2008 @ 5:47 pm

    It's somewhat reminiscent of the 'explanations' given for delayed trains on the London Underground, which I have tried in vain to decipher, e.g. "the delay is due to an incident at Russell Square Station" or to a "passenger action at Goodge Street". I think "an incident" sometimes means a small fire (particularly if it follows in the phrase "the London Fire Brigade have been called to" … ) but I don't think this can always be true. A "passenger action" possibly means either a suicide or pulling the emergency alarm. I've reluctantly come to the conclusion that there is no consistent code, but I could be wrong. I live in hope.

    Also on the Tube, there are also the emergency calls to cleaners to deal with a "Code 9", etc, possibly somebody vomiting on the stairs or something, but these I can't even guess at (and, to tell the truth, don't really want to).

    I suspect these are things we are Not Meant To Know.

  4. Jon Weinberg said,

    September 14, 2008 @ 5:49 pm

    I'm not an airport security guy, but my sense is that in milit-speak "contingency" refers to stuff that happens requiring a planned speedy response, and the plans that make that response possible. So the airport operator have contingency plans designed to respond to various possible security threats, and the contingency deployment equipment is intended to be used in connection with those plans.

  5. Philip said,

    September 14, 2008 @ 6:07 pm

    It's where they keep the nightsticks and brass knuckles.

  6. Jon Peltier said,

    September 14, 2008 @ 6:21 pm

    My take is that it really means "stuff to use if the unthinkable happens", but they can't post the word "disaster" or "crash" on cabinets visible to the public.

  7. Beth said,

    September 14, 2008 @ 8:10 pm

    I think Jon Peltier is right on the money. Amanda Ripley, in her recent book, The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes – and Why, talks about how disaster planners share as little info as with the general public, which makes disaster plans more likely to fail. She gave many examples. One: after London Underground bombing, people on trains couldn't get to first aid kits because the kits were locked in the supervisor's office. Another: Warning messages rarely give the reason for the warning. Warnings might, for ex., say, "In case of fire, remain on the train" but they never explain that those outside trains risk crushing or electrocution. The label on the closet sounds like more of that tendency.

  8. Thomas Thurman said,

    September 14, 2008 @ 9:48 pm

    I think Inspector Sands lives in there.

  9. Karen said,

    September 14, 2008 @ 9:57 pm

    @Beth: Which is why we have "stalwarts" braving out a hurricane, with their very young children along, and rescue teams risking their lives to get to them, and people electing to stay on a mountain that's going to erupt…

  10. D. B. Propert said,

    September 14, 2008 @ 11:11 pm

    Contingency is fedspeak for situations requiring some degree of emergency procedures. For example:

    U. S Senate bill S.607 calls for a Contingency Contracting Corps and

    Federal Acquisition Regulation 2.101contains this definition:

    '"Contingency operation (10 U.S.C. 101(a)(13))" means a military operation that—

    (1) Is designated by the Secretary of Defense as an operation in which members of the armed forces are or may become involved in military actions, operations, or hostilities against an enemy of the United States or against an opposing military force; or

    (2) Results in the call or order to, or retention on, active duty of members of the uniformed services under section 688, 12301(a), 12302, 12304, 12305, or 12406 of 10 U.S.C., chapter 15 of 10 U.S.C., or any other provision of law during a war or during a national emergency declared by the President or Congress.'

    But in the context of an airport, "emergency equipment" would seem more appropriate, unless security units are expecting to deploy for other sorts of contingencies, which seems improbable and vaguely alarming.

  11. D. B. Propert said,

    September 14, 2008 @ 11:24 pm

    BTW, I am reminded of a sign at the US Airways baggage claim office at National Airport (DC) which reads:

    Courtesy Storage of Passengers
    Baggage is Not Permitted

  12. Matt McIrvin said,

    September 14, 2008 @ 11:39 pm

    The Apollo moon missions had a special tool called a "contingency sampler", which was just a scoop with a long handle that could be used to get some lunar soil into a plastic bag as quickly as possible. The idea was that as soon as somebody stepped out onto the moon, they'd use this tool to take one very quick soil sample so that in case they had to bug out of there immediately for any reason, the astronauts would still bring something back.

    In practice, the contingency sample was never critical, because there was never an emergency return after landing.

  13. John Cowan said,

    September 15, 2008 @ 1:42 am

    Beth: In the New York City subway, they do indeed explain the hazards of electrocution and being hit by other trains as reasons to stay in the train until evacuated by the train crew. New Yorkers don't take well to being told what to do without a reason given. :-)

  14. Ryan Denzer-King said,

    September 15, 2008 @ 2:04 am

    Reminds me a little of a line from the preview for M. Night Shyamalan's most recent film (a couple months back): "There appears to be an event happening." I love vagueness.

  15. Andrew said,

    September 15, 2008 @ 2:43 am

    for Tim Silverman – "passenger action" usually does refer to the emergency alarm being activated. The announcers do use the phrase "due to a person under the train" when that's an accurate description of the cause of the delay.

  16. Black Yoshi said,

    September 15, 2008 @ 4:49 am

    Completely unrelated comment – is it possible to make the links on this website pop up automatically into a new tab? I use Firefox 3.0, and I've set the preferences so links open in a new tab, and it works for most links. But not the ones on Language Log. And it's really really really annoying:) Sorry that my first ever comment is a complaint. There are a small number of other websites that do it, and it's just as frustrating if that's any consolation.

  17. Andy said,

    September 15, 2008 @ 6:50 am

    Maybe it's equipment for characterising the space of models and countermodels.

  18. Trent said,

    September 15, 2008 @ 6:50 am

    I suspect some of the speculations in this thread are dead on. I also suspect that, in this case, the sign is intended to be obscure. Airline passengers might be dismayed if the sign read "Stuff to use in case of a terrorist attack or other catastrophe."

  19. Rachael said,

    September 15, 2008 @ 6:51 am

    That reminds me of when I was nine and had to do a school project on "Current Affairs". I didn't understand what was required. Based on the meaning of the two words, I knew it meant "stuff that's happening at the moment", but that was too vague to make sense. When someone finally explained it to me, I was like "Oh, you mean the news."

  20. Peter said,

    September 15, 2008 @ 7:04 am

    Staff Toilet.

  21. James Wimberley said,

    September 15, 2008 @ 7:11 am

    Stuff to use on travellers when an ordinary security fondle isn't enough.

  22. Cirret said,

    September 15, 2008 @ 7:58 am

    I wonder if we should understand this as "equipment to be deployed in a contingency", or as "equipment [to be used in a] contingency deployment" which might be when people who don't normally work there turn up for a specific reason? Maybe it's a fire hose or a pack of bright orange jackets that say "CONTINGENCY DEPLOYMENT" in big friendly letters?

  23. jaap said,

    September 15, 2008 @ 10:28 am

    Or is it [i]deployment equipment[/i] for use in a contingency?

  24. Aaron Davies said,

    September 15, 2008 @ 10:45 am

    @Black Yoshi, hold down the "ctrl" key while clicking a link to make it go to a new tab. the pref you've set only applies to links that would otherwise go to a new window. (also, also hold down the "shift" key to either make the new tab come to the front immediately, or not do so, depending on how you have additional preferences set.) many people prefer to have the destination of their links fully under their own control; i, for one, am grateful to LL for *not* making that decision for me.

  25. Aaron Davies said,

    September 15, 2008 @ 10:46 am

    @japp, this is not phpbb (thank god).

  26. Andy Hollandbeck said,

    September 15, 2008 @ 12:41 pm

    On the positive side, it probably contains gas masks, rubber gloves, and maybe more complex medical kits (with morphine and other strong drugs). On the negative side, it could be a weapons storage locker.

    I think it's more likely that the closet is empty, or there is no closet, and the sign is posted just to put travelers at ease. "No matter what happens, there's a contingency plan in place."

    I'd love to see what would happen if someone slapped an "Out of Order" sign on that door.

  27. Eva-Lise Carlstrom said,

    September 15, 2008 @ 1:17 pm

    I think they were trying to avoid alarming anyone by using the word "emergency", never mind anything more specific. Which is a little odd since emergency exits are usually so labeled.

  28. Stephen Jones said,

    September 15, 2008 @ 1:19 pm

    Use the middle button to get links to open in a new tab.

  29. Karl Weber said,

    September 15, 2008 @ 4:05 pm

    Matt McIrvin, I love the idea that the Apollo astronauts had a plan in place in case they stepped out on the lunar surface and were immediately attacked by Moon Men!

  30. Alex B said,

    September 16, 2008 @ 7:46 am


    It is quite obviousy (contingeny deployment) equipment. After all, in a contingency deployment, you can't expect everyone to have their equipment handy. So, when they arrive at the airport, all they have to do is to go to the locker and retrieve their equipment.

    In the Cold War the US Army used to have something similar in place in Germany. If the Red Army ever made a dash for the Rhine, the Pentagon only had to fly in the troops, the equipment was already there.

    Which still begs the question what it is in it. My guess is AK-47s to ward off terrorist attacks.

  31. Sandy Ritchie said,

    September 16, 2008 @ 10:11 am

    I got body searched at Stansted not too long ago, he deployed his equipment on my equipment no less than four times. And threw away my aftersun because the bottle was 125ml. And all before breakfast. Tut

  32. Sybil S said,

    September 16, 2008 @ 3:37 pm

    Tim Silverman (14 Sept @5:47 PM) said:

    It's somewhat reminiscent of the 'explanations' given for delayed trains on the London Underground, which I have tried in vain to decipher, e.g. "the delay is due to an incident at Russell Square Station"

    A friend whose subway train was halted entering downtown Manahattan on the morning of 11 September 2001 reported that the announcement was:

    "Because of an incident at Chambers Street, […]"

    I'll never hear "incident" quite the same way again.

  33. JBL said,

    September 17, 2008 @ 3:38 pm

    Perhaps the sign should read ANTI-CONTINGENCY DEPLOYMENT EQUIPMENT. But one never knows about those TSA folks.

    Or perhaps they meant CONTINGENT, as in "A share or quota, as of troops, contributed to a general effort," and the closet contains Segways and such.

    Or perhaps it's sort of a Pandora's Closet, all manner of contingency packed bulging within waiting vibrating eager for the opportunity to escape and wreak havoc among the airport, and the label CONTINGENCY DEPLOYMENT EQUIPMENT simply refers to the door itself.

    It's a mystery.

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