Too Big for a Busy Signal: the Scoop on Flash Override Capability


President telephone autovon flash override

No one likes getting a busy signal. When you absolutely have to get through to someone, you want them to take your call immediately, and a busy signal just seems to assume that someone else is more important than you are. If only you had a way to reach through the phone and grab that person’s attention.

Well, perhaps you can, if you have Flash Override capability. Flash Override allows you to take priority over all other calls and get immediately through, even if that person is in the midst of another call.

Odds are, you don’t have this capability, and even if you do, it isn’t something to use when you are in a hurry to place an order for pizza delivery. Flash Override is available to a limited number of people:

  1. The President of the United States of America
  2. The Secretary of Defense and Joint Chiefs of Staff.
  3. Commanders of unified and specified commands declaring eitherĀ Defense
  4. Condition One (DEFCON ONE) or Defense Emergency.
  5. CINCNORAD when declaring either DEFCON ONE or Air Defence Emergency. source

Flash Override is part of the Autovon Phone System, a communications network that was started in 1963. It created a system of precedence of communication to establish priority when calls came at the same time. The priorities, in ascending order, are Ordinary, Priority, Immediate, Flash, and Flash Override. Those who had authority to use the priority classifications use specially-designed telephones with a few extra buttons on the keypad that allow an outgoing call to be classified as a higher priority message.

One book described the system this way:

“It works like this: think of a call going to the president. ORDINARY: ‘I understand the Russians may declare war.’ Bumped by a Priority call: ‘Mr. President, not only have the Russians declared war, but they have just launched…’ Bumped by a Flash call: ‘The Russians have launched all ICBMs, but we are not sure of their target.’ Bumped by Flash Override: ‘Mr. President, this is the Vice President here at Cheyenne Mountain. The Russians have declared war and have launched a full ICBM strike aimed at New York.'” (Bruni, Georgina. You can’t tell the people: the cover-up of Britain’s Roswell. London: Pan, 2001. Print.)

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