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A red alert is an emergency alert that is the highest imminent danger status on a Federation starship. A red alert can be initiated by the commanding officer, the first officer, the ops officer, chief engineer, the tactical officer, or the main computer. Once the alert is sounded crewmembers are warned by signs and alert klaxons, and they proceed to battlestations. When the ship is under red alert, power is diverted to weapons and shields. (TOS episode: "The Cage")
On the USS Enterprise-D, red alert led to all bridge stations being fully enabled and tactical set on full alert. Also, the security chief would then man the bridge's tactical station. (TNG video game: Echoes From the Past)
Its origins can be traced to the 22nd century. With not many starships to defend/aid one another, during the early years of Starfleet; tactical alerts were the response to emergency conditions. Lieutenant Malcolm Reed decided to categorize the levels from condition: green, yellow and finally red. (As opposed to the suggested "Reed alert") (ENT episode: "Singularity")
By the 23rd century, "condition: green" is an alternate mayday over communications when cover from hostiles cannot be compromised. It requires that no force whatsoever be taken to ensure zero casualties and least breach of safety or Prime Directive. (TOS episode: "Bread and Circuses") When frequencies aren't jammed, one of the failsafes enabled dealing with Klingon forces is the stealth version of red alert. Achieved by communicator directly to the captain's chair console. (TOS episode: "Day of the Dove") "Code: red" is another posture for a starship in a potentially quarantined region or alarming situation. (TOS movie: Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home) Over extended periods of time, its klaxons will go silent, with the flash and/or emergency lights continuing. (TOS episode: "Charlie X"; TOS movie: Star Trek III: The Search for Spock) Shipboard systems normally override and halt non-combative activity, unless critical purposes dictate otherwise. Or, can be reprogrammed as a diversion and weapon to flush suspected dangers.(TNG episodes: "11001001", "Booby Trap", "Starship Mine") A cardinal rule since at least the late 23rd century was that a starship's artificial intel logic program would localize and deactivate a harmful, separate system. Such as disruptor/phaser discharge. (TOS movie: Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country; TNG episode: "The Most Toys"; TNG novel: The Genesis Wave) Explosives and pathogens, via transporter or foreign non-compatible devices (TNG episode: "The Hunted"; DS9 episode: "Civil Defense") fell under the same sub-routines.
In the 24th century, the standard S.O.S. from a ship automatically goes up the command chain. Whether or not the crew/captain are fit to confirm the hazard, the distress signal is sent from the vessel rendering aid to Starfleet. (TNG episodes: "Unnatural Selection", "Relics", "Where Silence Has Lease"; TOS movie: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan) Also, bridge crew are trained in the 2300s to recognize non-verbal signals, when boarded by assailants. Thus, containing the threat without risk of detection.(TNG episode: "Allegiance") Throughout most Galaxy-class and Constitution-class ships, an array of emergency lockers are located. During times of shipwide system failure, these are for crew and civilians to carry out a full red alert. Tools, life support and other materials are available, when access to a battlebridge, sickbay or starbase isn't. (TNG episode: "Disaster", TNG novel: The Romulan Prize) In rare cases, when a planet or other safe zone is within range, (but escape pods are non-functional or limited), personnel are beamed directly out. (TOS episode: "The Doomsday Machine") Cargo and shuttlecraft bays distribute the evacuation load from the transporter room(s) and power re-routes to maintain any other necessity; i.e. structural integrity, core containment etc. (Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Manual)
Captain Picard in the middle of his inaugural orders of command ceremony in 2364 issued this. Although unexpected, the response was swift. Even though Lt. Tasha Yar and personnel saw it as a drill and not real world. (TNG episode: "All Good Things...")
Lt. David Bailey erroneously called bridge to battlestations before Captain Kirk could finish his meeting about determining the Fesarius as friendly or not. He accordingly was ordered to stand down, and warned to stand by for verification in the future. (TOS episode: "The Corbomite Maneuver")
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