One of the defining questions of the Healthcare IT site uses the term "break glass policy" and from this link I understand what it means in the given context.

My question here is, if this term is used in other fields not related to fire alarms and emergency breaks.

  • 1
    I've never heard the term, but I rather like it. – user13141 Oct 22 '11 at 10:27

I agree with Hugo, this phrase seems barely used in healthcare, let alone outside of it.

After reading the link, I understand the concept, but I admit it wasn't immediately clear. A more common phrase with a similar meaning might be Emergency Powers. Whereby, under certain circumstances, special privileges are granted, usually to facilitate a faster response to an emergency.

  • Presumably after the label "In case of [emergency] break glass" sometimes seen on the front of glass-faced cabinets containing fire-extinguishers, fire-hoses, fire-axes, first aid kits, AEDs and other stuff that need to be available quickly but shouldn't be accessible without drawing attention so ones self the most of the time. – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Oct 22 '11 at 19:41
  • @dmckee, Exactly. From the link above:"Break glass (which draws its name from breaking the glass to pull a fire alarm) refers to a quick means for a person who does not have access privileges to certain information to gain access when necessary." – Sam Oct 22 '11 at 20:02

I don't work in the healthcare field and I've never heard those terms before, but I can guess* what they mean.

If used in a formal context, it might be best to define them the first time, as the avoidance of ambiguity is very important when it comes to fire alarms and emergencies.

However, it may be better just to avoid these terms, especially as there's no results at all in Google Ngram Viewer:

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Furthermore, there are only about 1,190 results for "break glass policy" and only about 400 results for "break glass procedure", so these terms are not used much anywhere. I would expect higher results even if they were widely used by the healthcare field.

* After checking one of the links, my guess was wrong: I assumed it was the policy for evacuating people out in an emergency, but "refers to a quick means for a person who does not have access privileges to certain information to gain access when necessary".


The "glass break" is regularly used in IT industry to give privileges to the master account(s) especially to the third party vendor for limited time duration in case of an emergency situation.


From this link:

"... are still using root accounts outside of 'break glass' scenarios."

This is at least a data point for recent use, and refers to short term, emergency access to restricted access systems.


At some healthcare facilities, to access the electronic record of a VIP, you must "break the glass". If you have looked at the information and you are not a direct caregiver (the assigned nurse, doctor, pharmacist, etc.), you are fired.

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