Two weeks after an unprecedented code orange, the province's largest hospital has a new system in place to avoid a similar overcrowding situation in its emergency room.

The new protocol at the QEII Health Sciences Centre in Halifax gives the emergency department the ability to commandeer beds in other parts of the hospital. It went into effect on Sunday.

"We've actually realigned some of our beds to be available for more non-surgical patients in the short term," said Dr. Brendan Carr, vice-president of medicine.

The goal is to have a plan in place for when a serious situation is developing.

On Jan. 20, the doctor in charge of the emergency room triggered a code orange, as patients lined the corridors and others waited outside in ambulances because of a lack of appropriate beds and staff.

It was the first time the alert was used for an internal problem. Normally, a code orange is used to signal an event that involves mass casualties, such as a major accident. It's designed to get staff focused on finding beds within the hospital.

It was a "defining moment," Chris Power, CEO of the Capital District Health Authority, said in a video to 10,000 staff. "It really was a wakeup call for us to say, 'No more.'"

One key change is to give the emergency room access to beds normally reserved for other departments.

"The change today is we really are saying to people, 'Even if the problem isn't in your service or on your unit, we're at a point where we need you to think about how you can reach out and help somebody else,'" Carr said.

He said the changes have been in the works for months, though the code orange gave the issue more attention.

Carr also said Dr. John Ross, who triggered the alert, had no other specific way to notify staff of the extreme overcrowding situation.

Hospital officials have asked for feedback on the changes before they are fully implemented.