Preparing the emergency services for a wave of new data

Currently police, fire and ambulance communications in the UK are enabled through the Airwave radio system. But early next year the government plans to start transitioning to existing commercial 4G networks and switch off Airwave – deploying a new Emergency Service Network (ESN).

On the one hand, this will allow emergency services to access real-time information, send images and stream high resolution video. On the other, it will add complexity as agencies ponder how to capture and store these new data sources.

>See also: Police encouraged to further embrace digital by Londoners

A smooth transition is imperative for any CIO within the various blue-light services up and down the country. It’s important to start preparing for the switch now, rather than being swamped by the new data sources when the network goes live.

Breaking down data silos

Currently emergency services are dealing with an exponential increase of digital information such as body cam footage, images or videos from mobile phones, CCTV, GPS data, SMS and automatic number plate recognition (ANPR). With pockets and silos of data being stored by various different departments and databases, it’s easy to see why data management can be an extremely complex task.

Additionally as the new Emergency Service Network includes broadband data as standard, the volume of information absorbed by emergency services is set to increase. In order to reap the benefits of ESN, IT professionals will need to ensure that processes are streamlined and data can be accessed from a centralised location.

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Solutions such as digital evidence management systems can help police forces and other emergency services manage and store incoming data. By facilitating the recording and organisation of voice, video and messaging communications and all associated metadata. This for instance, provides police officers with the ability to search, find and share information easily as well as understanding the wider picture when investigating current and ongoing cases.

Implementing technology

With the onus now on emergency services to be operationally ready for the change, CIOs will need to think about how their agencies will utilise the additional data supported by the ESN.

The new network will provide scope for future integrations with mobile policing and help emergency services work more efficiently through a greater use of video and digital technologies.

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Considering potential applications and future-proofing, will help IT departments to deploy the most suitable solutions. For instance, will police officers recording an arrest on a body-worn camera, live-stream the recording to nearby officers for assessment and support to save time? Can fire and rescue crews assessing burning buildings use digital blue prints and live helicopter camera footage to improve how they handle the situation?

Harnessing the power of the cloud

Modern police, fire and ambulance services rely on communication between control rooms and personnel in the field. One of the more highly anticipated features of the ESN, is the ability to stream high resolution video.

Transmitting live images of crime scenes will allow officers and control room operators to enhance their assessments of incidents, this level of observation was not previously possible with voice description over the TETRA network. However to realise the benefits of high-res footage, many forces will also need to consider adopting cloud-based systems in order to store and improve accessibility to this data.

Currently many forces are using a wide array of methods and systems to store information – including burning footage to disc. It’s imperative to centralise operations and adopt common systems as this not only facilitates cross-department collaboration, but also promotes the sharing of information with agencies, neighbouring police forces and other emergency services.

Adopting the cloud will allow forces to tackle their growing data storage problem in an affordable and scalable way. Once data is stored in the cloud, analytic and evidence management tools can be implemented to provide real-time insights, meaning forces become better informed and officers will be able to use advanced mobile applications on the go.

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Although shedding inflexible legacy IT systems and processes is by no means an easy feat, the impending launch of ESN provides a great opportunity to identify solutions which are inefficient and hinder collaboration.

Cloud-based systems not only help the digitisation of crime reporting but also enable the control room to be more efficient, cutting response times and harnessing data sets in order to help responders spot patterns that appear in incidents.

Nurturing digital skills

Implementing and benefiting from new technologies requires some preparation and also the right training – adopting new ways of working is not an overnight process.

Additionally keep in mind that officers will need time to become accustomed to new tools, establishing processes will help users to understand the efficiency and collaborative benefits that ESN can bring.

It’s important that police officers and other emergency service staff have the correct training in order to develop their digital skills. It might sound obvious but the first step in implementing any technological change is for senior ranks such as Chief Inspectors and Sergeants to buy into the idea.

>See also: Mobile solutions aiding the fight against crime 

With The Home Office Strategy acknowledging the growing significance that digital sources play in police investigations, half-hearted technology deployments simply won’t work. Senior officers must show a real desire to use the technology, train police officers on it and then trust them to get on with the job.

Of course the ESN causes some natural concern and worry as is always the case with the ‘unknown’. However let’s not forget it also brings a huge opportunity for positive change, to truly elevate the UK’s emergency services communications to world leading, for those willing to embrace it.


Sourced by Jamie Wilson at NICE


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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...

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