Recently, emergency control rooms made the headlines as the Right Honourable Mike Penning MP, the UK’s Minister of State for Policing and for Justice, said it no longer made sense to have different premises for Police, Fire and Ambulance services. Of course there are the inevitable arguments that this is just another cost cutting exercise, yet another hammer blow to emergency services. But, putting politics aside, he may have a valid point.
On January 26th HM Government published a report titled ‘Enabling Closer Working between the Emergency Services.’ In part, it states: “The Government is committed to supporting collaborative and innovative blue light working and has invested over £80million in collaborative projects since 2013. However, while there are already a number of good examples of joint working across the emergency services locally, levels of collaboration are not as widespread as they could be.”
In the UK, maintaining separate control rooms for different emergency services has always been the norm. However, as the government report highlights, there are some good examples of remote interagency collaboration, even if the agencies cited don’t physically co-exist together. The report cites the collaboration between Hampshire Constabulary and Hampshire Fire & Rescue HQ. Other examples include Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire. These agencies are proactively working together to create a “seamless flow of common data” which will ultimately save millions more on IT and business support functions.
The bottom line is that while these examples of collaboration have produced positive results, we can do even better. Housing multiple emergency services under one roof will make a real difference to police officers, emergency responders, citizens and taxpayers. Here’s how and why:
Sharing costs and fully utilizing scarce resources
It makes logical, economic and operational sense to merge control rooms. Think of the savings relating to equipment, staff and real-estate. If you had to the opportunity to build a greenfield control room today would you elect to house each emergency service in a different building, especially when so many incidents today require a fast coordinated response? Of course not.
Improving incident response and saving time
In addition to saving tax payers money, shared IT systems and shared space will improve response coordination, and potentially save lives as well.
Technology is the bedrock of the modern day control room – from the IT and communications equipment, to secure data storage, call taking and dispatching software, recording equipment, quality monitoring solutions, and so on. Technology standardization has the potential to streamline information sharing and incident handling for a faster, fluid, more effective response. Think of the time that could be saved in life and death situations when the barriers of distance and disparate technology are removed, and Police, Fire and Ambulance are all working together under the same roof. And of course in life of death situations, time is THE most precious commodity.
Enhanced future co-ordination from joint debriefings
With emergency services all co-located under one roof and operating on the same systems, ‘silos’ of information and ‘barriers’ to communication that exist today would be eliminated. It would no longer be necessary to manually request or physically pass data. Authorized personnel would be able to instantly access complete information (voice recordings, video, GIS information, etc.) to reconstruct the who, what, why, when and where of an incident. As importantly, investigators would have access to more complete information, ensuring that no critical clue or lead was overlooked or missed simply due to lack of information sharing between Fire, Police or EMS.
The road ahead – to consolidate or not?
In this blog I’ve spelled out some of the benefits that I believe could be achieved by pulling emergency services together under one roof. Of course, as with anything new the biggest challenge is always the emotional resistance to change, the fear of the unknown. But when it comes to consolidating emergency services, in my opinion, the long term gain will easily outweigh the short term pain.