Earlier this month the UK government announced a delay in the roll out of its controversial £1.2bn investment in a new Emergency Services Network (ESN). When the transition from the current TETRA Airwave radio network does begin, it will trigger the switching on of an unstoppable fire hose of data. Every service needs to start planning now, to ensure they are ready to take advantage of the new opportunities the ESN will undoubtedly bring.
Now slated to commence in early 2018, the ESN will run on the EE network, enabling integrated 4G voice and broadband data services for Police, Fire and Ambulance services in the UK. The National Audit Office indicates that it will deliver £3.6bn in estimated value over a 17-year period.
What benefits will the ESN bring?
The ESN will vastly increase the amount and range of data that can be exchanged from command and control to officers and crews in the field. The familiar two-way voice communications will now include video feeds (such as body worn cameras and captured mobile phone or CCTV footage from the public), still images and mug shots, GIS map locations, witness statements and many other forms of digital data. It means mission-critical information will be able to be shared quicker and more effectively, allowing for far greater cross-service collaboration, pre, during and post incident. In doing so services will have the ability to make more informed decisions about how they respond. In addition, this data will be vital to post incident investigation and training, and to the collation and presentation of evidence.
All good news? A word of caution!
This word of caution came from the Head of the National Audit Office on September 15, 2016, when Amyas Morse stated: “The need to save money and get out of a difficult commercial relationship has led the government to try and move to an approach that is not yet used nationwide anywhere in the world. The program remains inherently high risk and while steps have been taken to manage these risks we are concerned that these are under-rated in the Home Office and elsewhere. The program needs to put in place more independent testing and assurance regimes for its technical solution and urgently improve its approach to engaging with the emergency services.”
It is undeniable that there is concern among the 105 emergency services in Great Britain, as well as 307 other public sector organizations that currently rely on Airwave. But with seemingly no going back on the project, the phrase “Too big to fail” seems apt, as the cost of failure (risk to life as well as the financials consequences) are far too great.
Work needs to begin now to become ESN-ready
While the technologists work on getting the underlying ESN infrastructure in place, there is work that Police forces can be doing right now, to ensure they can capitalize on the opportunities, by being ESN-ready.
Digital data sources require digital management and a digital way of operating, and every emergency service needs to start thinking now about how to make the best sense of the new information available. For example, being ready to link calls and texts with map location, images and body worn camera feeds for incident management, QA or digital investigations.
The good news is that there are ESN-ready solutions on the market – many that have been tried, tested and are already in use in the field – that can help. What’s more they can be layered over existing emergency voice recording systems, data sources and infrastructure, thereby addressing one of the fundamental challenges of the ESN – getting efficiency and value from the increased variety and volume of information.
For example, NICE Inform ensures that all of the new forms of data that will flow over the ESN can be securely captured, logged and stored, while also providing a single complete, true record and reconstruction of the interactions between citizens, emergency communications centers and first responders – from start to finish. Designed for the command and control environment, NICE Inform improves incident replay and reconstruction, Quality Assurance and training by linking voice, video, texts, screens, GIS, etc. on a timeline that can be reviewed and securely shared.
The ESN stopwatch may have been paused for now, but rest assured, the countdown to the ESN is still very much on. So I urge you to use these additional months to take stock of your current digital policing strategies, and reflect on how you will manage the increased volume and variety of data, and use it to your department’s advantage. ESN will no doubt bring some challenges, but it will also afford huge opportunities to do things better. Getting ready now will help you make the most of ESN when the data ‘fire hose’ is switched on.