13.10.15

Making the UK safer through better emergency planning and response

Source: PSE - Oct/Nov 2015

Luana Salles reports on Resilience Direct.

Resilience Direct was launched in April 2014 to revolutionise the way public authorities share information in both emergency planning and response, including during disruptive incidents like floods, fires and storms. It covers all category 1 and 2 responders: resilience officers or risk managers linked to ‘blue light’ services in local authorities, police forces, fire and ambulance services, NHS providers and the Environment Agency.

The multi-agency collaborative platform was developed by the Cabinet Office and underpinned with mapping data from OS (Ordnance Survey). Although its features are continuously being updated, the service has already proven itself in allowing users to share plans and respond to crises in real time. Dr Robert MacFarlane, assistant director for training & doctrine at the Cabinet Office, says its constant user-friendly upgrades incentivise users to keep coming back.

Around £760,000 in efficiency savings and thousands of sign-ups later, the platform has already released a string of iterative updates to enhance the way agencies interact – the latest of which was a new online mapping service.

Real-time mapping interactivity

The mapping service, accredited by CESG (the National Technical Authority for Information Assurance), now allows the resilience community to share real-time visual information, cutting across organisational and geographic boundaries. Built using OS mapping scales and products via the Public Sector Mapping Agreement, the service has been loaded with the national set of common map symbols.

Resilience staff, who used to communicate via the platform’s instant messaging feature, can now build bespoke incident maps to create a shared picture of an event, and the service can digest a variety of data formats. Users can add their own layers to incident maps to reflect local details accurately – such as highlighting cordons, showing utilities or pipelines and overlaying points of interest.

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Planning, responding and administrating

For planning purposes, the platform’s mapping feature allows users to overlay their own data, provide accurate exports for their plans, and define management zones. Planners can also store minutes and plans, pin meetings and dates in the online calendar, access a UK-wide contact directory and view users’ profiles.

Responders can create response maps, use the drawing tools to define cordons, control points and access routes, and overlay local data to inform the TCG or SCG (tactical/strategic coordinating group). They could already use it to collate situation reports and actions, notify responders via email and create response templates.

DSC 8810- LA very happy3Luana Avagliano, head of the Resilience Direct team at the Cabinet Office, told PSE that the service uses agile methodology and user-centred design, meaning there are continuous extensions to what the platform can do. “There have been many releases with enhancements – a couple of recent changes have been to consume WMS (Web Map Service) and APIs for the mapping app to stream real time data.

“For the collaborative tool, administrators for each organisation now have the ability to set subgroups of main groups as private. This is particularly useful for exercise management. Administrators now have access to deactivated accounts that we do not delete due to audit history purposes,” she said. All local resilience forums and partnerships can access the free service from any device with an internet connection.

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‘With you, for you and by you’

In September 2014, shortly after the platform was launched, Avagliano said it was built “quite simply to make the UK a safer place”.

Users speak highly of the service, and Oliver Letwin MP, minister for government policy at the Cabinet Office, called it an “essential tool for ministers”. Mark Taylor, senior emergency planning officer at Lancashire City Council, said it offers an “easy, intuitive and accessible solution to sharing information and data across organisational boundaries”.

Avagliano says this feedback is thanks to the team’s close collaboration with the public and “real users”. “Our approach to this project has been very much ‘with you, for you and by you’, and this will remain our approach as we take the service forward. This collaborative approach will enable rapid development of additional applications and features, making the service responsive to changing user needs and wider trends in planning the incident response.”

In a video showcasing the feedback, Dr MacFarlane says its “real power” comes from the fact that all agencies are able to work on situations together: “Resilience done well is about joining the dots, it’s about collective effort – and what we’ve got here is a trusted, secure, but not over-burdensome, means of bringing people together to do that.”

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email opinion@publicsectorexecutive.com

Comments

Stuart Hyde QPM   23/10/2015 at 19:37

Great update. However this is an operational tool. For a Mnister to say it's ideal for them is worrying. Ministers should operate at the political level not operational. That's when problems arise. I am sure Lewtin meant well, but I think he is misguided on this occasion. However I also accept I could be wrong.

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