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Collaboration for improved resilience, efficiency and increased community safety

Source: Public Sector Executive Nov/Dec 2013

Helen Dowse, programme manager for East Coast & Hertfordshire Control Room Consortium (ECHCRC), explains how the four fire services from Humberside, Lincolnshire, Norfolk and Hertfordshire have joined together to improve their efficiencies and resilience.

Following the abandonment of the government’s Regional Control Centre initiative in December 2010, many fire services across the UK faced challenging times ahead. This provided the opportunity to re-focus operations and propose options on achieving resilience, efficiency and enhancing technology at a local level.

A group of four fire and rescue services (FRSs) from Hertfordshire, Humberside, Lincolnshire and Norfolk joined together to look for ways to collaborate and improve on efficiencies and resilience. The group was named the East Coast & Hertfordshire Control Room Consortium (ECHCRC).

A natural partnership

Humberside and neighbouring Lincolnshire Fire and Rescue Services have always provided mutual assistance. There has also been collaboration between Norfolk and Hertfordshire for quite some time, so ECHCRC is a natural partnership for us all. Designing our own collaborative solution based on proven sustainable technologies will ensure it is tailored to meet our joint and individual needs and will therefore mitigate many risks and reduce costs.

At the end of 2011, collectively we developed a bid to apply for government funding. By proposing our collaboration, we were able to qualify for the government’s Control Room Efficiency Grant and received funding in March 2012.

Getting networked – the first steps to better collaboration

The Consortium’s first priority was to implement a wide area network (WAN) so that the four fire services could share a common network infrastructure, laying the foundations to facilitate better collaboration. We chose Updata Infrastructure (Updata), a specialist managed service provider for the public sector, to design and manage a new WAN, connecting the Consortium’s emergency control rooms.

The WAN, planned for completion in early 2014, will be built to Public Services Network (PSN) accredited standards. It will enable far greater asset utilisation and operational efficiency, help increase community safety and lay the foundations for wider shared services amongst the group and with our respective local authorities. Updata will also provide perimeter security, remote access and application security services to deliver a secure data communication framework between each of the four control rooms.

From the outset, the network will connect into our respective county infrastructures, all of which are PSN-compliant, so for us PSN was the best route forward. A range of development options will be implemented to improve service delivery and resilience and to exploit the opportunities of sharing new technology. Infrastructure development will be conducted incrementally, utilising existing synergies and ensuring scalability to make sure key enabling work is manageable and deliverable. The network will also provide the infrastructure to enable shared functions in the future.

The established buddying arrangement Norfolk already has with Hertfordshire can now benefit the rest of the Consortium. This means that operating in extreme conditions, such as a spate of major incidents, will be simplified by the use of a common system and operating procedures allowing the continuous capability to take emergency calls and mobilise resources. Alternatively, if the East Coast was flooded and the respective control rooms were inundated with calls, we could potentially divert calls to Hertfordshire who wouldn’t be affected by the same sort of weather problems.

A dynamic future

The solution design will provide an ICT roadmap to satisfy future demands by conjoining the control room requirements with the wider business needs of the FRSs. The new network removes any single-point of failure, ensuring far greater resilience and enables us to collectively work closer together. In the future, we will be able to dynamically mobilise resources, helping us improve our asset utilisation.

Dynamic mobilising by the expansion of Automatic Vehicle Location Systems (AVLS) will ensure accurate deployment of resources and improved response times as the nearest appropriate resource will be applied based on location and type of incident leading to reduced cost per call. Faster attendance times will result in a potential reduction in fire losses; this will ensure assets are more efficiently utilised and ultimately an even safer service is provided to the communities.

In the future, we will also be looking at further integration between the control room and wider business functions once the network and infrastructure is delivered and proven. The WAN is providing the foundations for future collaboration opportunities, but for now we are focusing on the successful delivery of the new infrastructure for mobilisation before looking at other shared systems.

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