Frontline preparation for ESN: kicked to the long grass?
FRS ESN senior user and business change lead Ian Taylor talks to editor Philip Mason about the progress being made by emergency services when it comes to preparing their people for the move to broadband.
That continues to be one of the big questions for us going forward, and it’s something which is being accomplished in stages across the course of the programme. A crucial element will come within the training carried out once we roll-out ESN Prime [ie, mission critical push-to-talk].
It sounds bizarre, but as much as anything else there will likely be a psychological process to go through when it comes to the move to Android. A colleague and I were at a conference recently and passed around some of the ESN devices, with an earlier version of the applications on them. One of the pieces of feedback we got was that people who’d only ever used IOS were clearly going to need the opportunity to get up to speed with a different platform.
At the same time, there will also clearly be a lot of complimentary - also incredibly complex - change processes which will need to occur from an operational perspective. That includes upgrading control rooms, fitting-out vehicles, and retraining tactical advisors [to manage ESN rather than Airwave coverage during incidents].
Will preparation for ESN be folded into the roll-out of smart devices already being undertaken by individual emergency services organisations via specific MNO contracts?
It will be linked into that certainly, depending on the service in question. Organisations will have already undergone the business analysis process to see what operational benefits can be derived from being able to send imagery, text messages and so on. And some clearly have already rolled out [non-ESN] smart devices to their people.
Historically speaking, we haven’t had the opportunity to incorporate this kind of data-based functionality in the field, so processes and policies need to be developed in conjunction with it. At the same time, we also need to look at the ability to capture data in relation to it potentially being used as evidence.
How is that preparation being supported at a structural level across organisations, as well as from the centre?
From a national perspective we have the different regional ESN teams, through which the emergency services organisations are coordinating across particular geographical areas. At the same time, within each user organisation there will be a programme manager responsible for the changeover. There are transition plans in place at the highest level in terms of getting the project deployed.
How much of a priority for organisations is the changeover to ESN, given the delays which have plagued the programme so far? Are some of them kicking it into the long grass?
Again, that will depend on the organisation. At the moment however I would anticipate that the ESN discussion has probably not penetrated much further than the project teams and the key stakeholders who are involved in the changeover.
That will change over time, particularly as we develop greater confidence in the dates on which the technology will become available. As you indicate, the programme is currently emerging from a reset, but I anticipate that we’ll soon be in a much better position to move things forward. All the components are now coming together, and I think we’ll be able to start the ‘warming up’ process as of next year.
Going back to the technology itself, what other operational benefits do you anticipate from broadband? The recent BAPCO NG999 event raised some interesting questions about the public’s use to LTE to contact the emergency services…
Again, I think it’s an interesting, potentially incredibly beneficial development, particularly with the majority of the world becoming increasingly ‘application based’ going forwards. I was at the Next Gen 999 event, and if we were building the system from the ground up today it would be impossible not to take account of the technology. A picture paints a thousand words after all.
At the same time, for me there is a risk that if everyone has those alerting technologies and applications, control rooms will end up being swamped. You can see it happening in a different way now - for instance we can get 100 repeat calls about a car fire on a motorway.
Ultimately, the challenge isn’t getting the information, so much as being intelligent with what we do with it. For instance, is there a way of using technology to do some of the sifting that’s required? Could we use a version of facial recognition to identify when the same incident is being reported multiple times using video?
The technology has to be an asset rather than a burden.
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