An integrated approach to communications to improve emergency

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					An integrated approach to communications to improve emergency
response times
Communications play such a vital role in helping co-ordinate an effective emergency response and call-out process.
Public perception of fire call out times is low and the public expects greater reassurance that their lives are in safe
hands. The Fire and Rescue industry is also under increasing pressure from Government to make fundamental
changes to the way it communicates to positively impact response times. Chris Jones, CEO of PageOne believes
that integrated communication procedures combining both paging and SMS is the most effective way to improve
response times to daily emergency operations and large-scale incidents.

The fire services make their most valuable contribution out on the front line and there is no doubt that over the last
few years the fire and rescue service has made significant contributions to improving the safety of local communities.
However, in today’s climate these emergency services are facing an increased variety of demanding situations
and there is so much more that could be done to deliver a service that is truly equipped to effectively handle the
communication challenges of the 21st century.

Despite the fire and rescue service’s good work, lives can be put at risk by current communication systems that fail
to provide joined-up thinking with other internal and external systems, or by command centres that rely on only
one type of communication method to get the message out. As a public service entity that deals with life and death
situations, they have a duty to implement a resilient communications system with no single point of failure and this
is why the Government is determined to improve efficiency levels and to raise the bar in terms of the quality and
reach of communication not just within the fire service but across the emergency services. It is good news to hear
that over £1bn has been invested by local government in a Fire and Resilience programme with the aim of enabling
an effective, resilient capability that will respond seamlessly in all situations, whether they are day to day incidents,
large incidents needing a regional response, or major national disasters caused by terrorism, accidents or nature.

Ultimately, the effectiveness of any emergency response can be broken down into a single factor; the ability to
receive and act on timely information .The fire and rescue services must have a resilient communication structure
in place that withstands the pitfalls of day-to-day operations and large-scale incidents and terrorism. As we know
in emergency situations, GSM communication is often compromised at the very time when it is needed the most,
because in a mission critical situation everyone automatically reaches for their mobile phone and networks struggle
to cope. It is therefore essential that there is 100% communication coverage at all times and this is where having
a combination of both SMS and paging technology in place provides a powerful force to be reckoned with. In an
emergency situation every message is critical, and it is vital that every message quickly gets through to the day-to-
day fire fighters and even more importantly to County urban search and rescue teams (USART) whose fire-fighters are
based at different local fire stations across the county.

First responders and the USART team need instant and reliable access to critical information faster than ever,
available on a variety of devices, not just broadcast radios, from wherever they are. One cannot stress enough
how important it is to have a number of communications options available so that if one fails due to a coverage
blackhole, the plan does not collapse. This approach is clearly adopted at Hampshire Fire & Rescue service which has
a total of 59 local fire stations in addition to the 32 members of the county USART team. They use a combination of
both SMS and paging from PageOne to effectively and instantly communicate to and deploy its fire fighters and also
use the system to deliver email messages via the pagers providing a valuable back-up in the event of the paging
message not getting through. This combination of technology proved invaluable for Hampshire during the Gloucester
floodings in 2007 when electricity power pumping systems were being flooded and the USART team needed to be
quickly deployed to help lift and enable new pumping systems.

Another example is Essex County Fire and Rescue Service who know that getting the right people to the right place at
the right time is vital. The service uses our paging and critical messaging services to ensure that 280 key operational
and support workers such as fire officers, administrators and specialist teams are easily contactable from the control
room. The Essex service is delighted with the way the system works with its integrated control system and uses it
to call out various specialist groups to incidents across the county, such as the British Red Cross fire-victims support
service, who will quickly attend to help organise accommodation and sort out insurance problems for those made
homeless by any disaster.
Just as there are calls for the entire emergency services to improve and adapt to change and external threats, so
technology never stands still, and like mobile phone technology, paging is also constantly evolving to meet the
needs of the emergency services in the 21st century. For example, the advent of our innovative new technology such
as two-way paging, to be launched at the Global Paging conference in Montreal in June, is a particularly exciting
development for the industry. This two-way service will offer acknowledged paging, so it is possible to know if and
when the fire-fighter, for example, has received a message, confirm that the message has been read and allow
users to provide a specified response, and if enabled, allow the location of a pager to be tracked. In an emergency
situation, paging makes it simple to alert an entire team of personnel, and with this latest two-way pager, alert
pagers only within a particular geographical zone.

There is no question that moves have been made to help improve the fire services’ emergency response times and
that there are areas in which this has been a huge success. However with more and more external threats appearing
it is a scenario that needs to be adopted across the board and constantly reviewed. Fire stations which only utilise
one form of technology are living in the age of the dinosaur, an integrated communications approach combining
both SMS and paging is essential to improving the way that the fire service communicates to, and deploys, its fire-
fighters to not only day-to-day operations but emergency situations where time is of the essence.

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