Jamie Wilson 180Following the government's publication of ‘Enabling closer working between the Emergency Services’, Jamie Wilson of NICE Systems discusses the merits of cross-service collaboration:

Emergency control rooms have recently made the headlines with new Fire Minister Mike Penning MP saying it did not make sense to have different premises for Police, Fire and Ambulance services. Of course when the Minister of State at the Home Office and Ministry of Justice with responsibility for policing and child protection says this there is the inevitable arguments that it is just another cost cutting exercise that provides yet another hammer blow to our emergency services. However, if you put the politics to one side, he may have a valid point.

On 26th January HM Government published ‘Enabling Closer Working Between the Emergency Services’. The report states that: “The Government is committed to supporting collaborative and innovative blue light working and has invested over £80million in collaborative projects since 2013. However, while there are already a number of good examples of joint working across the emergency services locally, levels of collaboration are not as widespread as they could be.”

In the UK, operating separate control rooms has been standard operating procedure. However, as the government report highlights, there are some good examples, such as the collaboration between Hampshire Constabulary and Hampshire Fire & Rescue HQ. Other examples of collaborative working to streamline business processes include Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire. They are proactively working together to create a “seamless flow of common data” which will ultimately save millions more on IT and business support functions.

The bottom line is it all helps to make a real difference to officers, victims of crime and taxpayers - and here’s how and why:
Remove information silos and gaps
By breaking down the ‘silos’ of information and ‘barriers’ to communication that exist between emergency services it is less likely that vital information relating to an incident is missed or misplaced (this is particularly important when collating evidence and following lines of enquiry during the post incident investigation process). Also, as in the case of the ARCC it promotes an appropriately coordinated multi-agency emergency response, which will save the tax payer money but more importantly potentially save more lives.

Share costs and fully utilise scarce resources
It makes logical, economic and operational sense to merge control rooms, think of the savings relating to equipment, staff and real-estate. If you had to the opportunity to build a greenfield control room today why would you elect to house each emergency service in a different building, especially when so many incidents today require a fast co-ordinated response?

A common technology platform to improve incident response and save time

Technology is the bedrock operational foundation in the modern day control room. From the IT and communications equipment, through to the secure storage of data, software systems used by call takers, quality monitoring solutions the list goes on and on. By standardising on a common/unified operating platform and operating procedure it enables fast, fluid and controlled sharing of data and resources before, during and after an incident. No more physical passing of data or phone calls to review an incident, authorised personnel can instantly access everything with a click of button – the call recording, the despatch recording, any related video feeds, GIS information. Think of the time saved and in life and death situations - and time of course is THE most precious commodity.

Improve investigation – ‘know what you don’t know’

For Police investigations the ability to securely access Fire or Ambulance information easier could well speed up investigation times. To ‘know what they didn’t already know’ is a major benefit on the investigation side. It all helps makes sure vital pieces of information aren’t lost or discarded too easily just because it did not directly come in to the ‘police’. Of course, there are challenges and perhaps the biggest is the emotional resistance to change and fear of the unknown. From a technology point-of-view it is relatively simple to facilitate more collaborative working, whether under one roof or across multiple premises. Then of course there is the costs. Inevitably investment will be needed, but you need to take a longer term view and in my experience the long term gain easily outweighs the short term pain.

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