In this extract from the next issue of FIRE, Olaf Baars, Deputy Chief Fire Officer, Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service, looks at the task facing fire and rescue services in the wake of the failed FiReControl project.

I am not going to reflect on the failure of the government's FiReControl project − this has been adequately covered by many commentators as well as the National Audit Office and Public Accounts Committee (PAC). However, PAC concluded that 'the department must ensure that the further £84.8 million it now intends to spend to obtain the original objectives of the FiReControl project is not wasted'.

So, in the light of the announcement, made on March 1 by Bob Neill MP on the resilience and efficiency grant allocation to fire and rescue services, what can the key stakeholders − the state, the tax payer and the Service − expect in return for this, not inconsiderable grant? To what extent will the government's original objectives − to improve resilience, efficiency and interoperability within the Fire and Rescue Service − be met as a consequence of the grant allocation or will this prove to be yet another lost opportunity?


Picking Up the Pieces

It is, I believe, beyond debate that after seven years of faltering expectation on what FiReControl might finally deliver, most fire and rescue services urgently require a significant investment in order to update and refresh their tired, if not obsolete, legacy control room systems. After all, it would not have been good use of public funds to refresh, replace or enhance these systems, beyond that which was absolutely necessary in order to maintain business continuity, in parallel with the massive public investment in FiReControl. 

Funding this investment during the current period of shrinking budgets and all round difficult economic conditions would inevitably involve a risk-based choice between new control room systems or some other critical aspect of front end service delivery. It goes without saying therefore, that this grant is most welcome and will assist in protecting risk critical services to the public.

There is however, a very significant difference between a technology refresh and the delivery of those original objectives. It would not be reasonable to expect fire and rescue services to deliver locally with £84.8 million pounds something that government failed to deliver centrally with nearly £500 million. There is of course more than one way to achieve these objectives; the single top down approach to FiReControl is but one, very blunt, approach to the problem. The last year has demonstrated that, either individually or in collaboration with others, fire and rescue services have come up with a wide variety of proposals that reflect their own interpretation of these objectives in the absence of national prescription, guidance or standards.


Patchwork Coverage

In the new world of Localism and against a backdrop of the disastrous, centrally-mandated approach to FiReControl, it is easy to understand why there may be a reluctance on the part of the government and the sector to step forward and develop a common framework within which at least the objectives of resilience and interoperability could be delivered in a coordinated and efficient manner. Without such a framework, even with the very best will and intention, it is inevitable that the result will be a patchwork of differing approaches to resilience and interoperability. As such, each collaboration or partnership will invest in determining and implementing, what in many cases are likely to be supplier-led standards and protocols that support their local plans at the cost of national resilience and, in particular, interoperability.

In allocating the grant, government does not seem to have given any consideration to their own, relevant, existing and ongoing guidance and innovation such as the Security Policy Framework, the Public Service Network (PSN) or the Cabinet Office work with Welsh Assembly Government on Direct Electronic Incident Transfer (DEIT). Inevitably perhaps, given the opportunity to develop resilience and interoperability locally, it appears that there is no consistent, common approach to these or other issues. 

There would have been an opportunity to provide a framework of guidance and best practice that, if not coming from government, would seem to fall to the sector to develop, but, to date this is proving to be a challenge that remains unmet. Now that the grant funding has been largely allocated many of the proposed local projects will be getting underway, indeed some are already well-developed and will be commencing procurement processes over coming months; this is now becoming an opportunity that will be lost. The consequence of which will be a new range of resilience and interoperability problems defined by the boundaries of the emerging collaborations and partnerships and other stakeholders, be they Local Resilience Forum or partner emergency services.


See next issue of FIRE magazine for full article and Special Focus on Control Rooms.


Posted April 10th, 2012 at 1640 by Andrew. Comment by emailing: