Primetech largePrimetech’s Henry Walker explains how his company’s communications solutions support the interoperable operational communications and shared situational awareness objectives of the JESIP project:

The active training and education phases of the Joint Emergency Services Interoperability Programme (JESIP) are now winding down. Around 10,000 staff from across the UK emergency services have participated in training courses designed to improve multi-agency communications, cooperation and operational effectiveness during large and complex incidents.

Soon the word ‘Programme’ in the title will be replaced by ‘Principles’, to sustain the work done and to reinforce the lessons learned. Common issues impacting on the effectiveness of emergency response were identified in the various papers presented as part of the JESIP project, with specific incidents and ‘lessons learned’ evaluated, as recorded in postincident enquiries and reports.

Sadly, there was a wide selection of incidents that could be referred to, but the more recent ones included: the 2004 ICL Factory Explosion; 2004 Boscastle Floods; 2005 Buncefield Oil Depot Explosion; 2005 London Terrorist Attacks; 2005 Stockwell Shooting; 2005 Carlisle Floods; 2007 Hull Floods; 2007 Pitt Review (UK Floods); and the 2010 Derrick Bird Shootings. Other major incidents referred to included the 1987 King’s Cross Underground Fire; the 1987 Hungerford Shootings; the 1988 Piper Alpha Explosion; the 1988 Clapham Rail Crash; the 1988 Lockerbie Bombing and the 1989 Hillsborough Stadium disaster.
In the past, as the JESIP working documents acknowledge, poor communications and organisational problems have often been the causes of ineffective multi-agency emergency management response. The consequences of such mistakes, involving many people’s lives, incomes and property, can often be catastrophic and linger on for decades.

Two key issues highlighted throughout the JESIP papers (and the post-incident reports examined) were Operational Communications and Shared Situational Awareness, areas where in the past there have often been problems. Improved use of communications was one area focused on in the JESIP training and exercising sessions, with particular emphasis on the use of Airwave. But radio is now only one of many options on the menu of communications options available to emergency service commanders; other, complementary, communications options are now available.

In fact, the communications solutions currently available to emergency services have never before been so powerful or comprehensive. Emergency services can now gather and share key incident ground information using live, High Definition video imagery, and share command information using ruggedised tablet and laptop computers linked by wide-area WiFi. This can all be done in real time and across different command levels of individual services, as well as shared with other emergency services, Cat 1 responders and combined headquarters, such as Local Resilience Forums (and even COBRA). Rather than endless descriptive radio chatter and clutter, with the risk of overload, confusion and inaccuracy, commanders can now see with their own eyes what is happening down to individual sector level (the improved Situational Awareness identified as a key priority), and then make better-informed multi-agency decisions.

ICU vehicle in Surrey
Mobile Ka-band satellite broadband and Primetech’s wide area combined wireless COFDM/WiFi solution and supporting technologies are what make this new level of video transmission possible, in particular the new, higher bandwidth Ka-band standard. Surrey Fire and Rescue Service’s new ICU is probably one of the most advanced ICUs in the UK, featuring Ka-band mobile satellite broadband and High Definition incident ground video imagery (an industry first). It was this range of features that helped it deliver outstanding performance during the Thames Valley flooding in early 2014.

When Surrey Fire and Rescue Service’s new ICU vehicle was deployed to provide communications support for the service’s wide-area, multi-agency flood rescue operations along its sector of the flooded river Thames in early 2014, the benefits of the service’s new communications solutions were apparent for all to see. Under very difficult conditions, the service was able to deliver very high levels of satellite broadband command communications, both for itself and for all local emergency services. Using Primetech’s C-Com satellite receivers and the Ka-band channel, the service was able to provide high levels of mobile satellite broadband capacity for emergency command teams from all local emergency services and agencies.

Surrey FRS’s new ICU was deployed to its Chertsey station (a few miles south west of Heathrow), which was the incident joint forward tactical operating base for around two weeks in mid-February, during the height of the flooding crisis. Based in the station’s car park, and connected into the main building, it was able to provide previously unobtainable levels of satellite broadband communications capacity in support of command and field teams from the fire service itself, along with police, ambulance and other agencies, the local authority and volunteers, as they battled to help local communities.

Rory Coulter, head of logistics at Surrey FRS, said: "Three bronze commands were running for the February flooding, at Sunbury, Walton and Chertsey. It was decided that Chertsey would be the lead of the three stations for the flooding, and that the ICU would be based there.

"Initially it was set up at the front of the station for bronze command. It was later decided to move the command team into the building, but still to use the facilities that the vehicle could provide, using the satellite to give them a better network. So we got a far better link to the command structure using the vehicle than by using the station itself. It was deployed for around two weeks, for the worst of the flooding around the weekend of Valentine’s Day, the week before and the week after.

"Ka-band gave us a much better broadband capacity than we could achieve within the station. But it wasn’t only us using the station, it was all the other agencies – the police, the HART teams, the local authority, plus volunteers. The station became the hub of everything for our area of the River Thames. We wouldn’t have been able to provide the level of information transfer which they achieved without the Ka-band communications systems of the ICU vehicle."

Volunteer mountain rescue
Another emergency responder using Primetech’s Ka-band mobile satellite broadband is Swaledale Mountain Rescue, a volunteer service providing mountain and cave rescue services within the Swaledale and Wensleydale areas of North Yorkshire. The team is made up of highly trained volunteers who are available to be called out (at short notice) for a variety of land based search and rescue operations, any time day or night. Swaledale Mountain Rescue is using Primetech’s mobile satellite broadband to support a new multi-site Digital Mobile Radio (DMR) network comprising a number of base stations and terminals. The Ka-band satellite system is being used to address a broadband black spot in one of the sites, which previously had little or no coverage.

Black spots are a major issue for any rescue team, as volunteers rely heavily on mobile technology to communicate with each other during emergencies. Ka-band mobile satellite broadband provision doesn’t need to be located in a big ICU format like Surrey FRS’s, however. Primetech’s Resilient Communications Trailer is a selfcontained, flexible, resilient and highly portable communications unit that we have developed to deliver high bandwidth Ka-band capability, in any location, via an auto-seeking C-Com receiver system, with multi-VPN automatic 3G failover and wireless communications from a five metre pneumatic mast. The trailer allows mobile satellite broadband and wireless comms to be taken into sites not easily reached by larger mobile command vehicles.

Use of the trailer frees up larger command vehicles, essential during large-scale, wide-area, multi-site and multi-agency emergencies. It provides a low cost ‘force multiplier’ to boost emergency services’ communications capabilities and resilience. With extension cables the trailer can be used at sites such as schools, community centres and office buildings, when major emergencies require short or long-term communications capability.

Mobile satellite broadband is also available as an option with the Primetech Rapid Response Multi-Role Vehicle, on Mitsubishi Trojan, Land Rover and other platforms. Incident ground computing, using ruggedised tablets and laptops and Primetech’s extended WiFi system, enables the latest command and coordination systems to be deployed around incident grounds, enabling sector, incident and other commanders to share incident information, risk data, resource deployments, locations of BA teams, pumps and other equipment on GIS mapping, in a calm well organised manner that doesn’t require lots of explanatory radio chat.

The objective is to keep the radio waves free for essential communications. Primetech’s team fully support the objectives of the JESIP initiative, and stand ready to help emergency services of all kinds utilise the most up-to-date (and proven) communications solutions on the market, thereby improving public and emergency responder safety at all levels.

To find out more about how Primetech’s solutions improve multi-agency interoperability subscribe to the Feb 2015 edition of FIRE Magazine for a full report.