Counter terrorism: Where are we now?

As London moves on from the horror of 7/7, Wireless takes a look at what¹s been happening on the underground network and how mobile technology is being used to protect the public and emergency services alike

Counter terrorism: Where are we now?

The recent inquest into the London bombings of 7/7 serves as a stark reminder of what can happen on our shores when terrorists strike and emergency communications fail.

The attack, which claimed 52 lives, brought the capital to a halt and showed the vulnerability that still surrounds the London Underground more than 20 years after the fire in Kings Cross.

At the recent inquest into events, Lady Justice Hallett sought answers to the questions everyone has been asking. Had the authorities done enough?

Were the attacks preventable? And what had really happened with regards to failings in communications?

Back in 2005, radio problems had prevented rescuers from getting vital information back to those on the surface, and at the inquest there was some outrage when it was suggested that some of the things that went wrong were issues that had been identified by Sir Desmond Fennell in his report into the fire at King¹s Cross underground station in 1987 which had not been addressed.

As, Grant Notman, head of sales and marketing, Wood & Douglas notes: 'From a voice communications perspective, the roll out of wireless voice services to underground stations so that emergency services could communicate was planned some time before the 7/7 attacks. Indeed, it was a recommendation from the report following the Kings Cross fire in 1987.'

Hugo Keith QC, counsel to the inquest, confirms: 'Some of the things that went wrong on 7/7 were direct reflections of issues identified by Fennell that had not been corrected or addressed fully by the time of 7 July.'

And as Geoff Dunmore, London Underground¹s operational security manager, says, there had been issues that complicated the rescue.

'The root cause of a lot of the problems was the fact that we couldn't get communication directly from the trains to the outside world, including our own controls,' he says.

Of course, since then London Underground has completed the Connect project to address this issue, replacing the old analogue radio and transmission systems with something far more resilient and designed with the future in mind.

By using TETRA technology, Connect now combines with a fully operational extension to the Airwave network to enable police and other emergency services to communicate when patrolling London's deep underground network, including its 125 stations.

This new solution cleverly operates with Airwave base stations in each of the 125 stations and uses the Connect network for connectivity in tunnels, with both systems working in the 380-400MHz band.

According to David Sangster, Airwave's UK services director, the implementation represents a huge step forward in terms of emergency communications in difficult conditions.

'Since 2005, the Airwave service has been rolled out to all police forces, fire and rescue services and ambulance trusts throughout Great Britain, giving us the first public service network of its kind in the world,' he says.

'This represents a step change in the emergency services' ability to communicate both within their own organisations and across the different services. In addition, several other organisations with a public safety remit and charged with assisting during an emergency response, such as transport providers, are also using the service.'

Sangster says that not only does the new and highly resilient network allow for co-ordinated response both above and below ground, but it is also highly secure and unable to be scanned or intercepted because of the encryption system the company has deployed.

A spokesperson for TfL says that the Connect radio system has delivered huge improvements to communication across the Tube network as a whole.

'It enables all train, station and line control staff to communicate effectively with one another and replaces ageing technology with a system fit for the 21st-century,' he adds.

Sangster believes that the communications needs identified by 7/7 attacks have largely been met and now put the UK at the forefront of critical communications around the world.

'Many witnesses at the inquest have noted the improvements that Airwave has allowed, and we are very proud of the positive impact we have made here,' he says.

However, Sangster says that we shouldn't stop there, adding, 'Airwave is continuing to improve its network, for example by re-tuning all base stations in London and the Home Counties in January this year to ensure there is sufficient capacity for the 2012 Olympic Games.'

With Airwave providing emergency services with the ability to interoperate where and when they need it, Sangster says users can now work together to effectively deploy interoperable working practices and standards.

'Once standardised operational procedures are put in place, true interoperability between the emergency and orange light services can happen, allowing efficient responses to major incidents,' he adds.

Notman believes that some of the recent developments in wireless data, particularly those in monitoring and measurement for emergency services personnel, are extremely compelling.

'For example, we have been supplying wireless data communications to monitor air supply and safety of firemen at events that they are called to,' he adds.

Traditionally, UK fire tenders have used a tally board to enable a tender chief to monitor members of the tender who were inside a building. So, by knowing at what time the fireman entered the building it was possible to estimate when they should get out.

However, as Notman reveals, this paid little respect to the fact that different people breathe at different rates or that a firefighter who had exerted themselves would run out of air supply more quickly than one that had done less.

'By creating a wireless connection between the tally board and the fireman, it is possible for the tender chief to deal in specifics rather than generalities,' he says. 'A wireless data channel monitoring and measuring the levels of oxygen that each fire fighter has left enables a far more accurate appraisal of when a firefighter needs to evacuate. By making the communications two-way, an evacuation signal can easily be sent to crew members.'

While some technology like this was available pre-7/7, Notman notes that in the future further functionality will be integrated.

'For example, the wireless network could be used to relay video from within the scene back to a control position,' he says. 'This could help to provide emergency services with information on the scale of an incident or provide information on the need to deploy specialist equipment quickly.

'It is possible to imagine that diagnostic information on those injured within an incident could be relayed by video to a specialist medical team, and this would be particularly helpful when it's not safe for medical teams to enter an incident but there are casualties that need immediate assistance,' he adds.

With wireless technology moving at a pace and many of the problems of 7/7 now fixed, ideas like this give us a glimpse into the not too distant future of blue-light communications. But with budgets shrinking and the Government looking to make further cuts, we may have to wait a bit longer to see this on the Underground.



Written by Wireless magazine
Wireless magazine

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