Data transfer for emergency services

The UK’s MAIT project to develop a hub to transfer incident information between the emergency services is nearing the trial stage, reports James Atkinson

Data transfer for emergency services

The UK’s Multi Agency Incident Transfer (MAIT) project is designed to develop a way of exchanging incident information between agency control rooms.

The idea is that public safety organisations record the incident into their computer aided despatch (CAD) system, which would then be connected to a centralised Hub.  

The Hub would receive and then route incident records to the specified public safety organisations. To ensure this could work across the diverse supplier base the incident records would need to adhere to a common standard.

Agreed Standards

British APCO has been working with the Cabinet Office, Welsh Government and its members from both the emergency services and the commercial sector to agree an open, common schema in line with the UK Government’s Open Standards Principles.

Addressing delegates at the British APCO event in Manchester at the beginning of April, Sue Lampard, president, British APCO, said that the schema had been published and should be agreed soon. The schema was developed out of the Welsh DEIT (Direct Electronic Incident Transfer) project from 2012, and Lampard warned that MAIT will not be a panacea for some time yet.

At the start, MAIT will confine itself to transferring a limited amount of incident data. However, Lampard said: ‘The long term vision is to have complete seamless interoperability between all the public service agencies. The Welsh project showed that significant savings can be achieved and if you extend that to the whole of Wales and then England – the savings could be in the millions. Staff have found it to be an excellent operational tool and now do not want to be without it.’

Lampard emphasised that there was no desire to stop others working on similar projects in the interim, but the aim is for everyone to have a clear idea of where MAIT is going and to align with its goals. For example, the Welsh DEIT project is keen to progress to the next stage by building a MAIT compliant hub.

Test site

The next step in England is to find a test site for the hub that is being built by VectorCommand. The hope is that Hampshire Police, South Central Ambulance, four fire and rescue services and the Coast Guard will provide the first test bed, although this has not been confirmed.

However, while VectorCommand is tapping into EU funding to build the hub, there are no funds available to finance the implementation of the trial. Lampard said British APCO is encouraging anyone bidding for Home Office innovation funding this year and DCLG funding next year to consider MAIT as part of the bid, so interoperability is built into their pitch.

Ideally funding would be top sliced centrally with a coordinated MAIT programme in place. Otherwise there is a danger of duplication and unnecessary spending from the public purse.

Summing up, Lampard said: ‘In the longer term we will continue to develop the standard, although we are not quite sure how that will be done. It might involve user groups meeting regularly to feed data into the schema and update it gradually. But we also need strategic leadership from Government to join up various projects such as UK Alerting run by the Cabinet Office, the O-NAT (Overt National Asset Tracking) project run by the Home Office and NextGen 999, so they all link up in terms of technology and standards.’


The MAIT hub

Software company VectorCommand is developing MAIT Version 1 Standard (MAIT 1d). Its MD, John Hunter, said Vers.1 is not the final job, but it is a good stepping stone.

‘We are adding the essential items, things that might be included and things we are not sure will be included. But they all have a generic form, which allows us to adapt them at a later stage to suit the information we know, or will know later, that the agencies want to transfer.’

Hunter said MAIT will be underpinned by strong security and authentication protocols. MAIT is both hub and point-to-point communications and it is ‘stateless’ – a pipe that passes the data. It uses XML as the underlying data format.

‘The big issue we need to resolve is to avoid duplication. MAIT is about how you command and manage an incident; O-NAT is about telling you what your resources are and where they are – streamed data that is pushed out, not requested,’ said Hunter.

He added: ‘MAIT and O-NAT look similar, but they are not. However, we plan to build a hub that will manage both, so whatever data the emergency services need or wish to provide, we can handle on a single hub.’

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