Developing interoperability for public safety responders

Efforts to develop electronic data exchange for public safety responders and to update the UK’s 999 calling system have largely been undertaken on a voluntary basis by a number of organisations, including British APCO. Sue Lampard, president of British APCO, argues that it is time both programmes received strategic leadership and support from central government

Developing interoperability for public safety responders

British APCO has been working with the Civil Contingencies Secretariat over the past two years to deliver a technical open standard (‘MAIT’) for public safety that will allow data to be transferred electronically between agencies.

It has also been working to develop a 999 calling system that incorporates modern technology, including mobile phones, texting, apps, social media, photographs and video. However, to succeed, both programmes need proper backing and financing by government, believes British APCO president Sue Lampard.

MAIT


Interoperability between the UK’s emergency services and other first and second responders has long been hampered by an inability to easily and quickly exchange data electronically. What is required is a simple, common method for populating police, fire and ambulance command and control centres with incident data and other relevant material at the touch of a button.

Although data exchange has been on the scene for a number of years (known as DEIT – Direct Electronic Incident Transfer), it has been ad hoc and used proprietary standards. A more mature approach began in 2012 with a successful proof of concept in Wales using the National Resilience Extranet hub to pass data.

British APCO has been working for the past two years with the UK Cabinet Office’s Civil Contingencies Secretariat (CCS), Welsh Government, emergency services and the commercial sector to develop the next iteration of DEIT, now more aptly named MAIT, Multi Agency Incident (or Information) Transfer.

The CCS approached British APCO to develop a technical open standard, which would enable public safety agencies to exchange data through a common framework. The purpose, as with the whole government approach to common standards, was to avoid costly proprietary solutions and to encourage all agencies and commercial vendors to use the standard when delivering technology, such as command and control systems.

Additionally, the approach was going to be based on an agency being able to connect once to a hub (rather than many times point-to-point) to other agencies and databases. Proof of concept had been shown during the Welsh pilot, not just in terms of the significant cost savings to be made but, just as importantly, the value to operational staff in dealing with incidents that required more than a single agency response.

British APCO has delivered the technical standard – it will shortly be put through the final stages of the eGov process to be approved as an open standard. However, the technical side, although important, is probably the least significant and easiest part of enabling the data exchange to happen in reality.

MAIT issues


The MAIT standard has been developed jointly by the commercial and public safety community. The operational information to be shared has been agreed by the users and the associated technical ‘schema’ has been written by commercial colleagues and public safety ICT experts.

Even if the emergency services decide to move to a single command and control/mobilising system, the requirement for MAIT would still be present in order for the broader public safety community to engage effectively through electronic information transfer.

For MAIT to truly become a tool for interoperability, there are various issues that need to be overcome. Most will take significant time and effort and some will require central coordination and oversight.
They include:

• Organisational culture and politics
• Legacy systems
• Resource to deliver MAIT (human and financial)
• Road map for future development and expansion of the scheme
• Security of access and levels of information sharing
• Hub/router coordination (to prevent ‘reinventing the wheel’ and unnecessary cost)
• Timing for MAIT version 2
• Link with other standards work.

British APCO (supported by the voluntary MAIT team) believes that there is potentially serious reputational risk to the emergency services if the ability for electronic information exchange is not delivered effectively.

The Welsh team has clearly demonstrated the difference between minutes of delay by using the phone, to milliseconds by electronic transfer.
Minutes cost lives and the current position is not likely to be acceptable to the public (or indeed public enquiries) at any time in the

A key concern with MAIT has been an absence of strategic leadership and support from central government. At the moment, MAIT is being driven by a volunteer, assisted by a team of highly committed people who are doing the work on top of their normal business. Other standards work (such as Overt National Asset Tracking and UK Alert) is being done by paid staff within government departments.

Although there are similar pressures of work, there is at least an infrastructure of funding (expenses as a minimum) and support (such as admin). While British APCO is very happy to be involved with delivering the work, it has reached a position where it is not acceptable to be effectively paying to do so!

NEXT GEN 999


Since its introduction in 1937, 999 has been a voice-only service. The exception has been the delivery of the deaf SMS service. With the rapid development of smart technology, the general public operates in a multi-media environment and this has left the emergency services woefully behind in terms of effective engagement.

Ownership of 999 appears to be challenging. There are four emergency services and their four associated government departments, along with CCS and DCMS, which have some involvement or interest.

However, none of these have been willing to take the lead, and it currently sits within DCMS (on the basis that Ofcom is located there). This is not really a logical fit, with the result that steering the 999 service through a course to bring it up to date with the rest of the UK community has been seriously lacking.

Incredibly in the 21st century, the emergency services cannot receive the GPS location of a 999 caller who is unable to say where they are. This must be an unacceptable position – as well as wasteful in terms of public safety money through the amount of time and effort spent in locating people who are ill or vulnerable.

There’s a number of areas of work that are under way to deliver improvements to the 999 service. These include:

• A 999 app approval scheme (supported by AACE, CFOA and MCA – but not yet by APCO)
• eCall (part of an EU requirement from 2017)
• Third-party vehicle telematics (similar to eCall but with commercial call centre involvement)
• Exploring a common approach to hoax/persistent callers
• An emergency services 999 web portal
• Enhanced location data (through changes to handsets and mobile phone masts)
• 999 eye (West Mids F&RS), which works outside of the 999 service at this stage.

Next Gen 999 issues


As with MAIT, there are various issues that need to be addressed if any progress is to be made with delivering a 999 service that is fit for the future. These include:

• Improvements to the quality of information provided on the caller location
• A requirement to move to an ‘IP’ platform from the mobile network operators, through British Telecom and through ES call handling/control centres
• Installation of EISEC (software which puts BT data into C&C systems) into all ESs
• Road map for future development of the 999 service
• Link with other standards work (such as MAIT) to ensure information can be received in a way which is compatible with the internal systems of the ESs
• A growing trend for companies developing supposed ‘999’ services direct to the public without input or national coordination from the ESs.

Current work to improve the 999 service is almost exclusively carried out by British APCO and British Telecom. Similarly to MAIT, there are serious reputational risks for the emergency services in not developing the service – especially with the issue of location.

People die when they cannot be found and this position will not be tenable for much longer. British APCO is happy to contribute in any way, but cannot do so by providing the only resource on a voluntary basis.

MAIT and Next Gen 999 proposal


In order to succeed, both the development of MAIT and 999 services should be recognised programmes of work, which aim to deliver the tangible improvements to operational business and customer service, as well as the significant cost savings when replicated across UK.

Strategic involvement is required to provide oversight, direction and the coordination of resourcing. The success of the work in Wales has been the ‘top down – bottom up’ approach and this needs to be replicated for the future success of MAIT. Likewise, with Next Gen 999, strategic involvement is required to provide oversight, direction and coordination of resourcing.

British APCO has proposed (at least in the interim) that the Cross-Emergency Services Collaboration Working Group (C-ESCWG) becomes the strategic lead for both MAIT and Next Gen 999, as both appear to be a natural fit with its own aims and terms of reference.

The good news is that C-ESCWG has given its formal support for both MAIT and Next Gen 999 and is in the process of applying for funding to continue its work following the May 2015 election. Providing that C-ESCWG is successful in gaining further funding, it should provide the necessary strategic leadership to develop these two vital programmes.

In addition, British APCO has been given the green light to be the certification body for the 999 app approval scheme and the MAIT standard – at least as an interim measure.

Therefore, anyone wanting to develop a 999 app or to state they are MAIT-compliant will need to approach British APCO to be tested. MAIT compliance is beginning to be included in requirements for ITTs, so this is a further encouraging step forward.

 

About the S-SCWG


The aim of the C-SCWG is to provide strategic leadership, coordination and overview on a national level of current and future emergency service collaboration. The working group will act as a national driver for innovation and best practice in order to provide better outcomes for end users.

The aim of the working group is to facilitate and encourage greater collaboration between the emergency services in England and Wales. This includes:

• Supporting and driving greater collaboration between the emergency services to deliver financial savings, improve services and produce efficiencies.
• Removing barriers and unlocking opportunities to greater collaboration between all of the emergency services.
• Coordination with ongoing national collaboration projects such as the Joint Emergency Services Interoperability Programme (JESIP) and Emergency Services Mobile Communication Programme (ESMCP).

Membership of the Cross-Emergency Services Collaboration Working Group consists of representatives from:

• Association of Police and Crime Commissioners
• Chief Fire Officers Association
• Association of Chief Police Officers
• Association of Ambulance Chief Executives
• College of Policing
• Local Government Association.

The Home Office, Department for Communities and Local Government and the Department of Health have jointly allocated a fund of £162,000 for 2014/15 to support the work of the Cross-Emergency Services Collaboration Group.

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