Looking back at when she joined British APCO, Sue Lampard, who stood down as the organisation’s president in November 2015, says: ‘I think that when I joined it had perhaps lost its way a bit, as it was not at the heart of public safety communications. I ran a control room with Surrey Police for years and I’d never heard of it, and yet it should have been the first port of call for advice. It needed to be at the heart of what was going on.’
British APCO represents professionals working in public safety and civil contingencies communications and information systems, and as such Lampard feels that one of the organisation’s chief roles should be to bring a user perspective to national debates about such key issues as spectrum, Next Generation 999 (NG999), the Multi-Agency Information Transfer (MAIT) project, and more recently the Emergency Services Network.
The point being that Government tends to have a particular view of what and how these things should be developed, while the commercial sector and technical standards people have another.
Lampard argues that it is vitally important that the people on the receiving end of any new public safety communications initiative, and who end up using the equipment, should have a voice in the decision making – and British APCO should be that independent voice championing their views.
British APCO has made a lot of changes to itself behind the scenes. ‘I hope that it is better for it, but that’s for others to judge,’ she says. But perhaps the thorniest issue it continues to face is how to increase its membership.
Lampard observes: ‘From a commercial perspective people are happy to pay to be members, but they rightly want something back. But we are now in a period of austerity, and organisations are less willing to pay for staff membership or to let them go to events, so that is a challenge.’
Lampard says her aspiration for British APCO is that it becomes the go-to organisation for public safety communications. ‘We can provide the user perspective on an issue, but ultimately I think British APCO should have a training and accreditation role too.’ Its US counterpart ACPO plays a big role in training and accreditation of public safety operatives.
Similarly, in the UK, Lampard feels there is a lot of expertise within British APCO that could be made better use of by both the public and private sectors. And that would create a potential revenue stream for British APCO as well. ‘We have made a start on this with the NG999 app certification scheme and potentially a MAIT certification process for end-systems and routers. All this will help to maintain and boost our philanthropic role,’ she argues.
Next Gen 999
Perhaps British APCO’s most powerful and useful role under Lampard’s stewardship has been its championship of NG999 and MAIT. The NG999 initiative is designed to upgrade 999/112 calling to include modern ways of communicating from mobile devices such as video, images, mobile messaging and social media.
Lampard recalls that when British APCO started to get more involved in promoting it, John Medland, 999/112 policy manager at BT (the UK’s public sector answering point that handles incoming 999 calls) had been pointing out for years that Government and the Emergency Services needed to wake up and make the necessary changes to ensure the 999/112 service kept up with the way modern communications technology was evolving.
But he was getting no response. Lampard says: ‘I said: what can we do to help? The main barrier to change was the fact that in reality there was no ownership of it within Government or the Emergency Services – and that started the journey. There has been some progress on NG999 and it is on some people’s agenda now. John has done a lot behind the scenes and I’ve tried to be a thorn in the side of Government.’
However, Lampard warns: ‘The problem is that without the involvement of the emergency services NG999 will never develop, as the staff must be involved. If they do not start getting involved, it will happen around them and we’ll have NG999 apps and products being developed with no oversight. That means developers and manufacturers of good apps and products will have to lug them around police force by police force (or to each fire brigade or ambulance service) and some will pick it up, some will not and the situation will get worse and worse.’
Lampard hopes that British APCO can expand its role in NG999/112 to ensure that any developer seeking to market a public safety app can be channelled through a proper approvals and certification process following set guidelines. This way app and product developers will not have to go through an approvals process with 49 police forces, 46 fire brigades and 12 ambulance services for compliance testing.
‘The Next Gen 999 app certification scheme will hopefully go live at the British APCO event in Telford in March 2016 (or at least soon after),’ reveals Lampard. ‘I think this will start to increase interest in the scheme and generate some urgency in terms of the Emergency Services getting to grips with it.’
One of the most important initiatives British APCO has helped drive is MAIT or Multi-Agency Information Transfer. The aim of MAIT is to find a solution that allows incident details to automatically populate the databases of the other emergency services via simple electronic transfer, rather than having to pass on the information by phone.
The Cabinet Office approached British APCO to develop a technical standard for MAIT following the success of the DEIT pilot scheme in South Wales. ‘Writing the technical standard was relatively easy,’ says Lampard. ‘We based it on the DEIT solution developed by Capita to link the Highways Agency and the Police. So, that gave us MAIT Version 1, which essentially uses a router to pass incident information between emergency services command and control systems.’
She adds: ‘But ultimately, we need multi-agency information transfer across all agencies, not just Blue Light, such as the Environment Agency, Highways Agency and local authorities, all of whom might have important information that needs to be shared beyond the immediate incident data.’
However, Lampard notes that MAIT is really more about culture, politics and business processes. ‘It is about getting people to understand it is really important to share information and that by doing so they can save both time and money. They need to understand how this can change and develop and how they should operate together in the future,’ she argues.
The Emergency Services Collaboration Working Group (ESCWG), which is dedicated to capturing and disseminating best practice for collaboration between the emergency services during an incident, understands that both NG999 and MAIT are important in helping to deliver interoperability, Lampard says.
‘They are happy to support both areas of work, but are not in a position to do more at the moment. We asked JESIP (Joint Emergency Services Interoperability Programme) to help as there was some overlap with what it was doing, and initially it was unable to support the work. However, now one ministerial board has oversight of both ESCWG, JESIP and to some extent ESMCP, so that may really pick up the agenda as there will be a single board with oversight of this type of work within the Blue Light services.
ESCWG has recognised NG999 and MAIT, but Lampard hopes the next generation of British APCO will keep fighting for both projects. The new British APCO president Keith Philips has created two VPs to do this. John Anthony, VP BAPCO and London Fire Brigade’s senior leader on ESMCP, is taking on MAIT, while Andy Rooke, an expert in the EU eCall initiative, is handling NG999.
The ESN debate
The Government’s plan to move the emergency services communications off the tried-and-tested dedicated Airwave TETRA network onto a 4G network shared with millions of consumer subscribers has certainly caused a great deal of consternation in the critical communications community.
British APCO was the first to come out to support ESMCP’s direction of travel for ESN, albeit with concerns over the proposed time scales. Lampard sees British APCO’s role as that of ‘honest broker’ – a neutral party able to bring different sides together and advise.
The move seems to have met with approval from Government, as ESMCP made an appearance at the British APCO Autumn Event in Newcastle in November 2015, where potential device suppliers were able to pitch their solutions at emergency services end users.
Looking ahead, Lampard says: ‘Personally I’d like to see British APCO achieving a much higher profile, with people being paid to take things further, rather than volunteers like me who know what needs to be done, but don’t have the right skills to deliver it.
‘It needs income streams coming from things that support and help public safety with useful solutions, but it is important that British APCO maintains its independence and is able to carry out that honest broker role. I hope it can help drive initiatives such as MAIT and NG999 and do something useful, and then pick up new initiatives and ideas coming down the line that will be helpful.’
In conclusion, Lampard says: ‘I’ve had a great time and loved every minute of it. I’ve travelled all over the country and the world meeting like-minded people in both the public and private sectors who are passionate about public safety communications. Everyone has the same problems and I’ve met some great people, but I am ready to stand down and relax a bit now!’