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21-04-17

NFCC responds to PAC report on emergency services communications

Following the publication of the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report on ‘Upgrading emergency services communications’ today (April 21st), the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) commented that the safety of the public must be the top priority - and it is essential all emergency services have robust communications systems to help safeguard the communities they serve.

NFCC Chair Roy Wilsher commented: “The safety of the communities we serve - along with the safety of our staff - is of paramount importance. The new system must meet the needs of all emergency services and it is essential it is fit for purpose. The current threat from international terrorism remains ‘severe’, therefore it is important the public feel they are being offered protection by the emergency services with the most effective technology available.

The PAC Report highlights the committee’s concerns about the potential gap in service between March and September 2020

The report highlights that Vodafone will potentially stop providing an important piece of infrastructure that the current system Airwave requires to function. According to the NFCC it is essential these potential gaps in service the Committee has highlighted are closed.

The safety of the communities we serve - along with the safety of our staff - is of paramount importance.

Roy Wilsher

Roy Wilsher added: “There is further work to be done with Motorola and Vodafone around the services they can deliver; to ensure the public feel safe and emergency services can continue to offer a first class response with communications system which are fit for purpose.

“These conversations are ongoing and I am looking forward to seeing a solution which suits the emergency services. 

“The NFCC will continue to work with the Home Office, emergency service colleagues and other partners involved in the programme to ensure the new system meets the needs of all emergency services, as we have been for some considerable time. This ensures fire and rescue services are represented and have the best possible opportunity to support the programme in delivering a world class emergency services communications system.”

Witnesses giving evidence to the Committee from the Home Office, said that while there were gaps in service, they were in discussions with both Airwave, Vodafone and Motorola to minimise this risk.  In addition, intensive testing was planned. The new technology is set to come in to use in 2020.

The Committee’s report highlights concerns that the new communications system (Emergency Services Network to replace Airwave) start date has “been delayed and is likely to not be deliverable”. The report also states PAC concerns that “The news that part of the existing Airwave system will be taken out of service early strikes a major, potentially catastrophic, blow to the ability of our emergency services to carry out their job and keep citizens safe.

Recommendation from PAC include:

  • The Department should ensure it is in a position to know which regions require an extension of Airwave by the end of 2018. Motorola must confirm that receiving notice at the end of 2018 will give it enough notice to carryout the work required to extend Airwave from December 2019.
  • The Department must urgently engage in conversations with Motorola and Vodafone to explore the full range of options for resolving this issue and provide us with regular updates on progress and estimates of any additional costs.
  • There must be a review of all the current risks to the programme and be realistic and open about these.

Please see the full PAC report.

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