Public Services > Blue Light

Telford in the spotlight as blue light teams arrive on the scene to discuss ESN

David Bicknell Published 29 March 2016

British APCO conference kicks off early user feedback over planning, coverage, capacity and transition


It is perhaps appropriate that it was to the Shropshire town of Telford that over a thousand delegates found their way for two days last week.

They were there for a British APCO conference, the highlight of which was an update of progress on the government's Emergency Services Network (ESN), the next generation integrated critical voice and broadband data services for the three emergency services.

British APCO is the main association in the UK for all professionals in public safety and civil contingencies communications and information systems.

Many of the delegates were representative from the emergency services up and down the country, all keen to learn more from the key players in the project: the Home Office and the three companies - Kellogg, Brown & Root (KBR); Motorola; and EE, who in December were awarded contracts for ESN at the end of a long-running procurement exercise. The timeline for the project sees services beginning in July to September next year with transition to ESN taking place between 2017 and 2020.

The town is named after civil engineer Thomas Telford, who engineered many road and rail projects in Shropshire. And there is arguably a parallel with Telford's engineering work in that needed to get ESN off the ground.

The irony, perhaps, is that on the day TV screens in the corridors of the exhibition centre were broadcasting the disturbing images from the Brussels terrorist attacks - where the emergency services were trying to respond to two major incidents - the environs of Telford seemed a long way away from the idea of frazzled emergency services struggling to rescue the injured, secure the devastated area and launch an investigation into the perpetrators of such an attack.

The event offered the first significant opportunity for the ESN Delivery Partner, KBR, the user services contract winner, Motorola, and the mobile services winner, EE, to hear the views of ESN users such as ambulance trusts, fire and police services over how they are going about moving to the new service, which is now in the mobilisation phase before the start of transition.

The programme is also managing a number of projects to support the main procurement, including user devices and accessories, vehicle installations, the air to ground (A2G) network, control room upgrades, which may in turn require upgrading more than200 integrated command and control systems; connection to the public service network and to mobile data systems, fire mobilising systems and command and control systems.

A further project of importance is 'extended area services', which will take account of the mobile network operators' commitment to provide 98% in building coverage by population and 90% geographic coverage; and the aftermath of the mobile infrastructure project (MIP), a government initiative to improve rural mobile coverage, which digital minister Ed Vaizey recently admitted, has not been as successful as had been envisaged.

The British APCO event set the scene for ESN, with presentations from Richard Hewlett, the Home Office's deputy director for ESN Mobilisation under the Emergency Services Mobile Communications Programme, John Muench, senior director for the UKHO Emergency Services Network Program at Motorola Solutions, Rees Ward, senior advisor and programme director for ESMCP Delivery at KBR and Simon Frumkin, VP, procurement and supply chain at EE.

Subsequent discussions covered coverage: how the Authority plans to deliver coverage to meet the needs of users through the utilisation of EE's LTE network, which will be augmented with additional coverage provided by the ESMCP programme; and transition: how will the programme ensure a seamless transition from TETRA to LTE? And how do you prepare your organisation - including control rooms, personnel, and vehicle fleets - for the introduction of the ESN?

Issues raised by delegates included matching their own planning with that of the delivery partner, procurement timescales, what devices are being considered and who will supply them, concerns over capacity, and how best practice will be disseminated, to mention but a few. There are plenty more that will emerge over the next couple of years.

EE and Motorola were at pains to point out that ESN was the most important of projects for their companies with, perhaps, just half an eye on the future opportunities around the world that a successful implementation might generate.

In his lifetime, Thomas Telford built over a thousand miles of road. It even earned him the nickname of the 'Colossus of Roads'.

According to one profile, he "laid the infrastructure that dragged the farming nation of Scotland into becoming an industrial powerhouse and made Britain a country that could support an Empire." I wonder whether in future, whether Telford will equally be seen as if not the birthplace, than perhaps the starting point for a revolution in emergency services communications.


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