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Home Office expects to provide ESN update at the end of the year

David Bicknell Published 17 October 2017

Department indicates ESN update will follow in a couple of months’ time, with new timeline still likely, though not specifically promised


The Home Office has indicated that it will give an update on progress towards creating the Emergency Services Network (ESN) at the end of the year.

But it has shied away from publicly promising a new timeline for the project, though one is still likely to be produced.

It follows a common recognition that the project which will transition from the current Airwave system to ESN is at least nine months behind schedule in its rollout.

The original 2015 business case showed a July 2017 target date for building and testing ESN. The emergency services were due to begin transitioning to ESN between September 2017 to December 2019. But transition from Airwave to ESN is now due to begin in July 2018, and be completed by September 2020.

The dates were referred to in a recent letter from the Greater London Authority’s (GLA) Oversight Committee to London Mayor Sadiq Khan which said it expected the Home Office to produce a revised timetable this autumn. That date looks like it has slipped and the Home Office has not committed to a timeline update.

Government Computing understands from Home Office sources that although there will be an update at the end of the year, it may or may not include an update of the timeline.  It is possible that the timeline will be updated, but Home Office officials have signalled that it will be best to wait until the end of the year for the full details.

The Home Office has indicated that it is currently doing significant testing, possibly driven by standards issues. Once that testing has been completed, it is likely to have a better idea of a new ESN timeline.

A Home Office spokesperson said, “The new Emergency Services Network will provide the dedicated teams who work so hard protecting the public and saving lives with the most advanced communications system of its kind anywhere in the world.

“ESN will be a more capable, more flexible and more affordable communications network than the existing Airwave mobile radio system used by the three emergency services in England, Scotland and Wales.

“As we have always said, public safety is our priority and emergency services will only transition when they are satisfied with the new network.”

Home Office officials said the department remains committed to providing the emergency service users the time they need to transition safely to ESN. It expects to have greater clarity on timescales at the end of the year.

In July, the GLA Oversight Committee reviewed the risks connected with the implementation of ESN, hearing from a series of representatives from the Emergency Services Mobile Communications Programme. They included the Home Office, Transport for London (TfL), the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime, the Metropolitan Police Service, the London Fire Brigade, the London Ambulance Service, the Ambulance Radio Programme, and the British Transport Police.

In its subsequent letter to Sadiq Khan, the GLA Oversight Committee pointed to National Audit Office (NAO ) figures suggesti ng a 12 month nationwide delay in the time taken to transition from Airwave to ESN will cost £475m, around approximately £1.3m each day.

Its letter said ESN is being implemented across the country, but pointed out that it poses particular challenges in London because of the need for the emergency services to communicate on the Underground.

In its letter, the committee recommended that the Mayor monitors progress of the ESN at a national level, to ensure that the current delays do not put the safety of Londoners at risk, and that a suitable solution for London is developed.

It said, “It is inevitable that delays at the national programme level will have implications for local services, including financial implications for services such as the Metropolitan Police Service, which are already experiencing their own funding pressures, and operational implications for London’s wider emergency services and TfL.”

The Oversight Committee’s letter said Airwave had proved to be a very effective system for the emergency services in London. Before the system was implemented, officers had to carry two separate radios for above ground and below.

The letter stressed, “It is essential that the ESN is not a step backwards in communications technology. In theory, the ESN should allow the emergency services to use their radios above and below ground, but this is contingent on 4G being extended across the London Underground, including the tunnels. Several commentators have looked at this issue. The Public Accounts Committee flagged it as a “significant and imminent risk”.

“And in our meeting, the committee heard that the ESN is a “very complicated programme, as you would imagine. The reason we have not had 4G in tunnels is a good one. It has always been technically challenging and this project is technically challenging as a result.”

The letter continued, “Providing further detail, TfL’s chief technology officer told us: Our aim is to try to get the stations ready by January 2019 and as much of it done as possible by January 2019, with the aim to complete the rest of the tunnels in the months after that. I have to be honest and say that that is a very challenging timescale… If I were to reword your question and say, ‘Are we absolutely confident that all of this can be done for January 2019?’ the answer is no, we are not confident that this can be done for January 2019.”

The question of progress on ESN was discussed at a recent Motorola Solutions event at its London Innovation Centre which showcased how new software and services are empowering public safety. The event heard that ESN is having to play catch up on standards, notably for device to device.

At the event, Motorola showcased a series of technologies including CommandCentral Analytics, used to support decisions on areas to patrol, as well as an application of artificial intelligence (AI) working with Natural Language Processing software, to help police officers interact with back-end systems and retrieve critical intelligence.

The event also demonstrated a Future Fire Incident Command Concept, showing how the use of ‘Mixed Reality’ technology by an incident commander at the scene can improve situational awareness and the safety of fire-fighters.

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