Fire Service Radio Strategy
01 February 2000
An overview of the development of the radio strategy for the fire service from Victoria Rowe
In 1996, a survey of fire brigade radio communications was carried out when it was found that the majority of brigade systems were obsolete, they also had limited facilities and were becoming increasingly unreliable and difficult to maintain. Therefore, it was judged that brigades should not be solely reliant on these systems after 2002. Additionally, the current radio spectrum allocations used by fire brigades in England and Wales would not be available after 2005, and most fire brigades needed to replace their radio systems over the next few years.
In the early nineteen nineties, fire service representatives had been involved in the initial stages of the development of what was later to become known as the Public Safety Radio Communications Project (PSRCP). However, as the PSRCP progressed, concerns were raised as to whether the emerging solutions would be entirely appropriate for the fire service. It was therefore decided to adopt a twin-track approach, where an alternative strategy would be determined in parallel with continued fire service support for the PSRCP. The alternative strategy would provide a benchmark to test if prices that were eventually quoted for PSRCP represented good value for money. It would also provide a fall-back position if the PSRCP was considered inappropriate for the fire service.
The Fire Service Radio Strategy Working Group was set up to investigate and make recommendations on the future of fire service radio communications. By mid-1998, an alternative strategy had been formulated and, in November of that year, the Working Group recommended a Fire Service Radio Strategy that was considered by the Central Fire Brigades Advisory Council (CFBAC). It had been anticipated that the information on costs and service levels for the PSRCP would also be available at that meeting. As this was not the case, the CFBAC resolved that, for the time being, any brigade wishing to replace its radio system would be advised to follow the Working Groups’ strategy.
The major features of the strategy included:
• Procurement would be undertaken at local level and against an output specification
• Public service terminals to be used for inter-brigade working
• Collaborative arrangements between brigades would be encouraged
• Brigades would be offered centrally provided procurement guidance.
In September 1999, four technical workshops were held to explain the Fire Service Radio Strategy to brigades. Every brigade in England and Wales sent representatives to one or more of these workshops when they were asked to identify potential obstacles to the implementation of the strategy. Whilst the majority of brigades indicated that they intended to follow the proposed strategy, a number of issues were discussed, particularly regarding: funding, collaboration, commitment, human resources and dependency on infrastructure that is currently shared with the police.
As the provision of central procurement for brigades is a key component of the strategy, guidance documents and templates have been produced and issued to all brigades. It is the intention of HM Fire Service Inspectorate that these guidance documents will be revised in the light of experience and the latest versions will be available on the Internet site.
Ministers have agreed that fire authorities will be required to review the provision of communications and control in 2000/2001 and at Fire '99 it was announced that up to £250,000 would be made available for a study to assist fire authorities in deciding on their future radio communications requirements. According to DCOL 16/1999 "The study will report to ministers in March 2000. In the meantime, brigades are being encouraged to continue with their activities for procuring a replacement radio system in accordance with DCOLs 2/1999 and 8/1999. These include setting up a project team, developing a business case and the user requirement element of an output specification for radio communications. All of these steps are likely to be necessary steps to be taken, irrespective of the outcome of the current study".
Regarding the PSRCP, a letter of Instruction to Proceed has been issued to BT. This is in essence a contractual commitment without a full contract and requires the Police Information Technology Organisation (PITO) and BT to sign the contract for core service by 31 January 2000.