When Kent Fire and Rescue decided to share a command and control system with the county’s police service, cost savings were a logical advantage but the operational improvements gained outweigh these.
The service has just signed a six-year deal with Steria to use the service provider’s command and control system, SteriaSTORM. It will use the same hardware and database as Kent Police, which has used the command and control system for about a decade.
In 2010 the government scrapped its plans to reduce the number of fire service control rooms from 46 across England down to nine regional centres by ending the FireControl project.
FireControl started in 2004, and had an original completion date of 2009, but was beset with problems. Kent Fire and Rescue used its own bespoke command and control system that was developed in the 1990’s, but following the cancellation of the FireControl project it began making plans for the future.
Steve Demetriou, director major projects and resilience at Kent Fire & Rescue Service, said there were a number of options including sharing systems with other fire and rescue services in other counties. There are examples of public sector under different county control – such as NHS operations and police organisations that share IT services – but Kent chose to work with a different agency in the same county.
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“There were a number of models and we looked at all the options but – because of the size of Kent and the existence of critical infrastructure such as the Channel Tunnel – the Dartford Crossing and a large coastline, we wanted a Kent option,” said Demetriou.
Collateral advantage for public sector agencies
He said the advantages of Kent Police and Kent Fire & Rescue sharing services, through the £900,000 contract, go beyond cost savings. He said there are advantages, because many incidents are attended to by both organisations and, through the shared system, they will have identical information about events and can co-ordinate more effectively.
“By bringing the two organisations together we can make services better,” said Demetriou. Both services have the same view situations with reduced risk of duplication, or errors relating to two different incident addresses.
Demetriou said the government’s Joint Emergency Services Interoperability programme (JESIP), which sets out to get emergency services to work better together, is a good top-level guide to organisations when planning projects such as Kent Fire and Rescue’s command and control service.
The public sector in particular has seen shared services rise to the top of current IT debate amid budget cuts.
Shared services across government
For example, the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy says 96% of local councils are moving to shared services.
Public sector organisations do not compete, so the business case for sharing services appears obvious at first glance. So compelling is the logic, one industry source recently told Computer Weekly: "Anyone with an ounce of intelligence can see shared services are a good idea in government."
Kent Fire & Rescue Service is responsible for delivering fire and rescue services to more than 1.7 million people in Kent and Medway. It has over 1200 firefighters and a fleet of more than 75 fire engines and other operational vehicles. Kent has have more than 250 miles of motorway and major trunk roads, and over 139 miles of coastline, inland waterways and the busiest sea channel in the world.