In protecting more than 600,000 people in the North Wales area, NWFRS has to collaborate with a network of external third parties, including local authorities, police, NHS organisations, charities and agency partners. The fire service has to share information with these organisations to determine vulnerable people in society who may be at risk of injury or death due to fire hazards.
With around 1,000 employees, NWFRS attends more than 3,200 fires, 500 road traffic collisions and 500 other emergency incidents every year. It also works with schools, businesses and local communities to promote fire safety and prevention.
“A lot of the work we do is preventative, to minimise the number of injuries and deaths,” says NWFRS head of ICT Sarah Roberts. “It’s all about information sharing, to identify vulnerable citizens, such as those we consider to be at higher risk of suffering injury or death from fire. But this also includes flooding and other types of incidents.”
Sharing information quickly and securely
Previously, the NWFRS was dependent on phone calls, face-to-face meetings and the post to exchange this information because email wasn’t secure enough.
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“We needed the ability to share information securely,” says Roberts. “And we needed to improve so there wasn’t a delay – we need to know now, not when someone drops off a piece of paper. Some public sector organisations still use fax because they can’t email.”
The NWFRS wanted to adopt a secure electronic way to speed up the information-sharing process. It chose Egress Software Technologies, which has enabled the fire service to speed up the process, while also securing personal data.
Egress Switch provides on-premise encryption services designed to secure all forms of electronic information. The system is currently the only CESG Commercial Product Assurance (CPA) Foundation Grade certified email encryption product on the market.
“We wanted to make sure the information we receive can’t be intercepted, compromised or sold,” says Roberts.
Egress Switch is installed and hosted on NWFRS's server. External organisations log in via a web-based application, which is encrypted and sends information into the NWFRS Microsoft Exchange server.
“Official sensitive information can’t be released to the outside world without being encrypted,” she adds.
Secure collaboration with third parties
The system allows NWFRS to exchange information securely via email with external organisations. Some of those third parties already use Egress Switch, which makes it easy to collaborate, since a common email system has been adopted.
We will provide a means of securing all information flows from the outside world into our organisation and vice-versa
Sarah Roberts, NWFRS
Those local authorities and agencies which haven’t yet adopted it are provided with an Egress account to exchange information. NWFRS guides them through the registration process and they can use the facility for free because NWFRS already pays.
The system also allows the organisation to send voice recordings from 999 command and control centre calls. NWFRS sometimes has to send recordings of staff dealing with members of the public to law enforcement agencies, so Egress Switch also ensures the voice recordings are transferred securely.
In the future, NWFRS also hopes to improve security on its website to encrypt the forms citizens use to request a home fire safety check.
“That’s the next step,” says Roberts. “We will provide a means of securing all information flows from the outside world into our organisation and vice-versa – for website, email and file transfer.”
Roberts says local authority partnerships have had to adapt to this digital way of working, because it’s no longer a case of driving down the road for a face-to-face meeting.
“In the digital age we need to start sharing information securely electronically. This tool allows us to do that,” she concludes.