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UK emergency services upgrade set to save lives

The UK government introduces an open standard for emergency services’ IT systems to improve the speed and efficiency of responses to incidents

The government is introducing a digital standard to improve incident response times by helping to standardise IT system interfaces and equipment between emergency services.

The agreed open standard is the result of a six-year project led by the Cabinet Office and Government Digital Service (GDS).

The project involved fire, police, ambulance, coastguard, and mountain rescue services, as well as the Department for Transport, local authorities and major suppliers.

Open standards allow different digital platforms to interact with each other, enabling the sharing of IT and reducing the costs and complexity involved in delivering services to the public.

The government said the open standard will enhance public safety by improving response times; creating a single data exchange in the emergency responder community; streamlining the flow of incident information between agencies; allowing control centres to communicate in real time and without restriction; and forming a common operating picture to enable shared situational awareness.

Work on the open standard started as a trial between the emergency services and Capita in Wales in 2015. The results of this trial showed that when a common communications approach is used across emergency services, it significantly improved response times.

As part of the project, the London Fire Brigade is launching an advanced computer programming system at their operations centre in Merton.

The Multi Agency Incident Transfer (MAIT) system is designed to increase the speed and efficiency of emergency services responses, especially for serious and complicated rescue missions that require cross-service support.

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Cabinet Office minister Matthew Hancock said although the UK’s emergency services are among the best in the world, they should be improved wherever and whenever possible.

“When we heard that some control centres would rely on fax machines to communicate with each other during an emergency situation, something had to be done,” he said.

“Improving digital communications is a crucial step and the valuable work, conducted by government in partnership with the emergency services, will make a tangible difference across the UK in times of emergency or crisis.”

Charles Ball, HM Coastguard head of coastal operations, said that as the only national emergency service, it is vital for HM Coastguard to have a common standard and common procedure when dealing with sister services.

“This joined up thinking is vital if we are to deliver safety and security to the British public and provide for people in need at sea and on land,” he said.

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