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NPAS begins live streaming with fire and NHS teams

Police search helicopters have begun real-time streaming incident footage with partner agencies in the Midlands.

Vital live footage of emergencies from police helicopters is now being shared with ambulance crews after a major upgrade.

Real-time aerial footage will be transmitted by the National Police Air Service from helicopters and planes directly to fire and ambulance crews in the West Midlands during multi-agency responses to major incidents.

The Airborne Data Link (ADL) will provide commanders on the ground with enhanced situational awareness to support critical decision making in the event of large-scale operations.

Capability has been created by West Midlands Ambulance Service and West Midlands Fire Service by investing in Enterprise Control Systems’ (ECS) downlink receivers.

Justifying the investment was a key recommendation in the first phase of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry which criticised the lack of communications on the night of the fatal fire between the NPAS helicopter above the blaze and fire crews on the ground.

They expect the new equipment to be used for search and rescue operations primarily as well as major civil resilience incidents.

NPAS tactical flight training officer and mission systems expert, PC Neil Cuffe, said: “All our aircraft have the capability to transmit high-quality footage to officers on the ground and incident control rooms via the downlink system.

“This is invaluable in assisting commanders to make critical decisions on how to appropriately direct resources and manage the scene of an incident. It is widely used by police forces and will be hugely beneficial for fire and ambulance colleagues as we work together to protect the public,” he added.

Two receivers have been bought, which will be kept in Incident Command Vehicles, providing Commanders with a bird’s eye view of incidents, and allowing them to assess situations and direct resources accordingly.

If required, the output from the NPAS aerial footage can also be streamed back to Strategic Commanders back in our control rooms by connecting the receiver with a laptop.

Tactical Incident Commander, Cameron McVittie, said: “The addition of the airborne data link into our command toolbox will be a fantastic asset to ensure that as a multi-agency command team, we can make the best decisions to keep our patients and staff safe at incidents such as water rescue, significant fires or marauding terrorist attacks. Not to mention, to create further synergy between ourselves and our JESIP partners on the scene of incidents.”

It's a major development at a time when many forces are considering whether they further develop their drone capacity. A pilot project with the Home Office is under way but there are limits in range, air time and response times.

For fire colleagues, the connectivity is the major gain with this initiative.

Group Commander Richard Moore, of West Midlands Fire Service, said: “We’re really excited to be linking up with our ambulance and police colleagues for this downlink project. It’s the latest innovation in our drive to keep our communities safe with a digital and data-driven approach.

“We’ve been trialling our own drones for a year, so appreciate how an aerial dimension can complement our work on the ground. The NPAS partnership will help our decision making as we bring incidents to a safe resolution.”

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