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Emergency Services Network 'outdated'

Some officers are communicating via their mobile phones instead of their radios.

In the wake of an outage to the emergency service network (ESN) in London, there has been criticism from users of the quality of the service it provides.

The system, which is used by police, fire and ambulances services, failed for 40 minutes in London on Tuesday morning, but some officers have said the outage was unsurprising.

The ESN is set to be replaced in 2017, with the Home Office announcing last month that current provider Airwave would not be going forward to the next round of bidding for the new contract.

One PoliceOracle.com reader said after the outage that it was time “for this old system to go”.

“We are still told not to travel to football matches with them turned on, because jumping from mast to mast in groups could crash the system. Likewise, when you get there each group has to stagger the switch on in case the system crashes,” he claimed.

Kevin Philips, Chair of the Avon and Somerset Police Federation, told said: “The technology has moved on since Airwave was introduced and as users increase there is a bound to be a breaking point. The system can only be as good as the technology.

“We have to make sure the right amount of funding is given to ensure the system improves, and make sure there are protocols in place when things like this do happen so that our officers are kept safe.”

Speaking at a conference last month, Chief Executive of Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service Dave Webb said services aren’t using the radio “for reasons too long to explain”.

“Officers don’t know how to use it properly, or choose not to,” he said. “They put it to one side and use their mobiles instead. You can put new technology in there but if people aren’t using it properly then it’s a waste of money.”

However, not everyone agreed that the current system was below par.

One former Met special told PoliceOracle.com: “I actually thought it was pretty good. There were a few issues but overall there was much better coverage than we had previously and much clearer."

A spokesman for Airwave said that over the past year, the network has delivered over 99.97 availability, reflecting the “dedicated service” it gives to its customers.

“There is no requirement for officers to turn off their radios whilst travelling. The system is specifically designed to handle officers travelling around the country carrying out their duties without any restriction on them,” he said.

“As the Airwave Network covers 99 per cent of Great Britain’s landmass and is dedicated to the emergency services, there is never the threat of it being unavailable because the capacity is being used by non-emergency services personnel.

“Because the Airwave Network was custom built for the emergency services it supports the communications functions they need. This includes the ability to prioritise conversations, meaning that senior staff are able to cut through other conversations to make sure that vital information is understood by all.” 

The new ESN, which is hoped will save the emergency services around £1bn over the next 15 years, will deliver “an enhanced, flexible and more affordable communication system for the emergency services”, according to James Brokenshire, Minister for Security and Immigration.

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