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Emergency services first responders’ survey 
highlights interoperability issues

A recent survey of emergency services first responders* undertaken on behalf of the Emergency Services Show (NEC, 25-26 September 2013) highlights the improvements and challenges which interoperability is bringing to everyone involved in the emergency services, while also identifying the positive impact that advances in products and new technology are having in the emergency services.
 Interoperability among police, fire and rescue and ambulance services as well as voluntary organisations like the Red Cross, St John’s Ambulance and Salvation Army and private sector recovery operators is vital to ensuring the best response to major incidents.

Interoperability Trends

In the survey, 54% of first responders agreed or strongly agreed that the roles and responsibilities of each service attending emergency incidents are fully understood, while 31% disagreed or strongly disagreed that this was the case. But almost without exception these professionals felt that further multi-agency training would improve co-operation between teams attending incidents (97% agreed or strongly agreed).
Over 80% also agreed or strongly agreed that a lack of multi-agency training can endanger lives. While a third of first responders said they agreed or strongly agreed that they regularly train alongside other agencies to prepare for emergencies, closer to a half of respondents said they did not. Despite financial pressures relatively few also said that less priority had been given to training within their organisation during the last six months – with 43% agreeing it was less of a priority but 33% saying it was not.

Interoperability Issues

Miscommunication emerged as by far the commonest problem first responders experience when co-operating with other emergency services at incidents, with some three-quarters saying this was an issue. Under-resourcing of staff was also identified as a problem by 45%, but just under a third also said over-resourcing was equally an issue. Incompatible equipment was also identified as a source of problems by just under 30%, while 17% felt that equipment was duplicated by different services.

Sharing Resources

More than two-thirds (68.9%) of respondents said that their service did not currently share any resources with other emergency services, but 21.2% said they did share station facilities. Around one in twenty also identified management staff, workshops and fleet as shared resources. Asked if other resources could be shared that are not already, respondents most commonly identified stations, training facilities, control rooms and communications equipment.

Benefits of New Products and Technologies

Looking at how new products and technologies have helped to transform operations in the emergency services, just under three-quarters said advances in mobile communications had had a positive or very positive effect. Around 60% also said that advances in vehicles and vehicle technology had made a positive of very positive difference. Nearly two-thirds (64%) said advances in Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) had also made a positive or very positive impact with lighter weight and superior protection both identified as positive benefits.

Consolidation among Emergency Services
Uncertainty continues to surround the possible restructuring of the emergency services into regional, national or combined services, but over three-quarters of first responders thought it was likely or highly likely that fire and rescue services would amalgamate to become regional within the next three to five years. This compares to a figure of 64% who expected the same to happen in the police service. Around 60% thought it was unlikely or highly unlikely that the fire and rescue service would become one national service in the same time frame and close to 70% thought it unlikely or highly unlikely the police service would do the same.

Impact of Private Sector

Three quarters of emergency services first responders thought that private sector companies like Babcock, Serco, Capita, Steria and Falck would have a greater role in the emergency services in the future, but 58% also thought that greater use of private sector companies would have a negative effect on interoperability among emergency services.

*The Emergency Services First Responders Survey was completed by first responders working across all emergency services in the week commencing 17th August 2013.