Ultimately the effectiveness of any emergency response can be broken down into the ability to receive, respond and act on timely information. Paging not only fulfils this need but also provides a prime example of a technology that has been developed and improved through smarter partnerships between both users and suppliers.
Synonymous with reliability, speed and resilience, paging has already proven its value as a communications tool in the most demanding of environments. Vast coverage and network independence are also some of the technologies most compelling benefits as it remains a key enabler for communications within and between the emergency services, providing an unrivalled mechanism to send and receive information when co-ordinating an emergency response.
Paging has not stood still and continues to develop as a result of direct user feedback. For example we have seen the emergence of 2-way paging which closes the loop on traditional messaging and provides the command and control centre with an instant record of who can and can’t attend. We have also recently seen the innovation of dual frequency paging which enables a single pager to simultaneously scan two paging channels thereby enabling users to reduce costs, consolidate devices and extend coverage.
A dual frequency pager works by continually scanning two paging channels, for example a local on-site paging network and a wide-area network, downloading messages from whichever is currently displaying the strongest signal. In the unlikely event the pager is out of range on both channels the message will either be repeated after a pre-defined period or programmed to fall-back to an alternative method such as SMS.
Post-incident enquires into several events, such as the aftermath of the 7/7 bombings in London or the April 2012 fire in Vodafone’s mobile phone network centre in Rotterdam demonstrate the difficulty with relying on any one single form of communication. Therefore the ability to fall-back to an alternative medium provides even greater reliance. In essence, a triple resilience alerting solution.
Improving resource management and productivity
This technology is now beginning to be embraced by UK Fire and Rescue Services who face a similar challenge in terms of improving resilience and coverage without having extensive funding. County Durham and Darlington FRS have been early adopters of PageOne’s triple resilience alerting solution as a means of improving the management of 180 retained fire-fighters and officers; primarily by offering the potential for acknowledged messaging and extending the scope of communications beyond each fire station’s transmitter range.
“The technology offers us considerable insight. We now know when a message has been delivered, read and staff can even reply using a pre-defined set of responses,” says Lee D’arcy, Telecoms Manager at County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service.
Essex County FRS has also invested in the technology following a successful trial during a national strike in 2012. “We needed a contingency strategy and the technology offered us a resilient mechanism to communicate with, and manage our retained officers more effectively,” says David Elwell, Communications Manager, Essex County FRS. However, selecting PageOne’s triple resilience solution also helped the comms team deliver on part of a wider initiative designed to reduce the extent or exposure to risk, whilst increasing business resilience.
More recently the 2-way Responder pager has been enhanced further, utilising GPS and location capabilities that provide an accurate visual representation of staff members on a map. “Location services gives us greater visibility, which means we can pinpoint the nearest officer to an incident, mobilise them more effectively and improve response times,” adds Elwell.
As this technology continues to improve communications, increase resilience and deliver measurable results; other Fire and Rescue Services such as Cornwall and Northern Ireland also embrace triple resilience alerting to seek the results of their peers.
Lessons for the NHS
There is an equally large user base for paging within NHS and private hospitals in the UK. A number of Trusts including Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, Salford Royal NHS Trust, East Lancashire PCT and Sheffield Health Social Care have already rolled-out the Responder in order to enhance emergency communications. It would seem logical for such organisations to also harness the benefits of a wide area network to boost coverage and reliability. However, until recently it has been almost impossible for them to consider dual frequency to meet this challenge.
Traditionally, NHS Trust’s on-site systems have operated on low-band or UHF frequencies, which offer restrictive coverage and poor in-building signal penetration. However, following the nationwide switch-off of analogue television transmitters, Ofcom have been able to reassign certain portions of the VHF frequencies to boost communication networks. As a result PageOne have been able to acquire a licence for a VHF paging channel, therefore eroding potential barriers to providing improved in-building coverage and significantly reduce the quantity of on-site transmitters that need to be serviced and maintained.
For those NHS Trusts already running an on-site paging network this could offer a clear upgrade path towards a more resilient infrastructure, as well as a more cost-effective way of extending the life of legacy systems. The NHS is in a privileged position of being able to take inspiration from the fire sector who have set a president, but also seen the benefits of closed-loop communications as well as location technology to improve incident response and manage resource more effectively.
Nigel Gray is Director of critical messaging provider PageOne (www.pageone.co.uk)
1. The Connect mobile messaging services from PageOne are based on feature-rich messaging and location technology
2. SMS Fallback
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