The government has awarded a £200m contract to supply the IT infrastructure for nine regional fire brigade control centres to EADS Defence and Security Systems.
The eight-year Fire Control contract will network the proposed nine regional control centres and provide a call handling and management system. The system is intended to ensure the centres can automatically back each other up during major incidents or if one centre fails.
The nine regional centres are set to replace the 46 existing control centres, each covering a fire brigade area. The current centres are not networked and operate on different systems and standards, with differing levels of equipment and technology.
Fire services minister Angela Smith said: “At the heart of this project is the ability for the control centres to back each other up and to provide information direct to firefighters on the ground.
“The technology provided under this contract will help to identify the location of incidents more quickly and precisely, ensure that the correct equipment is mobilised as quickly as possible, and provide firefighters with information on the incident location. Ultimately this will help to further reduce the number of lives lost to fire.”
But the Fire Control project has been highly controversial in the fire service. The Fire Brigades Union has opposed the regionalisation of fire control centres and the proposed network.
An FBU spokesperson said: “The problem with networking a system is you can have a domino effect. It doesn’t increase resilience because a problem in one centre can have a knock-on effect. At the moment, the 46 control centres do back each other up, but are not networked.”
He added that planned staffing for the nine regional centres would not offer enough capacity to handle all the calls during a major incident without flooding the system. “If you don’t have enough people answering the phones, you can have all the IT in the world and it’s not going to work,” he said.
The new IT system is being designed in order to automatically determine the location of emergency callers and use computer-aided systems to help staff locate and mobilise the nearest available firefighting resources, using data transmission rather than voice messages.
Satellite positioning technology will be used to determine which fire appliances have the shortest travel time to an incident, while in-cab displays inside fire engines will provide travel, access and risk information to firefighters.
The new IT system is set to be phased in, under the terms of the contract, to avoid a “big bang” changeover day.