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Preparing Scotland: Scottish Guidance on Preparing for Emergencies: Responding to Emergencies in Scotland


12. Emergency services communication


12.1 Across Scotland, each of the emergency services currently has independent radio communications systems. The Scottish Police Service has adopted Airwave as its primary radio communication system. The Scottish Ambulance Service is currently in transition to Airwave and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service will also move towards Airwave in the near future. The military also use Airwave when deployed in support of civil agencies.

12.2 To ensure effective multi-agency communication during an emergency, certain procedures need to be adopted. In the main, it is the responsibility of the Police to co-ordinate multi-agency communications during an emergency. Exceptions to this include maritime search and rescue incidents which are co-ordinated by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency ( MCA), Animal Disease outbreaks co-ordinated by the Animal Health and Public Health outbreaks co-ordinated by the NHS Board responsible for that area.

Airwave interoperability

12.3 The National Airwave Tripartite Arrangement is being developed between the Police, Fire and Ambulance Services across the UK. This protocol will provide strategic guidance for the emergency services in relation to interoperability issues during an emergency.

12.4 At SCG level, Bronze Airwave interoperability arrangements have been established to enable Police, Fire and Ambulance personnel to communicate on Airwave during a response. A small pool of Airwave terminals is held at strategic locations within each police force area. These will be allocated to Fire and Ambulance Incident Officers and other key personnel, as appropriate. Depending on the nature of the emergency, it may be appropriate to extend this arrangement to other Category 1 or 2 responders.

12.5 Interoperability arrangements have also been established at specific key sites where intrinsically safe airwave terminals (for use in explosive environments) are considered essential. These have been located at gatehouses and control rooms for allocation to emergency service personnel responding to emergencies on site.

12.6 The military also operates Airwave; HQ 51 (Scottish) Brigade controls the use of Airwave for UK Operations in Scotland, while the RAFSAR Force (Aeronautical Rescue Co-ordination Centre, Mountain Rescue Teams and helicopter units) have the facility.

Communications management

12.7 During the initial stages of an emergency, the Police Force Control Room will co-ordinate the emergency response arrangements. The allocation and management of specific Airwave talk groups is an essential part of this process. The Police will coordinate the distribution of Airwave terminals to Fire and Ambulance Incident Officers as required.

12.8 To ensure effective command, control and coordination of any emergency, it is important that dialogue is maintained on established lines of communication. Valuable information can often be lost with the ad-hoc use of mobile telephones and Airwave Point to Point. This can result in misunderstanding and the recording of inaccurate data. Arrangements will be required in order to address this issue.

12.9 During emergencies Airwave Solutions Limited are able to provide support to local responders to increase airwave capability and capacity. By closely monitoring airwave usage additional capacity can be diverted from other areas.

12.10 For pre-planned events, police planning teams should consult with In-Force Airwave Technical Support Managers and Airwave Solutions Limited at an early stage, in order to assess airwave capability and capacity.

Airwave safe distances

12.11 In accordance with Police National Search Centre advice, where the presence of an Improvised Explosive Device ( IED), Commercial Explosives or Military Ordnance, is suspected or known, the following safe distances are recommended:

  • within a range of 10 metres - no transmitting equipment shall be used;
  • within a range of 10-50 metres - only handheld equipment is to be used; and
  • where the radios or terminals are of a type that automatically logs on to the system when switched on and periodically transmits its identity, they should be switched to transmit inhibit mode, if fitted, or switched off.

12.12 When attending emergencies at petrol stations, fuel bunds and tank farms, the following safe distances are recommended:

Fixed locations

  • within a range of 5 metres - no Airwave, UHF or Mobile Telephones; and
  • within a range of 10 metres - no VHF vehicle mounted radios.

Dynamic incidents

  • within a range of 10 metres - no Airwave, UHF or Mobile Telephones;
  • within a range of 20 metres - no VHF vehicle mounted radios; and
  • the above safe distances should be confirmed by the Fire Incident Officer, who will have primacy within the hazardous area.

"Dynamic incidents" are defined as, "an event which occurs at a location, which is normally hazard free and is likely to represent a risk to life."

Resilient Telecommunications Network

12.13 With the increasing obsolescence of the Emergency Communications Network (a private telephone network connecting various strategic locations) the Scottish Government has developed a Resilient Telecommunications Strategy for Scotland. This is designed to provide strategic level communications between critical locations in the event of failure of the public telephone systems, both fixed and mobile, and the failure of the electricity supply.

12.14 At the heart of the strategy is a resilient core network which links SCG locations, Scottish Government buildings and utilities' control rooms. This core network has microwave links with satellite back up in the event of failure of any part of the network. Allied to this fixed capability is the proposal to have three satellite support vehicles to provide communications for the critical work of an SCG or other strategic level group that is unable to use its fixed location on the core network.

12.15 Although the primary role of the strategy is to provide strategic level communications, the requirements at tactical/operational level have been accommodated by providing the emergency planning departments of local authorities, NHS Health Boards and Scottish Environment Protection Agency ( SEPA) with Airwave radios. Therefore, all Category 1 responders in Scotland will be on the Airwave network. In addition suitcase sized satellite support systems are to be purchased for local authorities. These systems will provide telephone and broadband connectivity and enable a tactical/operational co-ordination point to be set up at remote locations due to its portability.

National Emergency Alert for Telecommunications ( NEAT)

12.16 In an emergency when severe congestion or impact on land-line or mobile telecommunications is being experienced, early contact should be made with the BT Emergency Link-line, details of which are held in appropriate plans. This will initiate activation of the National Emergency Alert for Telecommunications ( NEAT) Group based in London. A Police representative from this group will liaise direct with the respective SCG in order to assess requirements in terms of additional telecommunication support.

12.17 The NEAT Group will co-ordinate and arrange allocation of the required support and resources, from all national and local telecommunications providers.

Access Overload Control ( ACCOLC)

12.18 This is a national scheme by which mobile telephone service providers restrict general access to their networks and allow emergency services, local authorities, and other users with suitably enabled mobile phones, to have exclusive access to the network.

12.19 Implementation will only be initiated after careful consideration and on the authority of the Police Strategic Commander. The SCG should be consulted prior to implementation.

12.20 ACCOLC is enabled via specially encoded SIM Cards supplied by network providers.

12.21 ACCOLC is being replaced by MTPAS (Mobile Telecommunication Privileged Access Scheme) in 2009. MTPAS requires the Police Strategic Commander to complete a pro-forma, containing details on the location etc of an emergency, which is sent via fax to all the mobile phone providers. The providers then determine the best way to ensure those users that are MTPAS accredited have access to the mobile network through a range of options that would ultimately bar those not MTPAS accredited from making or receiving calls.

Radio Amateur's Emergency Network ( RAYNET)

12.22 RAYNET is a nationwide voluntary group of UK licensed radio operators who are able to provide emergency radio communications for the emergency services, local authorities and central government. RAYNET's radio equipment is specifically designated for use in emergencies.

12.23 RAYNET can provide specialist VHF/ UHF radio communications across Scotland. The assistance of RAYNET should be sought from the appropriate service control.