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Bringing the emergency services up to date

Bringing the emergency services up to date


Criminal lawyers in particular will be only too aware of the crucial importance of an emergency service which is able to respond effectively and efficiently to the demands of the public. And yet how many of us will have given more than a passing thought to the tech that underpins the daily work of the police, ambulance and fire services?

Over at the Telegraph, they’ve devoted more than a passing thought to the issue – and expose the problem when processes fail to keep pace with developments in tech.

Police, ambulance and fire crews rely on a private radio network known as Airwave, which is specifically tailored to the needs of the emergency services in the UK. It has been in operation for some 15 years, and few can doubt its central importance to handling such crises as the London riots, the 7/7 bombings, and sundry natural disasters.

However, the government is now looking to replace the system – unwelcome news to Macquarie, Airwave’s Australian financier owners, who are prepared to take their cause all the way to the high court.

The Government’s reasoning in seeking to replace Airwave is twofold. Firstly, it reasons that it’s out of date, and that the emergency services should have access to mobile broadband (it may seem startling to think that this is not something already available to those who are, by any standard, surely most in need of fast reliable communications). Whitehall is looking ahead to a digitised future that will see police wearing live cameras as part of their daily uniform, paramedics transmitting patients’ vital signs from ambulance to ward, and fire crews downloading the blueprints of burning buildings as they prepare to tackle a blaze. Airwave, being essentially a walkie-talkie, is simply unable to do anything of the kind.

The second reason is one that will come as no surprise to those have kept even half an eye on the Government’s stringent cost-cutting imperatives: Airwave is expensive, bringing in a revenue (paid for out of the tax-payer’s pocket, of course) of £414 million a year.

Superior alternatives are available at a fraction of the cost: Chancellor George Osborne has estimated that one suggestion replacement would – at a cost of £1.2 billion – wind up saving the taxpayer £1m per day, in addition to providing the kind of 21st century emergency services we’d rather hope to rely on.

The contract has gone to EE, and – greatly put out – Airwave has launched a legal challenge at the High Court claiming that the bidding process was unfair. This will cause inevitable delays, and those within the emergency services – evidently placing a firm focus on their ability to carry out essential and frequently dangerous work to protect the public – are now facing concerns about what the future may hold. The Government’s less-than-stellar record when it comes to implementing spiffy new tech schemes is of course only contributing to the sense of unease.

We can only await the outcome of the High Court case with interest – but this serves as further evidence of the Government’s commitment to implementing tech innovations across the board. At Legastat, we understand the need to balance a drive towards delivering an innovative and truly modern service with common sense, and a thorough understanding of exactly which tech is suited to the problem. From building and maintaining digital bundles to using eDiscovery and eDisclosure software, our litigation support professionals are ready to help.