Effective communication systems between agencies

Control Measure Knowledge

Fire control personnel should have a range of methods available to them for communicating with other agencies. The methods used will depend on:

  • The nature of the incident or event
  • The urgency of the information
  • The intended recipients
  • The local arrangements in place
  • The technology available in fire control
  • The capacity of fire control personnel

Telephone lines provide a method for fire control personnel to contact other agencies directly. They are likely to be the most frequently used method of communication because they offer ease of access and enable interaction between participants, meaning that fire control personnel can discuss incidents with personnel from other agencies quickly. Contact details for other agencies must be up to date at all times to enable timely communication.

Mobilising systems and integrated communication control systems (ICCSs) that are configured to minimise the steps fire control personnel must take to contact other agencies help to speed up information-sharing between agencies.

Conference call facilities allow more than two parties to join a telephone or virtual video call. The details for joining conference calls should, where possible, be pre-planned and available to fire control commanders in advance, minimising the time taken to join the conference call.

Providing an additional workstation with access to the required technology may reduce the impact on emergency call-management capacity.

Interoperability talkgroups

Interoperability talkgroups provide a range of secure and resilient methods for multi-agency communication. As part of multi-agency preparedness planning, some multi-agency talkgroups may be pre-agreed for use in specific circumstances, such as the Emergency Services Inter-Control (ESICTRL) talkgroup; others may be determined as the need for them arises.

The ESICTRL talkgroup helps fire control personnel to share and receive situational awareness in critical situations with other emergency service controls in their region quickly and simultaneously, such as in the initial stages of a terrorist attack or suspected terrorist attack.

Ambulance, HM Coastguard, police and fire controls in England, Scotland and Wales should continuously monitor the ESICTRL talkgroup relevant to their region.

The Emergency Service (ES) talkgroup and Incident Command (IC) talkgroup are police-controlled, interoperable and restricted to Category 1 agencies (and some Category 2 agencies that form part of the extended police family). They may therefore be suitable for sharing sensitive information.

Agencies that can access these talkgroups once requested to do so include:

  • Ambulance
  • Category A prison escorts (involving prisoners that pose the most threat to the public, police or national security)
  • Fire
  • Highways agencies
  • HM Coastguard
  • Ministry of Defence
  • UK Border Force

The Inter-Agency talkgroup (IAT) and the Multi-Agency Mutual Aid (MAMA) interoperability talkgroup are available to all registered Airwave users following authorisation from the relevant police control.

National Talkgroup 20 (NTG20) is a continuously monitored announcement talkgroup enabling one-way, instantaneous critical announcements between fire controls. Announcements on NTG20 will benefit other fire controls that are likely to receive emergency calls on an affected fire control’s behalf, for example under a call redistribution plan, such as Operation Willow Beck. All fire controls in England, Scotland and Wales can receive announcements on NTG20. Refer to Share situational awareness with buddy, consortium and other fire and emergency controls during periods of multiple calls and multiple incidents for more information about the effective use of NTG20.

Intraoperability talkgroups, such as fire service hailing talkgroups and fire service national talkgroups, provide fire and rescue services with methods for communicating with each other effectively, reducing the need to use several multi-agency communication methods to share information multiple times.

For example, fire service national talkgroups enable effective communication between operational resources attending incidents outside their normal area, such as those that may be deployed nationally, and the affected fire and rescue service they are attending.

Other organisations may have been granted the ability to access specific fire service national talkgroups to enable effective interoperable communication, including:

  • The National Police Air Service (NPAS) having access to NTG03, NTG04 and NTG05
  • The Environment Agency having access to NTG06
  • The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) having access to NTG21

Effective access to multi-agency talkgroups

Fire control personnel should, if required, be prepared to access and share details of relevant talkgroups with operational commanders once their use has been agreed.

ICCSs that are configured to provide easy access to multi-agency talkgroups help fire control personnel to share situational awareness with several relevant agencies quickly without needing to operate separate radio equipment. Communication through an ICCS is likely to be recorded, providing replay capabilities as well as an audit trail that may be useful later.

Details of multi-agency talkgroups being used should be accurately recorded on the relevant incident logs. This information will help fire control personnel to recall the information easily later and support the shared situational awareness of:

  • Other fire control personnel
  • Fire control personnel in buddy and consortium fire controls
  • Operational personnel viewing the incident log remotely

Clearly defined methods for recording the talkgroups that are being used within incident logs will help fire control personnel to identify this information and share it with operational personnel.

Communications using the Airwave network are encrypted, meaning they are more suitable for discussing sensitive and secure information.

Electronic methods of multi-agency communication offer a range of ways for information to be shared quickly and accurately between fire control and several other agencies at the same time, freeing fire control personnel up to focus on other incident-related tasks or manage further emergency calls.

Electronic methods of communication include:

  • Digital incident-related information-sharing between emergency service control rooms, such as Multi Agency Incident Transfer (MAIT)
  • Secure, common information-sharing platforms, such as ResilienceDirect
  • Still image and live video-sharing platforms, including those that can receive and share live footage of an incident from emergency callers or operational personnel with relevant agencies
  • The National Resilience web application (a reporting tool), for use by fire controls to share information with National Resilience Fire Control

Electronic methods of communication that are integrated with mobilising systems reduce:

  • The time it takes to share information with other agencies
  • Duplication of information entry
  • The risk of human error, including:
    • Misunderstandings
    • Inaccurate assumptions

Some electronic methods of communication, such as MAIT, may help fire control personnel to:

  • Identify the presence of site-specific risk information among other incident-related information received from other agencies
  • Alert other agencies to risk information associated with incident-related information they send

Agreeing methods of multi-agency communication

Methods of multi-agency communication should be established and tested regularly. Any change to pre-arranged information-sharing should be agreed by all parties.

Once established, the shared method of communication should be maintained until all parties agree that it is no longer required. Appointing a single point of contact (SPoC) in fire control to support each communication link during significant multi-agency events, such as major incidents, should be seriously considered. For example, a SPoC may be assigned to a multi-agency talkgroup and a second SPoC may be responsible for sharing information received with operational personnel.

A SPoC should be suitably trained to undertake the role and should:

  • Maintain the multi-agency communication link until all agencies involved agree that it is no longer required
  • Agree the intervals of communication
  • Support joint understanding of risk and a co-ordinated response to the incident by:
    • Sharing key situational awareness from other agencies with fire control personnel and operational personnel
    • Sharing key situational awareness received from operational personnel with other fire control personnel and other agencies
  • Know how to implement agreed fall-back methods of multi-agency communication in case the primary method is unavailable; Refer to Provide multiple communications bearers for more information

Specialist advice

Many responder organisations – including ambulance, police, fire service and HM Coastguard – have communications tactical advisers (CTAs). A CTA is trained to provide specialist support and advice in relation to emergency service communications and the identification and suitability of multi-agency talkgroups in a range of scenarios.

If a fire and rescue service does not have a CTA available locally, fire control commanders may request CTA support from another fire and rescue service by contacting National Resilience Fire Control. Refer to Specialist advice for more information about the use of specialist advisers.

In addition to asking for specialist advice from a CTA, fire control personnel who have received training in emergency services communication systems, including multi-agency communication methods, are more likely to:

  • Understand which methods of multi-agency communication are available to fire control and other agencies
  • Use multi-agency talkgroups effectively and confidently during real events
  • Identify fall-back multi-agency communication methods if the primary method fails or is unsuitable

Significant multi-agency incidents may impact the Airwave network capacity and the ability of responders to communicate effectively.

The Airwave network monitoring centre (NMC) should be informed of significant multi-agency incidents, such as major incidents, so that it can provide appropriate advice and information relating to network capacity and coverage throughout a multi-agency incident. The NMC is continuously available and can be contacted by fire control or a CTA.

national inter-agency liaison officer (NILO) is a vetted, trained and identifiable responder from the emergency services who is also a tactical adviser. They can support pre-planned or spontaneous operations at strategic, tactical and operational levels, including facilitating interoperable working with partner agencies.

The role of a NILO is to:

  • Bridge the intelligence and information-sharing gaps between agencies involved in an incident or event
  • Improve inter-agency planning, operational preparedness, liaison and response to high-threat incidents or events such as terrorist attacks
  • Improve co-operation and understanding among agencies on matters of organisational capacity, capability and command
  • Help reduce risk to the public, operational personnel and the environment

Fire control resources

Significant multi-agency events, such as major incidents, are likely to require additional fire control personnel to help prevent the capacity of fire control from being exceeded information contained in Increase emergency call management capacity with additional fire control personnel should be considered.

Continuity

Establishing and agreeing alternative communication processes will enable effective multi-agency communication to continue in the event of technical failures. Refer to Fire control room equipment failure for further information.

Strategic Actions

Tactical Actions