The Challenge

Following the huge increase in terrorist threats faced by the UK, the US and other countries, the  UK ambulance service assessed how best it could respond to major emergencies, such as CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear) attacks as well as USAR (Urban Search and Rescue) incidents.

In response the UK Department of Health and the Ambulance Service developed the national HART (Hazardous Area Response Team) programme. The programme was designed to support paramedics operating inside the ‘Hot Zone’, the inner cordon of major incidents (something the ambulance service was not previously equipped to do).

The UK Ambulance Service’s national HART programme provides one of the best demonstrations of the ways in which an integrated solutions approach to advanced command communications will change radically the way emergency incidents will be managed in the future. The objective is to create a joined up digital incident ground, across which all emergency services can share a Common Operational Picture, thereby improving the effectiveness of response and saving lives.

To support the programme the HART project developed a number of specialist MIRVs (Mobile Incident Response Vehicles) which operate in sets of three (the Forward Command Unit, plus a reconnaissance unit and an equipment carrier).  In total there will be fifteen teams deployed within England and two within Scotland.  The Forward Command Units feature Excelerate Technology’s advanced command, communications, data, video and coordination technologies for supporting paramedics in high-risk, high-pressure situations, such as CBRN attacks and rescuing casualties alongside fire and rescue and police service personnel in collapsed buildings and tunnels.

The Forward Command Vehicles’ integrated communications, data, voice and video technologies were specifically prototyped, developed and tested for over a year by Excelerate in collaboration with the Department of Health and the Ambulance Service, to ensure the technologies used matched their exact requirements. This process was designed to explore options for providing command teams with the optimum combination of rapidly deployable communications, data access and live video infrastructure where none previously exists (or if existing infrastructure has been compromised and requires additional resilience).

Internal vehicle layout and positioning of screens, communications systems and computers were all trialled to achieve the best possible use of space for command vehicle crews and commanders working under high pressure.

Where required, technology was specifically designed and integrated for operational requirements, such as the PBX intercom solution and the digital dashboard for simple yet effective communications and monitoring of on-board systems.

Satellite broadband is one of the key technologies at the heart of this approach to improving single and multi-agency emergency management. It is the only effective type of solution available for delivering enough guaranteed bandwidth anywhere to run an increasing number of voice, data and video applications.

RapidNet Private GSM is also available for maintaining communications with field-based personnel when service from the main network providers is unavailable. The solution provides full, stand alone backup GSM telecoms capacity, thereby eliminating the risk of a repetition of the communications problems experienced following the 7/7 bombings in London, when networks overloaded by public usage collapsed. Private GSM enables secure and private access away from normal terrestrial networks, eliminating problems caused by congestion, security breaches and unavailability. For added resilience the HART units also have 3G Failover, to cover any eventuality should any of the systems fail.

When all three MIRVs from each HART team are positioned together they can create a wireless MESH network for enhanced communications, which can then be extended with Excelerate’s wireless nodes, giving field personnel the ability to operate using ruggedised laptops and other wireless devices within a secure area.

COFDM body-worn cameras can also be deployed by HART personnel, allowing real time, on-the-spot video streams of an incident (even within building collapses and tunnel and underground incidents) to be viewed by commanders in the Forward Command Vehicle and on hand-held devices, as well as being streamed back to the control room via satellite broadband.

Driving the acquisition of all this new technology have been command objectives such as the clearly identified need for emergency service personnel to receive maximum command and communications support for doing their life saving work efficiently, for personnel to be deployed using safe systems of work, and for the establishment and sharing of a Common Operational Picture across a joined-up, digital incident ground, for both single and multi-agency incidents (see adjacent graphic).

With this powerful combination of communications, data, video and incident management technologies, HART crews around the UK can be assured that they are at the cutting edge of advanced emergency management – worldwide.