Whether pre-planned or spontaneous, the tactical policing of major events is invariably complicated by the comparatively small footprint given the overall headcount, sometimes running into tens of thousands of people. With public safety being paramount, it is vital that voice, data and video communications – arguably the most critical strategic tool – are not compromised.
David Savage, Excelerate founder and CEO, examines how all personnel can achieve failsafe connectivity at major events in order to guarantee the crucially important levels of situational awareness and resilience needed for voice, video and data communications.
Over the past 20 years, the one thing we’ve heard time and again from our customers is how their biggest challenge is being able to communicate effectively when terrestrial infrastructure is non-existent, or where data networks are severely compromised.
From a communications perspective, major events pose many of the same challenges as those experienced during an incident, with the added challenge, all too often, of the local network infrastructure being heavily congested. Of course, most of us have been to sporting venues, music festivals or outdoor New Year’s Eve events where making a call or even trying to upload something to social media has proved near impossible. At its worst, it’s an inconvenience, but for police forces in these settings, uninterruptible connectivity is business critical.
Keeping connected at a pre-planned event
New technologies are available today that can circumvent the challenges that for too long have plagued first responders at events, including the use of satellite, temporary and portable Wi-Fi hotspots, private LTE networks and, importantly, the ability today to bond cellular and satellite connectivity to guarantee zero outage. Resilience is today’s watchword when it comes to connectivity.
Not only is this keeping police personnel, first responders and the public safe at pre-planned events, but it’s improving and streamlining operations on the ground. For instance, the gathering of data from facial recognition of persons of interest (POI) at, say, a football match, as occurred during the disturbance at the UEFA Euro final at Wembley in July 2021. And the same applies in other settings, such as concerts, or more spontaneous events like a public protest where real-time information is vital to safety and the identification of problems and threats.
The beauty of a pre-planned event, on the other hand, is that situations and threats can be planned for and prepared in advance. And much of that planning nowadays lies around how to combat the unexpected, including how to identify potential terror threats. In recent years, technology to assist this process has come on leaps and bounds.
Thames Valley Police, with whom we work closely, is the largest non-metropolitan force in England and Wales, covering 2,200 square miles and three counties – Buckinghamshire, Berkshire and Oxfordshire. For too long the Force had long experienced major challenges with maintaining connectivity at large events in locations where terrestrial coverage was poor, intermittent or simply non-existent, all of which severely hampered the ability to communicate on the ground and back to HQ. So much so that they often resorted to using microwave links to enable WiFi and 4G devices, but which failed to prove reliable enough, forcing them to tether off their mobile devices, all of which not only compromised operational capacity but degraded situational awareness.
Thankfully this has been remedied, and the force, which serves a population of more than 2.34 million, now has available fast, robust, and reliable connectivity for the extended team at any event, with the ability at the touch of a button to re-prioritise connection speeds and bandwidth for senior leadership down to, for instance, the more urgent needs of officers on the ground. Meanwhile, an instantly deployable ‘tool kit’ for training purposes enables them to recreate policing conditions on the ground so that personnel can be prepared for any eventuality within minutes of arriving at any event or incident.
Unfortunately, these solutions are not yet as widely deployed as they could be, which, given the critical nature of most operations, puts extra pressure on already stretched officers and commanders.
Over two decades of serving first responders here in the UK and abroad, much of what we have developed at Excelerate Technology has evolved in response to our involvement in helping our customers manage resilience and operational situational awareness at major events, such as the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay in 2021, the Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor in 2010 and the NATO Summit at the same venue in 2014.
The NATO summit brought very complex challenges, not least that of cyber security threats where they needed resilience and the rapid deployment of situational awareness products, such as live streaming of body worn cameras to augment local CCTV and offer real time 360 visibility.
The whole operation involved a multi-agency deployment to manage heads of state moving in and out of South Wales on a daily basis, from urban and rural geographical locations, and there was the added potential of city centre protests in Cardiff to manage and control. Not only did this have to rely upon two mobile vehicles combining cellular and satellite communications, and six strategic locations across the UK with a resilient fixed satellite backhaul to maintain communications contingency and flexibility, but also in city centre areas where no CCTV was present, we deployed cameras that remotely and autonomously crawled up lampposts to enable a live streaming of video footage.
Greater challenge of connectivity at spontaneous incidents
A spontaneous event or incident throws up different challenges. By their nature, for all the world-class preparedness and training, first responders cannot prepare as effectively as is possible with planned events. Marauding terror attacks (MTA) for instance, are fast moving. Sadly, we are witnessing more of these in recent years with cars being used as weapons, or assailants moving through crowds with knives. You need only to look at the tragedies of the 7/7 bombings, and more recently the Borough Market and Westminster attacks, and the Manchester Arena Bombing in 2017, to realise that more must be done to help first responders to operate effectively.
All this points to the necessity for mobility to be underpinned by technology to track where terrorists have already been, respond to where they were at the time, and anticipate where they might go next.
In these situations, CCTV and mounted cameras are crucial, so too facial recognition and 360° viewing capabilities, all of which, when shared across the operational network, can help paint a clearer picture of the situation more quickly. This is even more crucial given first responders are increasingly relying upon cloud-based applications for situational awareness through connected devices such as tablets and smart phones when in the field. Image capture for instance is reliant on the instantaneous streaming of the visual data. Again, uninterrupted data connectivity is vital to this, underpinning the importance of robust, and often bonded satellite and cellular connectivity.
Furthermore, it is now possible to stream in HD from CCTV cameras by installing dual sim capability and a long-range antenna. But of course, this requires additional bandwidth, as well as resilience to guarantee a connection from any urban, or rural, location.
The simple distinction of pre-planned and spontaneous brings with it wholly different challenges and responses. However, what is certain across both forms is the necessity of a robust connectivity infrastructure, perhaps by blending cellular and satellite communications for greater efficiency and resilience.
Reliable communications are fundamental in forming emergency preparedness and situational awareness and cannot be side-lined. It should be intrinsic to operations so that personnel can focus on fulfilling their roles effectively without worrying about the technology.
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This article is also published on Police Professional.