Select committee says action needed now to address risks in emergency communication switchover

A new Public Accounts Committee report has warned that the target date to replace the radio system used by emergency services is unlikely to be met.

In a their report, the Committee concludes the Emergency Services Network (ESN), which will replace the current Airwave system, “may require more testing and assurance work than the current December 2019 delivery date seems to allow for”.

However, the Committee warns the Home Office has not budgeted for an extended transition period nor put in place detailed contingency arrangements to manage this risk.

ESN, a system not yet in use nationwide anywhere in the world, will be used by the 105 police, fire and ambulance services in Great Britain. The Government expects it to save money by sharing EE’s existing commercial 4G network.

Work is also ongoing to expand coverage of the EE network in remote areas and the London Underground but it is not clear whether this will include plans for other underground systems in the UK, says the Committee.

It urges the Home Office to put in place adequate independent testing of the ESN technology “to make sure it works under pressure in a live environment” and also address the “real security concerns” about communications on the London Underground and other underground systems.

Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the PAC, said: “The stakes in this programme are extremely high.

“It is absolutely right that emergency services will not commit to using ESN in potentially life-or-death situations until they are convinced it works.

“Questions continue to hang over the technology, not least how it will operate on underground rail systems in London and elsewhere—high-risk environments that present unique challenges in emergencies.

“These must be addressed urgently.”

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