Technology creates many shortcuts in our lives, making things more enjoyable and working more efficiently; however, in times of crisis the right tech to deploy for a rapid response becomes imperative. Increasingly, fire services are under pressure to manage relationships better and more efficiently with their retained (on-call) staff, particularly as technology presents more challenges, more interference, but also potentially more opportunities.
On average a retained firefighter can expect to be called out two or three times a week. RDS crew members often have other occupations and outside pressures, but when the call comes to respond to an emergency they need to drop whatever they’re doing and become part of the team.
The fire service is not alone in needing to flex and stretch according to the emergency. The First Aid Nursing Yeomanry, based in London, is a charity of 150 professionally trained female volunteers, who need to rapidly deploy staff to operations rooms and incident lines in the event of a crisis. It acts as a crucial cog in the resilience measures of the capital’s civil and military authorities – such as the City of London Police, Ministry of Defence and the London Local Authorities’ Panel.
Members of the Corps are typically from a nursing environment. They are on standby 24/7, 365 days a year. Communicating quickly with volunteers and getting them on-site rapidly is challenging as many members are in full-time roles. Does this sound familiar?
They too used an inefficient combination of pagers, WhatsApp, text messages and calls to reach their retained team for much-needed surge relief in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire, the terrorist attacks around London Bridge and, most recently, over 1,000 days of support to nine organisations in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
In January 2021, they adopted a UK innovation called CallMy Alert.
CallMy (www.callmy.com) works with civilian, medical and military emergency organisations in providing technology alerts to support recovery and safety in challenging and emergency situations. The system allows organisations to reach all recipients immediately, regardless of where they were, what they were doing or an individual’s technological know-how.
Fire and forget
How stations communicate to their on-call personnel can vary from region to region. Most services use pagers and calls to alert retained on-call staff to respond to the station in an emergency call situation. The mobilising system is set up to show that the signal has been sent and received at the station. Often that is the extent of the activity. This ‘fire and forget’ approach can be problematic as the service has no idea if the message has been received by personnel on the ground and they get no data back to indicate who is responding. The First Aid corps was in a similar situation.
Given the nature of some of the jobs of the Corps volunteers, phones were often turned to silent, which is a problem when an important emergency alert needs to get through. One of the appeals of CallMy Alert for the Corps was its ability to override the silent mode, should it need to.
Once it adopted CallMy Alert, the Corps were able to:
- Request acknowledgement of the messages so that the number of recipients can be monitored
- Override devices that are set to silent or DND – vital during out-of-hours situations
- Repeat message notifications until the user has responded in the manner requested
For the fire service, the biggest issue is that phones are often set to silent and message notifications are missed – especially at night. If personal devices are used, messages are also delivered into inboxes with personal messages – meaning there is a chance they can be missed. WhatsApp, while great for socializing, is not an effective option during a crisis. It can be silenced, deleted, turned off, and crucial information can get lost in a stream of messages from friends and family.
Pagers, a bedrock for so many years, are known to fail. Pagers rely on strength of signal which can be affected by the weather. As many are run via RDF signals, geography and terrain can also disrupt signals. Crucially, it is another piece of kit people need to have on their persons, so, despite best intentions, can be forgotten or mislaid.
The Operations Team for the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry found it useful to see how quickly members were able to access the messages via a CallMy management portal (accessed via computer, tablet or phone), which they were unable to do previously without scrolling through a thousand WhatsApp messages. The Portal also includes message response details and the ability to delete messages to remove them from end-user devices – a useful feature to maintain security and information control.
Fire service trial
Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service have been trialling the CallMy Alert for communicating with its on-call team. The application allows Control Rooms to receive information back on who has opened the messages and any responses. Messages can also be geographically fenced so users are only notified in specified areas. Distribution groups can be defined which relate to an officer’s skills or functions.
Getting the message through
CallMy Alert has enabled the Corps to move away from an inefficient patchwork of calls, pagers and SMS messages and cut across traditional communication problems to reach members at the time it matters most. The punch-through of the information, in such a busy information age, is crucial in being able to respond quickly to circumstances. For the fire service, you need to be sure, whatever the time, whatever the situation, important alerts can reach your vital RDS on-call team.
For more information, go to www.callmy.com