How responders can reduce the risk of communications disruption during emergencies by using ResilienceDirect, HITS and Telecoms Sub-Groups.
Telecommunications are a fundamental enabler underpinning the effective response to any emergency. Resilient communications are able to absorb or mitigate the effects of a disruptive challenge. A disruptive challenge is an event or circumstances that disrupts normal life. These can be natural events such as flooding, or may have occurred through human intervention such as an electrical power failure or terrorist incident.
Elsewhere, we provide advice on how to set about enhancing the resilience of telecommunications you may currently use and information about additional resilient telecommunications capability such as HITS (the High Integrity Telecommunications System), ResilienceDirect and MTPAS (Mobile Telecoms Privileged Access Scheme).
Experience during a number of emergencies in the UK such as the BT plc tunnel fire in Manchester (April 2004), floods in Boscastle (August 2004) and Carlisle (January 2005), and the bombings in London (July 2005) all showed that communication systems could be disrupted in an emergency and that emergency planning needed to take that into account.
The National Risk Register identified a number of generic challenges to business continuity. Drawing on experience and risk assessment work we believe that these generic challenges, adapted as necessary to local circumstances, should be used as the framework for testing the resilience of responder communications.
ResilienceDirect is an online private ‘network’ which enables civil protection practitioners to work together – across geographical and organisational boundaries – during the preparation, response and recovery phases of an event or emergency.
The Civil Contingencies Act 2004 requires that emergency responders co operate and share information in order to efficiently and effectively prepare for, and respond to, emergencies and ensure that action is coordinated. ResilienceDirect helps organisations to fulfil these duties by supporting the adoption of common working practices, and ensuring that key information is readily and consistently available to users.
ResilienceDirect helps to facilitate multi-agency collaboration in many ways. Activities include:
- sharing emergency plans among Local Resilience Forum (LRF) members and others such as national/sub-national partner organisations and neighbouring LRFs
- maintaining awareness of forthcoming exercises, events and meetings, and accessing related documentation such as agendas and minutes
- sharing situation reports and briefings between local responders, to enable integrated management of events and consistent provision of information to the public
- communicating situation reports to lead government departments and/or COBR, facilitating national coordination/action in response to an incident if necessary
- gathering and reviewing comments on new policies or plans before publication, and collating lessons learned following events
- managing contact information to ensure a single, up-to-date version of distribution lists
- issuing news and guidance from central government to local responders via the Resilience Gateway
How does it work?
ResilienceDirect is a web-based service built on a proven resilient and secure platform. It is accredited to hold electronic documents with a protective marking of restricted (as defined in the Security Policy Framework) – a facility that many user organisations do not otherwise have. ResilienceDirect is accessible via the standard internet, via accredited networks used by the public sector (eg GSi and PNN), and via the High Integrity Telecommunications System (HITS), further increasing the resilience of the tool.
Who can access ResilienceDirect?
ResilienceDirect is available for use by all Category 1 and 2 Responders (as defined by the Civil Contingencies Act 2004), government departments and agencies, and other key organisations in the UK resilience community.
Prospective users should contact the ResilienceDirect team on ResilienceDirect@cabinetoffice.gov.uk. Before accessing ResilienceDirect, organisations are required to sign a Connection Agreement to ensure the continued integrity of the service.
To get a ResilienceDirect account, or for support with your existing account, contact your local administrator.
High Integrity Telecommunications System (HITS)
‘The High Integrity Telecommunications System (HITS) provides a resilient and secure communications backbone between Strategic Co-ordinating Centres in police force areas in England and Wales, and central government crisis management facilities. Devolved administration sites in Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast are also connected to the HITS network. It is designed to remain available in the face of a complete or partial failure of the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN).
The system is delivered as a managed service by Airbus Defence and Space through a parent contract with The Ministry of Defence. It is accredited to handle voice and data communications up to official level. HITS resilience is delivered through the combination of a satellite pathway using reserved airtime on the military SKYNET 5 constellation, and landline connectivity independent of the commercial PSTN.
While HITS mobile terminals (the ‘transportables’) were withdrawn from service in 2013, new improvements aimed at increasing ease of access to, and thus usability of, the network will be announced before the end of 2016. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Privilege access schemes
Privilege access schemes are limited to those with a role to play in an emergency response. The schemes covered in this section are:
- privileged access to mobile telephone networks
- privileged access to the fixed-line telephone system
- access by those outside the emergency services to use Airwave
Privilege access schemes will often form part of an organisation’s arrangements to enhance the resilience of their telecommunications. However, some of the current schemes, notably access to mobile public telecommunications infrastructures, have acquired a level of importance that far exceeds their utility. Others, such as Airwave, are only really suitable as an everyday solution for those organisations with the need to be in contact with the emergency services and are familiar with the protocols applicable to using private mobile radios.
Mobile Telecommunications Privileged Access Scheme (MTPAS)
What is MTPAS and how does it work?
MTPAS was launched by the Civil Contingencies Secretariat (CCS) in September 2009. Like its forerunner, the ACCOLC scheme, it is intended to preserve access to mobile networks by those engaged in an emergency response when network capacity is under pressure.
Public cellular mobile telephony has played an important part in enabling communications during the response to recent emergencies, but mobile networks can become overwhelmed by a high concentration of calls that often occur immediately after a major incident.
Privileged access is achieved by the installation of a special SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) card in the telephone handset. These special SIMs are only available to entitled users within the responder community and not to members of the public. Privileged access SIMs are provided by the networks to their customers without additional cost.
Eligibility for MTPAS
Eligibility is restricted to organisations that have a part to play in responding to, or recovering from, an emergency as defined in the Civil Contingencies Act 2004. Primarily these are:
- Category 1 and 2 responder organisations
- partners of Category 1 responders who have a requirement to be in communication with Category 1 responders when performing a front line role in the response phase of an emergency, including the voluntary sector
- central government departments
- devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland
Within an eligible organisation, MTPAS will only be available to staff designated as having an operational role at the scene of a major incident or emergency, or be required to directly support those with an operational role at the scene of an incident at a tactical or strategic level.
The majority of organisations are sponsored on MTPAS by Telecommunications Sub Groups (TSGs) which operate under the Local Resilience Forum (LRF) structure. The TSGs fully co-ordinate the scheme for their local resilience areas. Some responder organisations work on a national rather than a local basis and these will be sponsored by central government departments. The devolved administrations assess eligibility and provide sponsorship for their responders groups.
The arrangements for activation of MTPAS
At the onset of an emergency response, when a Strategic Co-ordinating Group (SCG) has been established, the Police Gold Commander, who is likely to be in charge of the response, will use an agreed protocol to notify all mobile network operators that a major incident has been declared and request that call traffic levels are monitored. If networks become congested, the network operators are asked to consider invoking MTPAS to give emergency responders a much higher likelihood of being able to make a call than other customers.
Queries relating to MTPAS may be sent to MTPAS@cabinet-office.x.gsi.gov.uk
The Government Telephone Preference Scheme (GTPS)
The history of privileged access to the fixed networks
The GTPAS was established in the late 1950s when there was a threat of nuclear war destroying significant parts of the national infrastructure. The scheme was designed to conserve power and provide assured access to telephony for essential users during an emergency. At such times there may be a heavy load placed on the public telephone network, or the network itself may be damaged.
GTPS is provided and managed on a national basis by BT plc, Cable and Wireless plc, and, in the Hull area, by Kingston Communications. In view of the gradual removal of the old networks over which the scheme works, no new registrations for GTPS are being accepted.
The existing GTPS
Although the 3 providers have implemented this scheme in slightly different ways, when activated the majority of unregistered customers will lose access to the ‘dial tone’ preventing them from making out-going calls (including 999 / 112). Only registered users will be able to make calls from the telephone connected to a registered line. All customers will still be able to still receive calls, however.
Largely as a result of the implications of restricting public access to the fixed networks during an emergency (with at least 90% of lines connected to an exchange not permitting outgoing calls), the scheme has been used very rarely. For this reason, it would be unwise for those responders registered for GTPS to rely on its activation as a cornerstone for providing resilient telecommunications.
Introduction to Airwave
Airwave is the secure and resilient mobile telecommunications system for the police, ambulance and fire and rescue services. While primarily for their use, the system is also available to organisations with whom the emergency services need to communicate in responding to emergencies.
The radio spectrum used by Airwave is allocated for use by the emergency services and public safety users which largely embraces Category 1 and 2 responders as defined by the Civil Contingencies Act (2004). As a consequence, Airwave is restricted to a closed community of responders.
Access for those outside the emergency services
Access to Airwave is managed by [Ofcom](http://www.ofcom.org.uk/, the telecommunications regulator. Organisations that are entitled to take up Airwave are contained on the Sharer’s List (pdf). You can find guidance on making an application to become a Shareron the Ofcom website.
Organisations wishing to join the Sharers’ List must:
- respond to emergencies
- be involved in emergency situations reasonably frequently
- be civilian, or required to respond to civilian emergencies
- require interaction with those who respond to emergencies
All local authority emergency planning units were approved for inclusion on the Sharers’ List through a group application made on their behalf by Cabinet Office in 2010. Local authority emergency planning units need only to apply for a TEA2 user sub-licence (FULL) which allows use of the TETRA Encryption Algorithm (TEA2), to procure Airwave terminals and network access.
The Multi Agency Airwave User Group represents the non-blue light Airwave users and is open to all public safety organisations either using Airwave or interested in taking up the service.
To ensure that the advantages of having a common radio platform for responders were fully realised, the Civil Contingencies Secretariat worked with the former Multi-Agency Interoperability Programme within the National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA) to develop guidance for the use of the Airwave system.
Since 2011, all Local Resilience Forums (LRFs) have identified a multi-agency Airwave Senior Responsible Officer (SRO) to champion development of a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for local Airwave use across the responder community.
Information and data sharing - emergency preparedness
Sharing information is at the heart of emergency planning. It has a direct impact on members of the community, ensuring that they are put in touch with and contacted by the organisations and public bodies that can help them through traumatic events.
Events over recent years have raised awareness of information and data sharing amongst a variety of stakeholders, and have prompted further thought and queries on wider issues outside the immediate emergency planning, response and recovery phases.
The issues touch on a variety of types of sharing:
- personal data
- emergency plans
- commercial or sensitive data, and all for a variety of planning, response and recovery purposes
“Information sharing” here generally refers to any information that is non-personal. This includes plans, schematics, commercial or business data amongst others.
“Data sharing” here generally refers to information that can be used to identify a living individual, and usually comes under the remit of the Data Protection Act 1998.
Appropriate information sharing lies at the heart of effective co-operation. Information sharing need not be formal and should happen as part of everyday co-operation.
Sharing information under the CC Act
Under the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 (CC Act), Category 1 and 2 responders have a duty to share information with other Category 1 and 2 responders. This is fundamental to their ability to fulfil the range of other civil protection duties under the act, including emergency planning, risk assessment and business continuity management. The statutory guidance on the CC Act also encourages information sharing between responders. In most instances, information will pass freely between Category 1 and 2 responders, as part of a more general process of dialogue and co-operation. But there are still some instances in which the supply of information will be more controlled, and hence a formal request for information may be appropriate. It should be noted that the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 does not contradict the Data Protection Act 1998.
Security classified information
Not all information can be shared, and the Civil Contingencies Act allows exceptions from the supply of some sensitive information. There are broadly 4 kinds of sensitive information:
- information prejudicial to national security
- information prejudicial to public safety
- commercially sensitive information
- personal information
Of course, there are different degrees of sensitive information. The guidance to accompany the Act, Emergency Preparedness, clearly states that some sensitive information may be suitable for some audiences but not others. The Act also offers safeguards that make clear that sensitive information can still be shared between Category 1 and 2 responders for emergency planning purposes – the organisation providing the information can specify that the information may only be used for the purpose for which it was requested.
There are other pieces of legislation which affect the use of information that responders should also be aware of, such as the Data Protection Act, the Freedom of Information Act (FoI) 2000, and the Environmental Information Regulations (EIR) 2004. No-one has an unqualified right to obtain information under either the FoI Act or EIR. There are limitations on releasing information under FoI legislation known as ‘exemptions’. These are detailed at the Ministry of Justice website. Likewise, there are similar limitations on the release of information under the EIR. Exemptions under EIR can be found at the Defra website. Further details on both of these can be found via the links under the next heading.
Data Protection and sharing
The Data Protection Act and personal data
As explained above, information sharing primarily relates to information that is not personal. The focus of the Data Protection Act 1998 is on personal data. The Act offers definitions of two types of data; personal data and sensitive personal data.
Personal data is defined as data relating to a living individual who can be identified from the data or from those data and other information which is in the possession of (or is likely to come into the possession of) the data controller. Sensitive personal data is defined as data relating to a person’s ethnic origins, political opinions, religious beliefs, trade union membership, health, sexual life and criminal history. Full definitions of both can be found in the Data Protection Act 1998. The Cabinet Office published Data Protection and Sharing – Guidance for Emergency Planners and Responders which explains clearly and in an understandable way how the DP Act affects emergency preparedness and response. Again, it should be noted that the Data Protection Act 1998 does not contradict the Civil Contingencies Act 2004.
A number of enabling conditions must be met by organisations who wish to share data about any living individual, if the information could be used to identify that individual. Explanations of the conditions that are required can be found in both the Data Protection Act 1998 legislation and the Cabinet Office guidance noted above.
Briefly, the conditions that must be met include the following:
- a legal basis to share the information (either express powers, implied powers or common law)
- ensuring that the processing of the data is fair to the individual
- meet one of 6 conditions to process personal data under Schedule 2 of the Data Protection Act 1998
- meet one of a number of further conditions to process sensitive personal data under Schedule 3 of the Data Protection Act 1998
The Data Protection Act 1998 provides the framework within which personal data sharing should always take place, whether in emergency situations or ‘peacetime’ normal business. The important precursors to sharing data rest with the Data Protection Principles. Chapter 2 of the Cabinet Office guidance describes these principles, and, once understood, this framework is transparent and relatively straightforward to apply. Chapter 3 of the Cabinet Office guidance explains that legal power for Category 1 and 2 responders to share data is found under the Civil Contingencies Act. The chapter then goes on to explain how the Civil Contingencies Act interacts with the Data Protection Act.
There are other pieces of legislation and law that affect the ability to share data. These include the Human Rights Act 1998 and the common law duty of confidentiality.
Useful documents and links
If you have any queries on the application or interpretation of either the Civil Contingencies Act or the Data Protection Act in an emergency planning, response and recovery context that are not answered by the guidance signposted here, please let us know.
- Data Protection and Sharing in Emergencies - 2 page summary for Category 1 and 2 Responders
- Data Protection and Sharing - Guidance for Emergency Planners and Responders
- Ministry of Justice – legal advice and jargon buster
- The Information Commissioners Office
- The Information Commissioners Office – Sharing Personal Information (pdf)
- The government’s report into the lessons from the 7 July attacks
- Emergency Preparedness document
- Ministry of Justice website
- legislation.gov.uk, provided by The National Archives - provides access to the official home of UK legislation covering all jurisdictions (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland).
- Local Government Association (LGA) website - The LGA promotes the interests of English and Welsh local authorities.
- DECC - information on the energy sector
- The Freedom of Information Act 2000
- The Environmental Information Regulations 2004
- The Data Protection Act 1998 on the OPSI website
Public emergency alerts
Why are public emergency alerts important?
Public alerting is quickly letting people know that something is wrong, this could be any type of emergency that affects them. It is vital that information is given to the public as quickly as possible so that they can take the necessary action to keep themselves and their families safe. This action might involve evacuation, taking shelter, or simply keeping a watching brief on the situation.
Different people have different preferences and needs when it comes to receiving important information. Because of this it is vital that local responders and the government can communicate in a number of different ways that will reach as many people as possible.
Public Emergency Alerts form part of the wider work on warning and informing the public as one of the statutory duties of category 1 emergency responders. More detail can be found in the warning and informing section. This work forms part of the resilient telecommunications programme which aims to provide resilient communications in order to enable effective response to and recovery from an emergency.
There are a range of ways in which the public are currently alerted to emergencies. However, these could be improved (eg the speed of dissemination of information following the onset of an emergency could be quicker).
The Strategic Defence Security Review published in 2010 outlines the government’s commitment to evaluate the options for improving public emergency alerting in the UK.
In accordance with this mandate the Civil Contingencies Secretariat (CCS) have been looking at a range of options for improving the capabilities available to local responders to get emergency alerts out to members of the public in the quickest, most effective way.
Potential options for improving Public Emergency Alerting
To enable differing alerting methods to be compared the CCS commissioned the Defence Science Technology Laboratory to conduct a review of academic literature to determine what makes an effective alert system. A summary document for emergency responders has been produced. This research identified criteria that an alerting system could be assessed against and these were refined following consultation with responders to produce the following:
|Speed||The rate at which the warning is delivered to the target audience|
|Targeted||The extent to which the alert is geographically targeted to individuals who need to receive it, and does not reach recipients who do not need it|
|Automatic registration||The system will not require active registration but will automatically sign people up|
|Intrusive||When activated the alert will interrupt the recipient’s current activity|
|Automated operation||The potential for the alert system to switch from normal mode to alert mode without the need for manual intervention|
|Inclusivity||The method should not exclude people from receiving a message due to the technology used or their individual needs for receiving messages|
|Support for additional languages||The potential for alert messages to be sent in additional languages|
|Format||The variety of mediums used to present information|
|Comprehension||The ease at which the message is interpreted by the recipient|
|Receipting||Ascertaining whether the message is received by the recipient|
|Security and Resilience||The extent to which the system could be appropriately accessed and is available for use|
Use of landlines
The Environment Agency currently operate the Floodline Warnings Direct System which sends alerts direct to people’s landlines to notify them if they are imminent risk of flooding. One potential improvement for Public Emergency Alerting could be to extend this system to use it for a range of different risks other than flooding.
A consultation in 2012 asked Local Resilience Forums (LRFs) to identify risks from their community risk registers where this alerting capability might benefit the response. The conclusions of this consultation identified that high-hazard areas such as major petrochemical or civil nuclear installations and areas at risk of reservoir inundation would be likely candidates.
In order to test how appropriate the Floodline Warnings Direct system would be to issue similar alerts for other types of emergencies such as those identified in the consultation, a live trial was conducted on 1 February 2012. The objectives of this trial were to:
- determine the appropriateness of using the Extended Floodline Warnings Direct (EFWD) approach to areas and risks beyond flooding
- identify the level of change needed to the existing system used for flooding purposes
- engage a sample of users through the trial and deliver test alert messages to them
- produce a consultation pack, on which the views of other Local Resilience Forums could be established
For further information and findings from the trial please read the final Extended Floodline Warnings Direct project report.
Use of mobiles
The government is looking at how the Cell Broadcast Service (CBS) could be used as a warning and informing capability. Cell Broadcast is the transmission (or more precisely broadcast) of a text-type message to all handsets within a defined geographic area. CCS are currently investigating to see how this system might be used to alert people within a specified area in the event of an emergency.
The soaring popularity of social media in recent years makes this another potential channel to get important information out to the public in the event of an emergency.
In order to better understand how responders can most effectively use Social Media to communicate with the public in an emergency CCS commissioned the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory to produce an accessible guide for emergency responders entitled Smart Tips for Category 1 Responders using Social Media in Emergency Management.
Established alerting methods
While it is important to consider new emerging technologies when exploring potential improvements to UK alerting, CCS is also keen that the more traditional alerting methods currently employed such as sirens, traditional media, door knocking and loudhailers are not discarded. The aim of this work is to provide local responders with a toolkit of alerting capabilities that can then be tailored and used however best fits the local need, not to replace any current alerting capabilities.
Local Resilience Forum feedback
Following the conclusion of the EFWD trial (detailed above), CCS conducted a series of workshops with 5 LRFs in England and with emergency planners in Wales and Scotland. The aims of this work were to:
- understand what alerting capabilities are currently used in different areas and the rationale for this
- understand views from responders on any gaps in alerting and how these might potentially be addressed with other capabilities
- test the findings of the trial conducted into extending the use of the Environment Agency’s Floodline Warnings Direct service to warn the public about risks other than flooding
- validate the findings of the Defence Science Technology Laboratory research study ‘What makes an effective alert system’
For further information on any of this work please contact CellBroadcast@cabinet-office.x.gsi.gov.uk
Local Resilience Forum Telecommunications Sub-Groups
For many areas, the focus for local resilience enhancing work remains the Telecommunications Sub Group (TSG). The groups will bring together representatives from statutory responder bodies (Category 1 and 2 Responders under the Civil Contingencies Act 2004) and partner organisations creating a forum for both contingency planning and information technology expertise.
Groups have developed local plans that provide a focus for all communications arrangements that support a response to an emergency. Plans should go beyond a communications directory and provide a source of reference for all responder organisations enabling interoperability arrangements to be clearly understood. The plan should also contain contact details for key local telecommunications service providers enabling liaison with industry. At their inception, TSGs were given advice on how to draw up a plan to enhance the resilience of local responders’ communications of and their partners. The guidance suggested that the plan should contain:
- an assessment to identify key local responders and resilience partners, their communication requirements and their arrangements for telecommunications
- a ‘gap analysis’ to identify shortfalls in the resilience of the current arrangements for telecommunications when viewed against the requirement for communication and the local risks to telecommunications
- steps to be taken to enhance the resilience of telecommunications and a timetable for undertaking any remedial actions
- arrangements for liaising with neighbouring LRF areas
- an exercise programme for resilient telecommunications
While TSGs have so far operated chiefly as planning forums, they also have a valuable role to play in support of the Strategic Co-ordinating Group, providing a technical and advisory resource and promoting the timely application of the local telecommunications plan. The TSG will hold contact details for telecommunications service providers and be able to liaise with industry as required.
Annual national symposium
As part of its strategy of engagement with the local sub groups, the Civil Contingencies Secretariat organises (with the support of British APCO) an annual event to bring together TSG Chairs from across England and Wales.
The 2012 Symposium was held at Conference Aston, Birmingham on 7 November and saw close to 100 delegates from the public sector, central government and the communications industry gather to discuss progress on current resilient communications work at both national programme and local planning levels.
View the report on feedback from the event published in December 2012.
Published: 20 February 2013
Updated: 7 January 2016
- Updated the ResilienceDirect email
- Updated to show that transportable terminals have been withdrawn from service.
- First published.