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01 Apr 2010
By Alex Stefan
Apr
01
2010

Look how far we’ve come

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Nearly 50 years ago the Post Master General (PMG) proposed the concept of a single telephone number to call for emergency help in Australia. Before then calling for emergency assistance meant dialling the number of your nearest emergency service, which caused havoc for those travelling or without the knack for remembering numbers – these were the days before mobiles and Google.

Half a decade on, dialling Triple Zero is something we take for granted (so much so that the number receives time-wasting requests for pizza and taxis and this dependence on telecommunications services extends to the Emergency Service Organisations themselves.

Recently Telstra released a white paper that outlined the challenges faced by our emergency services organisations (ESOs). The white paper also explores how our ESOs, such as police, fire, armed forces and ambulance services, could potentially use technology to help them cope with the challenges of the future.

A review of recent headlines in Australian newspapers shows the extent of the pressures our ESOs tackle day in and day out – and these aren’t going to abate with global climate change, terrorism, an ageing population, urban settlement and officer safety all putting increasing pressure on limited resources.

And there’s another challenge that our ESOs face – that is the mixed bag of communication platforms they use to communicate with each other, and in some cases, within the one organisation.

Right now Australia’s emergency service organisations use a range of different technologies such as mobile phones, two-way radios on various spectrums and wireless broadband to communicate with each other.

This current haywire of communication systems means our ESOs lack the co-ordination needed to provide a rapid and synchronised response – especially in large-scale disasters.

This is not a criticism. The communications systems our ESOs use have done a great job for years – decades in some cases – and work on a local level. It’s just that the public safety challenges we now face are more likely to be on a state-wide or nation-wide level.

Put simply our ESOs need 21st century communications to respond to the 21st century challenges they face.

One option Telstra put forward this week at the APCO (Emergency Services and Public Safety) annual conference in Melbourne was the need for a single, network-centric communications architecture for emergency management in Australia.

“A single, network-centric communications architecture” sounds a mouthful – but in reality it is the same concept that the PMG had back in 1961 when it suggested a single telephone number to call for emergency help in Australia.

We’re not suggesting that the technologies our ESOs now rely on are redundant – quite the opposite. We’re suggesting that they can be converged onto a homogenous network.

The glue that would make this happen is Internet Protocol (or IP). These IP networks would allow voice, including the disparate network technologies of UHF/VHF radio, to converge with video and data.

Converged, network-centric communications have the potential to offer seamless connection across diverse technology platforms and devices, promoting new ways to gather and share information.

In turn, this will foster a clearer and more timely assessment of incidents, as well as more effective command, control and co-ordination across our ESOs.

Of course this sort of technology shift won’t happen overnight – change of this nature and scale takes time, much like the introduction of triple zero back nearly 50 years ago. While the concept of Triple Zero dates back to 1961, it took another eight before it became a national reality. Similarly we don’t expect a single, network-centric communication system to be in place for several years to come.

Today calling Triple Zero in times of an emergency is second nature for Australians and it is an example of how foresight and simplicity can make a real and long term difference.

The time is right for us to talk about the changing needs of our ESOs and to explore the technology architecture needed to help our ESOs deliver the service that the Australian community has come to expect.

For more detail on what this architecture may look like download the white paper where I explore the topic some more.

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2 Comments

  1. Simon Mackay says:

    I have used the Triple Zero service (often on my mobile by dialling 112) at times to report situations that may not be treated as emergencies, like vandalism or abandoned vehicles and sometimes there have been situations where either the Emergency Call Centre or D24 have told me to report the matter to the local police station or would put me through to the local police station.

    An improvement that I would like to see with this is a number like Britain’s “100″ number or the the US’s “311″ number which is used for “non-emergency” traffic and is charged at a local call rate. Here, people can use this number to report situations like vandalism, disorder, abandoned vehicles and the like and the would be put through to the local police station. In some cases, they could be put through to Crimestoppers if it is intelligence concerning a crime. The number that could be used for this purpose could be the old “11444″ number which was used in the 1980s as a “police-direct” emergency number.

    Similarly, either the same number or a different number like the old 11440 number, again chargeable at a local-call rate, could be used for medical advice like access to the poisons information line, the “nurse-on-call” service or similar services.

    These numbers could be augmented by the availability of a “fixed price for untimed calls” tariff set for mobile phones rather than the regular timed-call tariff that applies to all calls including toll-free and local-call lines. This tariff could also be included in the “inclusive calls” component of a mobile-service plan. In some cases, there could be room for a “free-from-mobile” tariff available to selected services like Lifeline.

    With regards,

    Simon Mackay

  2. Alex Stefan says:

    Stuart

    In Australia there are a number of non emergency numbers. As an illustration poisions information can be obtained on 131 126. In addition, some States have 131 444 as the number for non-emergency contact with Police commonly known as the Police Assistance Line (PAL). This new telephone number replaced the 11444 number.

    An example of the PAL is the New South Wales Police Force. NSW Police advise that the types of crime you can report to PAL include:

    Break and Enter
    Fraud
    Motor Vehicle Theft
    Stealing
    Malicious Damage, including Graffiti
    Minor Motor Vehicle Accidents*
    Lost Property
    * No vehicles required towing, no one was injured, all parties exchanged details, no one was under the influence of alcohol or drugs

    You can find more information on the NSW Police Assistance Line at:

    http://www.police.nsw.gov.au/news/?a=6947

    I would encourage you to contact your State or Territoriy Police Service to find out more information on the services that are provided in your region and the available options to contact them for assistance.

    Regards

    Alex

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