Fire Service IT ‘Sucks And Isn’t Getting Better Fast’

Tom Brewster is TechWeek Europe's Security Correspondent. He has also been named BT Information Security Journalist of the Year in 2012 and 2013.

Chief fire officer at Cambridgeshire Fire & Rescue Services explains the many problems with IT across the emergency service

Unions that hate change, a lack of definite strategy, no effective data sharing platform and millions of taxpayers’ money wasted are just some of the things that make fire service IT something of a nightmare.

That’s according to Graham Stagg, chief fire officer at Cambridgeshire Fire & Rescue Services, who admitted to TechWeekEurope that the government and those running fire service IT systems had to “build confidence again”. This is not an easy task, when cuts are being imposed and firefighters are striking over pensions.

No money, loads of problems

Fire Engine - Shutterstock - © Nando Machado“Where the money is going to come from I don’t know,” Stagg added, speaking at an IBM customer event in Twickenham yesterday.

One big problem is that those at the top do not have a business mindset, they are top quality fire and rescue workers but do not recognise the value of IT, according to Stagg.

This has meant data sharing has not happened effectively, although there is now some movement towards defining data standards so it can move across departments.

“We talk about sharing data but we have no idea about how we’re going to achieve that,” he added.

The calamitous FireControl project, which was supposed to merge control rooms of 46 local fire and rescue authorities into a network of nine regional control centres based on a single national computer platform, has wasted £482 million and, according to Stagg, is not currently being used in any capacity.

Fire service wasting taxpayers’ money

“The more we seem to spend on ICT, the less efficient we seem to become because we don’t have a strategy, we don’t have common purpose, we don’t really have direction or a joined up idea of where we’re going,” Stagg added.

He wants to see greater use of analytics to ensure greater prevention of fires, and better analysis in general to look into the performance of different services, but getting things done quickly in the public sector is notoriously slow.

“We have a government problem as well,” Stagg added. “When you get into the politics of fire services it is about local politics… it’s not about transforming the businesses, joining them together and doing things more effectively with our data, cutting costs and being more efficient. It’s not about that for politicians.”

The “Churchillian” unions have a stubbornness that also holds up change, “whether positive or otherwise”, he added.

There is some optimism, as Stagg and his colleagues plan to use cloud technologies for better collaboration and joining up of data.

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