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Delayed or inaccurate mobilising of resources

Hazard Knowledge

The process of receiving emergency calls, identifying the correct incident location and type, and mobilising the most appropriate resources to the correct location can be delayed or inaccurate due to a number of reasons, including:

  • Misrouting of calls by call handling agencies
  • Failing to communicate effectively with the caller

Spike conditions and spate conditions may also present challenges for the prompt mobilising of resources to the correct location.

Misrouting of calls by call handling agencies

Calls received from call handling agencies may have been misdirected or misrouted, either to the wrong emergency service or the wrong fire and rescue service.

Once connected to a caller it can become apparent that the call has been misrouted by the call handling agency. The caller may actually require one of the other emergency services or a different fire and rescue service.

Misrouted calls occur where mobile handsets or exchange telephone coverage areas straddle two or more fire and rescue service boundaries. The call handling agency will nominate a fire and rescue service to receive the call. Mobile handsets automatically search for the strongest signal and connect to a base station; this may not necessarily be the nearest to the location of an incident being reported, especially near waterways.

Some mobile handsets provide enhanced location information when dialling 999 or 112, automatically using its built-in location capability using GPS or Wi-Fi information. This additional functionality does not affect the voice emergency call, which will be processed by fire control personnel as normal. It allows the call handling agency to compare the cell coverage from the network and, if geographically consistent, will replace the network location for any enhanced information service for emergency calls (EISEC) queries.

Emergency calls can be received direct from safety equipment, such as that fitted to vehicles (sometimes referred to as telematics), rather than being a voice call from a person requesting assistance.

Failing to communicate effectively with the caller

Emergency calls are received in various ways and sometimes under difficult situations. Apart from receiving calls from known agencies, calls from the public can be challenging if not handled effectively, which in turn can delay resources getting to an incident.

Initially, when dialling 999 or 112, callers will automatically be passed through to the call handling agency, who will then pass the call to the correct emergency service.

On connecting a call to a fire and rescue service, the call handling agency can give a verbal handover to fire control personnel, stating the origin details. Sometimes calls will be passed straight through with no verbal handover. The introduction of call line identification (CLI) or enhanced information service for emergency calls (EISEC), will give fire and rescue services information on the number and address of landline telephones or the nearest cell location for mobile phones. This information is very useful, but cannot be relied on as the exact location of an incident.

There may be communication barriers between the caller and fire control personnel, such as:

  • Poor call quality, including poor reception, cutting out or background noise
  • The caller not being able to hear, understand or communicate with fire control personnel
  • Fire control personnel not being able to hear or understand the caller

The call could have been made by a vehicle safety system, so there is no actual caller to communicate with.

Any of these factors can make it difficult for fire control personnel to manage and extract the correct details for resources to be mobilised, and will increase call handling times.

Failing to obtain and record relevant information could impact on the ability of personnel to carry out a dynamic risk assessment prior to arrival at an incident.

Spike conditions

Spike conditions occur with little or no prior warning. This is when a large number of calls to the same incident are received over a short time period, such as a car fire on the motorway or a large fire with plumes of smoke that can be seen over a wide area. These calls usually stop when emergency resources are in attendance.

Spate conditions

Spate conditions occur where a large number of calls are being received simultaneously for incidents not at the same address. Spate conditions can go on for periods of hours or even days.

Spate conditions can sometimes be planned for; an example of this would be severe weather forecasts, which may result in incidents such as flooding.

However, this may not always be the case, for example major incidents, such as terrorist attacks.

During spate conditions, calls can be batched together and handed over to locally established control points for prioritisation and action. If this occurs it is important that any actions are recorded in the same way as for the hard copy recording.