£2.9bn police radio system 'faulty'

An 'interesting' development over Airwave in Scotland

Edinburgh Chief Constable rejects Airwave TETRA due to
"Very Serious Officer Safety Issues".

Dr Grahame Blackwell

Tue 14 Sep 2004


Key points
• System shelved over safety fears
• Catalogue of problems found
• Failings ‘would put officers at risk’

Key quote
"There are significant failings in the operational capability and coverage throughout the force which mmO2 Airwave were not able to rectify by September 9" - Paddy Tomkins, Chief Constable

Story in full POLICE have shelved plans to introduce a £2.9 billion national radio system in the Capital - after discovering their radios do not work in part of the city centre.

Police chiefs say officers would be put at risk due to failings in the new system, which was due to be introduced across Lothian and Borders last week.

The force has insisted it will not introduce the new system unless a catalogue of problems are ironed out.

Police have found their radios repeatedly fail to work in Rose Street and have experienced similar problems in North Berwick in East Lothian.

There have also been persistent problems with emergency buttons which are supposed to summon help to officers when they are in danger. When the system was tested in Edinburgh, it took eight seconds for handsets to broadcast a signal meant to call for urgent assistance.

The force is the first in the UK to reject the digital Airwave UK network, which is intended to replace the standard radios currently used by all emergency services.

The Scottish Police Federation recently demanded the network be put on hold after previous tests found serious delays in an emergency alert function.

The system was supposed to be ready for service in the Lothians on September 9. But Chief Constable Paddy Tomkins said adopting the network would lead to "serious officer safety issues".

He said: "There are significant failings in the operational capability and coverage throughout the force which mmO2 Airwave were not able to rectify by September 9. MmO2 are not delivering coverage in North Berwick and Rose Street in the city centre. There are serious deficiencies in the quality and reliability of hand-held terminal use.

"The rigorous testing regime implemented by Lothian and Borders Police has identified further serious problems associated with the use of the emergency button.

"These are very serious officer safety issues which apply to all forces using the latest version of Airwave software. It is for these reasons we are the first force in the UK to reject the system."

Mr Tomkins said the force would consider moving to Airwave in the coming weeks, but only if the problems were rectified. He added: "The Police Information Technology Organisation and mmO2 Airwave are working with clear urgency to address the very serious emergency button issues. As yet, however, we have not been provided with a firm timescale for the problem to be resolved.

"The existing radio system operated by the force remains fully operational. The delay in Airwave can be accommodated."

The new network’s implementation is being overseen by the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland. Telecoms giant mmO2, which won the contract to introduce the digital system, has said it is investigating the problem.

An mmO2 Airwave spokesman said: "We will continue to work to resolve all Lothian and Borders Police force’s concerns to ensure delivery as soon as possible to provide the same kind of service already in use by 40 police forces, two fire services and two ambulance services in the UK."

©2004 Scotsman.com



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