What is the future for Fire & Rescue Service control rooms?

The cancellation of the FiReControl project announced by the Government at the end of December, has thrown the future of Fire & Rescue Service control rooms into chaos. Many Services in need of modernisation of their control rooms had held off in the knowledge that FiReControl would deliver new purpose built regional centres and a new national integrated system.


The Government has just announced a consultation exercise to look at the options for the Fire Service.  In the context of the tough economic climate in the public sector we see three potential choices:
  1. Upgrade existing control rooms and systems – which may require significant investment
  2. Consolidation, mergers or co-location with other emergency services such as Police or Ambulance to make more effective use of existing buildings and systems
  3. Life stretch – making the existing facilities last longer in the hope that the economic strictures will change or regionalization will reappear in a future project

New control rooms are likely to re-use or expand existing buildings rather than incur the cost of new build. Some Fire & Rescue Services have let their existing rooms dilapidate or have to vacate their current premises in anticipation of moving to the new centres so will have to take some sort of action. Projects must ensure that the right working environment is provided and the adaptation of existing structures usually brings constraints. The right expertise is needed to ensure that good design decisions are made to adapt the existing structure to provide an ergonomic work space.

There is also the question of what will become of the now built Regional Control Centres? Will the Government consider tri-services controls for that area or possibly sell the buildings off for use by other agencies or even for a totally different use like call centres? 


Some services may have to consider upgrading their call handling and mobilisation systems.  This is where the FiReControl project fell down and where other previous projects have had problems.  Our key message for success is to understand and map the user requirements at an early stage, make sure that the system delivers those and get the end users involved throughout the development and testing of the system.  Going for the cheapest solution may not be a great idea either however tempting in the current climate.

Perhaps the main challenge will come where the Fire & Rescue Services merge or co-locate their control rooms with those of their neighbours to get operational benefits or cut costs. These projects will have to carefully consider the design of the enlarged control room and the systems that will be used – but what is usually forgotten or inadequately addressed is the management of the change that will take place . All control room design projects involve change but where organisations come together the need to address the socio-technical issues is higher.

One of the major challenges here is to assess the impact on team working and things like the retention of local knowledge. At a detailed level, there will probably be changes in processes and procedures, in management and supervision. But there may also be changes in operational philosophy and the fundamentals of “how things get done”. Organisations are different so developing this new common way of working is often hard. The key is how the project takes the staff on “the journey” and involves them in the change – without this the chances of getting their buy-in and commitment to the change is low and resistance increases the risk of project failure.

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DESIGN AND THE HUMAN FACTOR: What is the future for Fire & Rescue Service control rooms?

Thursday, 13 January 2011

What is the future for Fire & Rescue Service control rooms?

The cancellation of the FiReControl project announced by the Government at the end of December, has thrown the future of Fire & Rescue Service control rooms into chaos. Many Services in need of modernisation of their control rooms had held off in the knowledge that FiReControl would deliver new purpose built regional centres and a new national integrated system.


The Government has just announced a consultation exercise to look at the options for the Fire Service.  In the context of the tough economic climate in the public sector we see three potential choices:
  1. Upgrade existing control rooms and systems – which may require significant investment
  2. Consolidation, mergers or co-location with other emergency services such as Police or Ambulance to make more effective use of existing buildings and systems
  3. Life stretch – making the existing facilities last longer in the hope that the economic strictures will change or regionalization will reappear in a future project

New control rooms are likely to re-use or expand existing buildings rather than incur the cost of new build. Some Fire & Rescue Services have let their existing rooms dilapidate or have to vacate their current premises in anticipation of moving to the new centres so will have to take some sort of action. Projects must ensure that the right working environment is provided and the adaptation of existing structures usually brings constraints. The right expertise is needed to ensure that good design decisions are made to adapt the existing structure to provide an ergonomic work space.

There is also the question of what will become of the now built Regional Control Centres? Will the Government consider tri-services controls for that area or possibly sell the buildings off for use by other agencies or even for a totally different use like call centres? 


Some services may have to consider upgrading their call handling and mobilisation systems.  This is where the FiReControl project fell down and where other previous projects have had problems.  Our key message for success is to understand and map the user requirements at an early stage, make sure that the system delivers those and get the end users involved throughout the development and testing of the system.  Going for the cheapest solution may not be a great idea either however tempting in the current climate.

Perhaps the main challenge will come where the Fire & Rescue Services merge or co-locate their control rooms with those of their neighbours to get operational benefits or cut costs. These projects will have to carefully consider the design of the enlarged control room and the systems that will be used – but what is usually forgotten or inadequately addressed is the management of the change that will take place . All control room design projects involve change but where organisations come together the need to address the socio-technical issues is higher.

One of the major challenges here is to assess the impact on team working and things like the retention of local knowledge. At a detailed level, there will probably be changes in processes and procedures, in management and supervision. But there may also be changes in operational philosophy and the fundamentals of “how things get done”. Organisations are different so developing this new common way of working is often hard. The key is how the project takes the staff on “the journey” and involves them in the change – without this the chances of getting their buy-in and commitment to the change is low and resistance increases the risk of project failure.

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