Why Two Channels are Better than One

A major UK ambulance service is using two-way paging to supplement the national TETRA Tradio network, adding a valued extra level of resilience to its radiocommunications.

Though the UK operates a national TETRA radio network dedicated to its emergency services and other essential bodies, for one of these services anindependent radio network is providing extra resilience.

In Scotland, two-way Responder pagers operating on the UK paging network of PageOne, part of Capita plc, provides a direct link with over 120 senior managers in the National Risk & Resilience team of the Scottish Ambulance Service – a mobile strategic operations team who provide 24/7 management oversight for large, protracted or serious incidents. And the service covers a huge area – not just the Scottish mainland, with its remote and mountainous regions, but the western and northern isles too.

Distribute key information

“The pagers help us to very quickly distribute key information across our management team,” explains Nick Sutton, Strategic Operations Manager for Scottish Ambulance Service. “The Ambulance Control Centres (ACCs) will distribute information via the pagers relating to day-to-day operations as well as specific incident-level information for our more serious and demanding incidents.”

But while most routine communication with ambulance crews is carried via their in-vehicle TETRA radios, Mr Sutton sees it as essential to maintain an independent line of communication with the strategic team, who typically travel to incidents separately in fast- response vehicles and could be away from their vehicle on other duties. “Pagers are sometimes looked upon as an ageing technology that could be replaced by the smartphone and/or digital radios,” he comments. “We feel it is important to maintain a resilient and independent means of communications with our on-call and responding managers that enables the ACC to quickly distribute key information.”

For the Scottish Ambulance Service, PageOne’s two-way Responder paging has helped attain the goal of multi- network resilience. “Any technology that they were already using had its own potential single point of failure,” says Raymond Fegan, of network operator PageOne Communications. Whether the technology is digital radio, mobile phones or one-way paging, he argues, all of them potentially represent a single point of failure. “It’s great when it’s working,” he says. “But when it goes, everything goes. Whereas our two-way pagers here in the UK, we have them operating across multiple networks. So not only are they sitting on our trusted and reliable national paging network, but they are also listening to any of the mobile networks – they’ve always got dual connectivity.”

Critical messages stand out

For Nick Sutton, the Swissphone made paging devices, also help critical messages stand out from the day-to-day smartphone notifications and radio tones. “By having a separate device, it’s less likely to be silenced or powered down as it should only be used for critical events,” he says. But there’s more. “The two-way pagers add an important and, for a very long time, overlooked function to our communications – the ability for the recipient to reply to their message. “In the near future, we are working with our CAD system supplier to develop a new two-way interface between the CAD and PageOne, which will allow us to leverage the information held in CAD to automatically page incident-level information. Replies from the two-way responder pagers will also be more easily managed as they will be directed to the dispatcher responsible for the resource."

Automating response

In this way, the Scottish Ambulance Service hopes to make fuller use of the technology by automating procedures so as to create a consistent and effective message delivery system, relieving pressure on its ACC managers. “Those carrying pagers will be able to send a specific reply to the message they received and have it handled by CAD, which may result in a message being generated for the dispatcher, or the CAD carrying out some form of action based on the reply. For example, ‘Able to attend’ would generate an allocation request to the dispatcher responsible for the incident.”