What does the transition to ESN mean for emergency services vehicles and their fleet managers

ICT Managed Services

Emergency Services

As emergency services across the UK upgrade their assets to the Emergency Services Network (ESN) there are time-sensitive concerns they must address, including which is the most efficient transition method. Barry Zielinski, Operations and Services Director at Telent answers the most important questions facing people who will be responsible for facilitating these upgrades – emergency services fleet managers.

What is ESN, and why is it important for fleet managers to start preparing for it now?

The Emergency Services Network (ESN) is a critical communications system that will replace the current Airwave service used by the emergency services. Based on 4G cellular technology, the network will replace the reliable but limited and ageing Airwave Public Safety Network. Around 50,000 vehicles will require the replacement of current Airwave installed equipment with ESN devices.

As the Home Office has now announced the suppliers of the Fixed Vehicle Device, we can expect the transition to ESN to happen when trials have been completed, meaning fleet managers need to begin preparing in anticipation. There are multiple factors to be considered for the transition, beyond just the scale of managing upgrades to fleets of many hundreds of vehicles.

Given the 24/7 nature of the emergency services, we’re not going to see a "big bang" switch over to ESN. The scheduling of vehicle conversions will require careful planning around operational demands. The installations are not simple; as a minimum, the transitioning vehicle will require a New Multiband Antenna, Touch Screen Control Unit, 4G Android Communications Hub, Power Management System and associated ancillaries and wiring. Furthermore, fleet managers need to consider the first-come, first-serve market environment they’ll be making their installations in with respect to resource capacity availability.

Can you highlight the key considerations for fleet managers as they look to upgrade to ESN?

Firstly, we need to consider that while support may be available from the Home Office this will be limited. Full responsibility for the transition of vehicles lies individually with each Force, Trust and Service.

A key initial consideration for fleet managers is resource availability. As multiple emergency vehicle fleets across the country will need to be upgraded simultaneously, fleet managers must make sure they can get access to the necessary resources and the required skill set to deinstall the existing Airwave equipment and install the ESN equipment into the vehicles.

Thought must be given to the initial procurement of devices, ensuring best value is achieved and that suitable spares arrangements are in place to ensure confidence that replacement parts will be delivered to site when and where required. Consideration must also be given to the logistics handling and inventory management of the new ESN devices and equipment to be installed into the fleet. The physical space required to securely store such a volume of kit may also be a challenge without the specialist infrastructure to support major technology deployment projects.

Fleet managers will also need to ensure their fleets continue to be available at a level that the emergency workers using them expect. This includes ensuring there are no availability issues that affect their operation of the fleets as the planning and managing of installations takes place. This is especially pertinent considering the ongoing serviceability of current installed equipment and level of operational performance that needs to be maintained.

During the upgrades, fleet managers must also oversee the management and disposal of decommissioned TETRA Encryption Algorithm 2 (TEA2) assets, as well as being responsible for the fleet mapping, software upgrades and the physical security of the new devices. Fleet Managers should consider if security vetting of personnel used is a requirement. Following the transitions, the vehicles will need ongoing support and maintenance, and testing to make sure they are interoperable with other organisations. Fleet managers will need to monitor the warranty of the installations is to ensure the system works to the expected standard.

Once the transition to ESN is complete, fleet managers will be responsible for the secure removal and the appropriate disposal of the old devices if not already decommissioned.

Do you envisage any particular challenges in the upgrade to ESN?

We anticipate that some User Organisations will require a potential period of dual running, where the new ESN devices will be installed on vehicles alongside the existing Airwave devices. Only when the User Organisation has approved the new system will the legacy devices be decommissioned. This presents a challenge in terms of vehicle space and power, plus the considerations for the periods with separate systems and decommissioning activity.

The increasing introduction of hybrid and electric vehicles presents additional challenges for the installation of communications devices as engineers who work on these vehicles should be accredited by the Institute for the Motor Industry (IMI). This will ensure a safe environment for the installation engineer and the end-user during operation use.

What are the options for fleet managers and their teams?

One option for fleet managers when upgrading to ESN is to do it in-house. However, they’ll have to consider that when installing new communications assets, there can be potentially costly learning curves. They’ll need to consider accessing suitably skilled personnel with expertise to complete vehicle installation surveys and design and having enough installer capacity to fulfil the transition requirement.

There is also a high-cost factor in recruiting and training when taking an in-house approach. As well as resourcing security-cleared and FCS Installer Training and Accreditation Scheme (FITAS)-approved engineers, those with electric vehicles in their fleet will need to employ IMI-accredited engineers. Organisations will also be required to purchase new testing equipment if doing in-house installations. A question then arises of what happens to these staff after the transition?

Alternatively, fleet managers can opt to benefit from the experience of a partner like Telent. Drawing on our extensive experience, we can provide either an end-to-end fully managed service or offer a modular service. This would include fleet surveys and reports, vehicle designs, project planning, design and programme management, logistic service, installation, maintenance and support services, and disposal.

Telent has experience with fleet transitions and has overcome various challenges on numerous projects, meaning it is in a position to offer ESN installation for vehicles with a trusted, high-quality service, allowing fleet managers to focus on supporting the emergency services and their vital work.

What experience does Telent have with ESN and emergency services in the UK?

We are already familiar with the ESN in a working capacity, having completed coverage testing through the ESN Assure contract for the Home Office.

We’ve also helped many organisations through the transition from legacy comms to Airwave, including the deployment of Firelink to almost 10,000 vehicles across every fire and rescue service in England, Wales and Scotland. Today Telent continues to support more than 14,000 emergency services vehicles, including Firelink, as well as the radios, LTE Devices, and mobile data terminals for many other organisations such as London Ambulance Service and Scottish Ambulance Service. Our valued relationships with a number of regional emergency service teams up and down the country, and the contracts and projects we’ve completed with them for many tens of thousands of vehicles, position us as a credible and trusted partner that fleet managers can rely on.

To learn more about how Telent can help with your fleet’s transition to the ESN, get in touch here or read more here


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