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TETRA system handles five millionth call 3 September 2008

Emergency Services Joint Control RoomTHE Isle of Man Government’s communications system achieved a significant milestone during this year’s Manx Grand Prix.

Race week saw the TETRA radio network handle its five millionth call since its inception in April 2004. TErrestrial Trunked RAdio is used by 21 different organisations across the Manx Government and has proved particularly beneficial to the emergency services.

It was fitting that the number of TETRA calls topped five million during the MGP as the system plays a key role in the safe running of the Island’s motorcycling festivals. All police officers, fire and ambulance crews, marshals, race controllers, vehicles and helicopters use TETRA and events such as the TT and MGP could not function properly without it.

The network was introduced in conjunction with the Emergency Services Joint Control Room (ESJCR) in a project that carried an overall capital budget of £11.7 million. It has since become one of the government’s biggest success stories and is the envy of emergency service providers throughout the world.

Whereas most countries have separate control rooms to deal with police, fire and ambulance 999 calls, the Isle of Man has a single integrated system that allows everything to be handled under one roof. The Island’s pioneering work has led to the Communications Division, which is part of the Department of Home Affairs, being acknowledged as a world leader in this field.

DHA Minister Adrian Earnshaw MHKMinister for Home Affairs Adrian Earnshaw MHK said:

‘The Isle of Man is at the forefront of integrated communications, particularly in respect of the emergency services. We are held up as best practice and a lot of other organisations are considering adopting our working methods. It is no surprise that delegations from the UK, Europe, Middle East and Far East have visited the Isle of Man to look at how things are done here.’

While TETRA calls have passed the five million mark, the ESJCR has also handled 68,000 emergency 999 calls, 147,000 emergency events and two million non-999 calls over the past four years. The Control Room is staffed by a professional and dedicated team of operators and the average time taken to answer a call is just 1.68 seconds. Those figures are certainly very impressive, but the real success of TETRA and the ESJCR is their impact on community safety.

Communications Division Technical Director Robert Williamson said:

‘With regard to the operational benefits of TETRA, the emergency button on the handset is the most important facility in terms of providing officer safety. The integrated system also means that the police, fire and ambulance services can be called at the same time to an incident such as a road traffic collision, thereby saving time and saving lives.’

The enormous potential of an integrated communications set-up helped to keep the project on course during a lengthy planning and commissioning process. A culture change also had to be achieved in order to get all of the emergency service providers on board and build their confidence in the overall vision.

Robert Williamson - Technical Director, Comms DivisionDiscussions about the switchover from the old analogue system first took place in the mid-90s and work on the project began in 1999. A target date for the implementation of TETRA and the ESJCR was set for six weeks before the 2004 TT and the systems went live on April 19th.

Mr Williamson said:

‘Switching from analogue radio to TETRA represents a complete change in the way we now communicate. Speech is clear and concise, it’s encrypted and coverage is much better, not to mention the security elements.’

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