MY VIEW

Tuesday 29 January 2019

The risks facing emergency services in 2019 make the support offered by ALARM's Blue Light Group even more valuable.

These are difficult times for police, fire and ambulance services, as you will see by my review of risks. Firstly, I’m pleased to report on the positive progress of ALARM’s Blue Light Group and Committee.

Following the implementation of the Policing and Crime Act 2017, which encourages greater collaboration between emergency services, ALARM’s police and fire groups successfully merged to become the Blue Light Group in 2018. 

The Blue Light Group provides an excellent opportunity to network with emergency organisations and to share best practice. Both the 2018 spring and autumn seminars were well attended, receiving very good feedback.

For the first time in 2019 we welcome membership of the London Ambulance Service; a valuable addition to the Group. We look forward to the networking and best practice opportunities this brings over the coming year.

A dedicated committee of representatives drives events and communications for members. Chair Kath Holder, Operational Risk Manager at West Midlands PCC, does a sterling job facilitating events and shaping up new events for members. Simon Neville, Strategic Organisational Learning & Risk Officer at Warwickshire & West Mercia Police and Marina Harlow, Risk and Compliance Manager at Norfolk and Suffolk Constabularies have also joined the committee, bringing a wealth of experience for member benefit.

Membership has continued to increase, with members now representing 34 police forces, 23 fire and rescue authorities and one ambulance service.

The Limits of indemnity webinar received excellent feedback, and more are planned for 2019. Members find this training method valuable as webinars are pre-recorded for your convenience and can be accessed at any time.

Our next event is taking place on 13 March in Birmingham. Book your place now

Police risks

I see police forces being impacted by the realignment of resources to address threat, harm, and risk, specifically investing in areas such as safeguarding, modern slavery and human trafficking. Demand in these areas, particularly child sexual exploitation, missing persons, mental health and domestic abuse, has increased significantly over the past five years. Strong multi-agency partnerships help to address these areas.

Widely reported in the media, a shortage of detectives and investigative personnel is being experienced nationally. Combined with an increase in investigative demand, this remains a significant concern for 2019.

Of course, increasing sophistication of cyber-enabled and cyber-dependent crime is on our watch list. These crimes take longer to investigate, require broader skill sets, and present even more capacity and capability challenges to blue light services.

Statistics show an increase in firearms, drug trafficking, serious violence, knife crime and stalking, which the police have to face. Home Office crimes figures to September 2018 showed a year-on-year increase of 19% in violent crime, including a 14% rise in murder and manslaughter, and additionally both robbery and sexual offences increased by 17%. Stalking figures rose by 41%, probably due to improvements in reporting.

In January John Apter, Chairman of the Police Federation warned: “Society just isn't as safe as it once was, and although the police service is doing everything within its power, we are swimming against the tide.”

Fire service risks

Blue Light Committee member Charles Thomas, Corporate Risk and Business Continuity Manager at Essex County Fire and Rescue Service gave me an interesting overview of fire service threats: “Fire services are keeping a watchful eye on the downstream consequences of Grenfell in 2019. Will there be a reversion of the current arrangements to a more active inspection regime like we have experienced in the past? Setting this against austerity and the importance of financial planning beyond 2020, what will Grenfell require fire services to do in the future?”

The pertinent question for fire services (like all public services) is how to do more with less. Charles: “Burgeoning numbers of 50-year-old  full-time firefighters are retiring and taking with them substantial operational memory, leaving fewer experienced colleagues for new recruits to learn from. More retirees and a leaner workforce also impact on fire service pension funds.”

Strategically, a long-term risk for many fire services is population increase. Charles: “For example, Essex county alone will have an extra 200,000 dwellings by 2037 (if Local District Plan projections are proved). This has a potential impact on fires and road traffic accident callouts. In addition to increasing, the population is aging, with the potential for increased vulnerabilities as fire services become more involved with societal issues through increased collaboration.”

Ongoing concern

Across all emergency services there is ongoing concern about employee wellbeing, including working long hours; examining disturbing images; and being involved in incidents; resulting in long-term mental health sickness absence.

Terrorism is a growing risk area, given the national and international increase in terrorism and extremism. All blue light services have to be prepared for terrorism related emergency incidents. Now, with continued Brexit uncertainty and the threat of a no-deal exit on 29 March, emergency services, alongside the armed forces, are additionally preparing for possible food and medical supplies’ shortages, port blockades and civil unrest.

All of the above are impacted by continued austerity measures that compound the threats and risks we face. Crime and societal demand have been steadily increasing during a time when workforces and financial resources are reducing.

We are all progressing blue light collaborations with police, fire and ambulance services, as well as local authorities, to enhance operability, reduce demand, and improve efficiency and effectiveness. Emergency organisations will continue with transformation programmes for some years.

If you are interested in joining the Blue Light Group or Committee or have ideas or contacts suitable for event presentations or workshops, please get in touch with me.

Beverley Nichol-Culff, ALARM Board Director, Blue Light Lead, and Secretary of Blue Light Group

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