MAIT: the next step

11/02/2021

Ahead of his conference session at BAPCO Online, chair of the national 999 Liaison Committee, Darryl Keen, talks to Philip Mason about recent progress in the national roll-out of Multi Agency Incident Transfer

The Emergency Services Network notwithstanding, MAIT (Multi-Agency Incident Transfer) is arguably the most exciting ‘new’ technology currently being discussed by the UK public safety communications sector.

It will, after all, enable emergency organisations to instantly communicate incident details with one another via the use of a common digital standard, something which has just not been the case up until now. This in turn will not only save time by – finally – engineering out the use of point-to-point telephony between control rooms, but also considerably increase situational awareness.

Describing the technology, a video put out by ATOS (and available on the BAPCO website) says: “MAIT is an electronic secure mechanism whereby incidents can be transferred from one agency to another agency – or multiple agencies – in a secure electronic fashion. The incident details are transferred and captured on the recipient’s CAD system. Address information is also transferred to ensure that resources are located jointly with the same operational information.”

As those with an interest in the topic will know, the process of gestation when it comes to MAIT has taken place over a number of years. This is probably no surprise given the questions that have inevitably needed to be answered, not just around the technology itself but also the culture of individual organisations.

That being the case, it's good to be able to report that genuine progress in now being made, with the first ‘MAIT Hub’ coming online just over a year ago. Several UK public safety organisations are also now invested in the project as ‘pathfinders’, meanwhile, including the Welsh emergency services, London Fire Brigade, and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.

This article is going to provide a further update on the progress of MAIT, following on from a previous interview with Welsh Joint Emergency Services Planning Group programme director Tony Bracey, published in the BAPCO Journal. This time, Darryl Keen, chair of the national 999 Liaison Committee, will not only outline the project’s current and future direction, but also offer insight into why it might have taken so long.

From MAIT to MAIS

Giving an overview of the project in terms of its current governance, Keen says: “We’ve put in very definite structures, in the form of two specific working groups, enabling us to co-ordinate things and take them forward.

“The first is the MAIT working group, which is essentially trying to help bring all the emergency services organisations on board. The group was formulated essentially to make sure that we didn’t end up with a ‘VHS’ and ‘Betamax’ version of the technology, with some organisations having obviously come on board considerably earlier than others.

“In terms of the services themselves, the London project is taking a bit longer but is now starting to gain traction. It’s really the Wales one that’s at the forefront. It’s virtually live, and will ultimately ensure that all Welsh emergency services are connected together. It will also form the basis of a national hub, which other services across the country can then connect to. People are really starting to talk about MAIT now.”

Elaborating on the plans to get other organisations involved, he continues: “In terms of the Fire and Rescue Service in particular, we’ve been able to secure some funding from the Home Office, linked to the learning and subsequent operational requirements which have come out of Grenfell.

“Hertfordshire FRS – where I’m CFO – is holding that money. We intend to get all of the English FRSs on board as soon as possible, with the support of the National Fire Chiefs Council. Scotland is a single service anyway, so it will be a simpler process for them to connect to MAIT.”  

Whereas the first working group is focused on the widespread adoption of the technology itself, the second is primarily concerned with the ongoing development of the solution, and where it goes from here. As Keen says, having finally reached the point where MAIT actually exists as a deployable open standard, the task now is to think of ways the technology can be refined and put to even better use.

Elaborating on this, he says: “The development working group is attempting to get closer to what you might call MAIT 2.0, which will hopefully enable organisations to share information in real time. As beneficial as the current version of the solution is, it only shares single messages. With MAIS [Multi-Agency Incident Sharing], multiple sets of information could be shared both ways, which would be incredibly useful.”

He continues: “If we use the Grenfell Tower disaster as an example, during an incident on that scale you would expect all three emergency services to get related calls landing in their control rooms. With MAIS, they’d be able to update one another with specific new information as and when it comes in. 

“At the same time, the fire and rescue service in question would also be able to inform every other FRS around the country about what’s going on, letting them know that there could be overflow calls on the way, what information to pass on, and so on. We don’t know how it will work yet, but we believe that it could be extraordinarily beneficial.”

As mentioned, another major step forward when it comes to MAIT is the establishment of a ‘hub’. Both ATOS and AVR currently offer this capability, which facilitates information exchange, using the standard to create what Keen refers to as “server capacity in the cloud”. 

With the establishment of the – currently theoretical – MAIS standard, this too would be extended, for instance to provide a single alert in relation to potential major incidents. Elaborating on this, Keen says: “Let’s say that the ambulance, police and fire are all receiving calls about a series of events going on in a single geographical location. The 2017 Westminster Bridge terrorist attack would be a perfect example of this, given its multi-faceted nature, and the speed with which the events took place.

“Wouldn’t it be great if we were able to somehow aggregate those calls, with the system ultimately flagging up that they’re all coming from the same location, and could be linked. One call might be about a stabbing, another about an RTC and so on, but the hub could help us put the pieces together more quickly.”

Change in priorities

MAIT clearly has the potential to be an extremely beneficial technology, whether in its current form, or as the hoped-for Multi-Agency Incident Sharing standard. With that in mind, it is probably not unfair to wonder why development and take-up has been such a drawn-out process, at least up until this point.

For Keen, one explanation could be previously ingrained attitudes among the broader emergency services, where comms were potentially seen as somehow less in need of focus than other operational areas. This in turn had the effect of pushing, often crucial, work such as MAIT down the priority list.

Diving deeper into this, he says: “One of the key parts of the work that we’ve been doing – both myself and my predecessor Dave Webb – has been to raise the profile of the control room itself. Things are really starting to change now, but there was perhaps a time when they could have received more attention.

“I’m speculating here, but one reason for that could have been what happened with FiReControl, which brought interest in control rooms and control rooms systems pretty much to an all-time low. Not only did the project ultimately fail, it also encouraged organisations to spend less time thinking about their control room, due to it being perceived – understandably – as primarily government-led.” 

Going back to the subject of MAIT and its increasingly integral place within the control room, he continues: “I believe we’re now seeing a real, tangible change, demonstrated, among other things, by the fact that we’ve got a total of four secondees working on national control room guidance.

“A big part of the work we’re doing also involves highlighting other areas which need to be improved or dealt with, in order to help control rooms progress into the 21st century. One example of that is the upcoming change from the public switched network, to IP-based, which will need to happen by the end of 2025.”

Another area is collaborative procurement, which Keen believes is also likely to be important going forward. “A lot of services have already been ‘around the loop’ once when it comes to buying their control room technology, and are about to start the cycle again,” he says. “Actually, wouldn’t it be better if they collaborated and did it together? That could perhaps even involve publishing a consistent national specification for ICCS and mobs systems.

"That would surely help to ensure consistency and quality for services, while also providing a single target for suppliers to aim at. That’s a piece of work that we’re taking forward, via the NFCC Control Advisory Board.

“Collaborated control room systems are also now increasingly the norm, something which offers considerable benefits for resilience. In my service, we now share a system with three other services, meaning that we’ve got mutual back-up of something like 15 control operators on duty at any one time. Previously, I had four.”

From the way Keen tells it, MAIT is likely to be one of the most exploitable technologies available to the UK emergency services. At the same time, however, it also has the potential to symbolise something more – the drastically increased interoperability (and co-operation) required if services expect to succeed going forward.

To view Darryl's session - and contribute to the conversation around MAIT - register your interest and join us at BAPCO: The Online Event.

Media contact

Philip Mason
Managing Editor, Critical Communications Portfolio
Tel: +44 (0)20 3874 9216
Philip.mason@markallengroup.com

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