ECHO – a revolution in emergency call handling? | ECA

ECHO – a revolution in emergency call handling? | ECA

A new Electronic Call Handling Operations service could cut blue light emergency response times and reduce false alarms. Mike Smith, ECA Technical Director and Director of ECHO, outlines how this ground-breaking initiative works.

Unwanted alarm signals have dogged police services’ call handling for years. The National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) requirements for alarm systems have gone a long way to reduce false alarms – but this still requires manual hand over of emergency alarms to the police, with unnecessary delays to some emergency responses.

Security industry-backed platform
The Fire and Security Association (FSA) and others in the sector are playing a key role in the introduction of ground-breaking technology to address these delays.

In 2017, the FSA, the British Security Industry Association and the Fire Industry Association joined forces to create a not-for-profit company, ECHO, to modernise alarm call handling and meet the needs of the police, industry and the public. Electronic Call Handling Operations (ECHO) connected police forces receive automated alerts from Alarm Receiving Centres (ARCs) direct to their despatchers via the ECHO hub.

The automated system avoids the risk of miscommunication. Initial police estimates show a saving of up to four minutes in response times, which in intruder and other situations could make a crucial difference to emergency outcomes. In January of this year, the Metropolitan Police Service (Met) completed its first ‘end-to-end’ test, with the Met’s control rooms successfully receiving alarm signals via the ECHO hub from Banham Security’s Alarm Receiving Centre.

David Mair, Manager – Security Systems Unit, Metropolitan Police Service, said: “We’ve been developing our capability to receive automated verified alarm signals from ARCs for some time.

“This proof of concept means all alarms with Met police response could be ECHO-connected and in line for faster police response before the end of 2021.”

This follows on the heels of another test by Essex Police, who in November 2020, became the first UK ECHO-connected police force to successfully receive and verify emergency signals. The ECHO system will go live this spring, offering a full service to those UK police forces that are ready to be ECHO-connected. It’s expected that Essex Police and the Met will be set up to handle all their police response alarm signals via ECHO later this year.

Who can use ECHO?
All approved Alarm Receiving Centres (ARCs) holding a Cyber Essentials or Cyber Essentials Plus certificate are eligible to use the ECHO platform. ARCs will automatically receive an email telling them when police forces become connected. To activate the system, ARCs will work directly with ECHO to link to newly ECHO-connected forces. To avoid delays, obtaining Cyber Essentials certification in advance will speed up the connection process. ARC software providers are at varying stages in the development of ECHO ready upgrades, so ARCs can check with their own providers about their readiness to support the system.

Next steps for ECHO
The next few years are expected to be busy for those who install and maintain certificated intruder and hold up systems, and ECHO capability provides another opportunity. Following the NPCC requirements for intruder and hold-up alarms*, more police forces have shown interest in the ECHO system and more ARCs and police forces are preparing to accept electronic alarm transmissions so they can get ECHO-connected.

Martin Harvey, Director of ECHO, said: “Connection to the Met control room enables a significant number of professionally installed and monitored alarm systems to be connected through the ECHO hub, further demonstrating the capabilities of the ECHO platform handling signals from multiple ARCs and transmitting them on to any number of ECHO-connected police forces. It’s set to be a busy year for ECHO, as more police forces are poised to connect to the service.”

In the future, ECHO aims to partner with ‘blue light’ services beyond the police. As electronic call handling becomes the norm, we can expect to see changes in the industry. And, most importantly, a more efficient use of our emergency services with an improvement in their response times to keep people safe.

* ‘Police Operational Advice and Security Industry Requirements for Response to Security Systems’

Learn more about ECHO and how it works by clicking here

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