The Coronavirus pandemic hit the United Kingdom especially hard, resulting in widespread civil unrest. Even now, as the country gradually lifts its lockdown restrictions, law enforcement must deal with multiple raves, violent crime and countless assaults. As it often is, Greater Manchester Police (GMP) is on the frontline in responding to such incidents. As one of the largest police forces in the UK, GMP safeguards one of the country’s most diverse regions. Now more than ever, the force understands the importance of safeguarding both the general public and its own workers through better processes and technology. To that end, departmental leadership is constantly on the lookout for potential improvements.
Modernising the lines of contact
Recently, GMP sought to improve co-ordination and security among its officers, both during crisis scenarios and in the day-to-day.
“During any police response, it’s imperative to match reaction time to the rapid, everchanging situations that develop,” explains Inspector Darren Spurgeon, Business Change Manager, Mobile Technology for Greater Manchester Police. “We knew starting out that a system that does this automatically rather than manually would move us towards a more user-friendly, efficient way of working.”
“In addition to improved crisis management, we also needed a message solution that would offer the critical security required for the sensitive information that is communicated,” he adds.
Connected in protecting the public
For more streamlined personnel deployment and better emergency response, GMP chose BlackBerry AtHoc, a crisis response platform designed to facilitate two-way emergency communication and account for personnel. Designed for ease of use, BBM Enterprise is a best-in-class messaging and conferencing solution built with end to end encryption and privacy at its core. GMP tested BlackBerry AtHoc against its existing analog system as part of an initial evaluation, reaching out to key task commanders through both platforms. The exercise showed considerable improvement in response time over the old system. In light of this, GMP began making plans for AtHoc’s deployment.
Then the Coronavirus pandemic struck, and everything changed.
A lightning-quick COVID response
As a result of the pandemic, operations at GMP had to be remodelled nearly overnight. The vast majority of its support staff now had to work remotely, backoffice staff in particular. Given both the mental stress of this disruption coupled with the very real risks to employee health represented by COVID-19, GMP realised it needed to adapt – and fast.
“We needed something to help us keep connected with our staff, especially for the purpose of wellness checks,” said Spurgeon. “All branch leads across the force wanted to have an understanding of how personnel were feeling on a day-to-day basis and to see if any staff were showing signs of COVID-19. We purchased 11,000 BlackBerry AtHoc licences and deployed the solution immediately.”
GMP’s wellness team used AtHoc to send wellbeing alerts to personnel which included several predefined response options. This allowed the force to focus its efforts on those who needed help the most. GMP also used the solution to send out a daily summary of the pandemic for all staff and to co-ordinate mortuary teams.
More than just crisis communication
GMP is currently dividing staff into distribution lists within AtHoc based on their team and skill set, making the co-ordination of resourcing significantly simpler. In addition to general scheduling, the force has created distribution lists for special operations teams such as firearms, traffic units and armed vehicular response units. In the case of the former, the force tested BlackBerry AtHoc by sending out an urgent resourcing alert to all firearms officers.
Nearly half of all off-duty officers responded in 10 minutes and were on standby to be recalled.
GMP also plans to use BlackBerry AtHoc to manage weather events such as floods, which occur frequently in the area and to manage internal corporate communications.
Finally, the force is using BBM Enterprise to improve co-ordination in the field. Recently, a report of a high-risk missing person dropped into the queue. GMP was able to upload a photo of the missing person and share it securely to every on-duty officer in the area. They were able to locate the missing person shortly afterwards.
The foundation of a better police response
“With BlackBerry AtHoc, there’s no longer any need to pick up the phone – it’s just one person managing communication across multiple channels,” Spurgeon said. “And with BBM Enterprise, we’re able to keep officers securely connected in the field. From emergency notifications to incident activation to general wellness and communication, it’s improved our co-ordinated response.”
In the future, Spurgeon hopes to unify other emergency responders and key organisations in the Greater Manchester Area via AtHoc Connect, creating an inter-organisational communication network for even more effective mobilisation and greater public safety.