Blue light services – ambulance, police, and fire departments – are built entirely around the premise of working in partnership with the communities they serve to maintain law and order, protect members of the public and their property, prevent crime, and improve quality of life. Whilst each organisation has unique skillsets, and these should not be understated, there are synergies between the skills and goals of each service. In an era of constrained budgets, capitalizing on these synergies and collaborating across agencies has the ability to reduce duplication and lower costs, whilst ensuring unique skills are maintained.
With the exception of major incidents, blue light services still largely operate in silos. When dealing with the majority of demands, each local agency is focused on its own objectives when serving its community. This division of information and responsibilities can make it difficult to move beyond ‘reactivity’ - resolving issues that are currently in progress or have already happened. But with today’s technology, we have the capability to integrate heterogeneous systems across multiple agencies, applying analytics and automation to enable a shift away from incident-based reactions and towards pre-planned interventions. The challenge therefore is how to organize in order to exploit these capabilities.
We’re already seeing movement towards adapting organizational structures to enable this type of collaboration. For example, Scotland has merged its eight regional police forces into a single authority, Police Scotland. Whereas force consolidation in England and Wales no longer looks like an imminent possibility, devolution represents the next potential step-change in the ability to collaborate as siloed budgets are pooled, enabling a better focus on end-to-end services to citizens.
As I’ve already noted, the benefits of such collaboration are numerous. In particular, they can meet public expectations and improve response time to critical incidents. But these limited examples of developing a multi-agency collaborative approach aren’t enough. We can go further and create a truly collaborative blue light services sector – but this will not happen overnight. It requires a transformation – not only of the processes, but also of the mindset surrounding provision.
Technology is key to enabling this change. For example, fire and police services have similar emergency deployment models, whereas the ambulance service has different requirements. In order to create a true joint control room, IT systems and infrastructures will need to be reworked and support a range of needs. The end result, though, will be improved services with increased efficiency; standardisation of systems will make it easier to share services and improve delivery.
We as a community need to reconsider our perspective on blue light services. They have common goals of helping people in need and keeping people safe – and people don’t necessarily care which agency is providing help as long as they get assistance. We should treat them as one larger service with multiple, distinct, capabilities. Embracing a collaborative responsibility for serving the public will help blue light agencies meet these goals while keeping taxpayer costs down and reducing duplication of effort.