Emergency Services Day: how BT is supporting our everyday heroes

By Gerry McQuade, CEO BT Enterprise

As we reflect on our experiences during the initial peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, one thing stands out above all else – the incredible job our NHS and emergency services did amidst such difficult circumstances.

Today marks the perfect moment to remember and recognise that service and sacrifice, as the UK celebrates Emergency Services Day – or ‘999 Day’ – in a mark of support for the heroic men and women of the emergency services.

At BT, we’re also incredibly proud of the people in our business who have stood shoulder to shoulder with the emergency services during this time. From our 999 call centre workers, cyber security experts and Blue Light volunteers, to our highly-skilled emergency response team (ERT), people across BT are on standby to make sure the public and emergency services stay connected in the event of incidents such as severe weather and fire damage.

It’s also clear that technology plays a critical role in enabling the emergency services to carry out their work.

Life-saving tech

One of the most important functions of the emergency services is its ability to react quickly to critical situations. As the calm and confident voice answering every emergency call, BT’s 999 call centres are an integral part of this infrastructure.

In recent years, the number of 999 calls BT has handled has increased significantly, growing from around 25 million calls a year in 2000, to over 33 million calls in the last year. When the country entered lockdown, BT’s 999 call agents were given key worker status and put the needs of the UK public first to fulfil their critical role in answering 999 calls. During the COVID-19 peak, our 999 agents were responding to unprecedented levels of demand, answering a daily average of 105k calls. The busiest periods saw agents handling a call every three seconds. To meet this need, we trained an additional 100 staff to support with answering calls, including a number of volunteers who put themselves forward to help out.

Our Advanced Mobile Location (AML) technology also has an important role to play in helping the emergency services to save lives. This technology pinpoints the exact location of a 999 caller by sending an automatic text to the call handler. The majority of mobile phones (70%) – including Android and Apple smartphones – can now detect that an emergency call is being made and sends the caller’s precise GPS position as close as three metres in some cases, to the 999 service during the call, helping the emergency services get to incidents more quickly and save lives.

what3words, the emergency location-based service, can complement BT’s own AML technology, and sends a unique code with the precise location of a 999 caller. We are supporting the what3words service by removing data charges for accessing the emergency service webpage for EE, BT Mobile and Plusnet Mobile customers so that, in an emergency, they can find and share their what3words address even if they have run out of data.

The Emergency Services Network (ESN) is another example of how BT’s technology underpins the critical communications needs of the emergency services. The ESN is a dedicated network for use by all of Britain’s emergency services and other authorised first responders. As a world’s first technological achievement, EE’s role out of the ESN will provide seamless connectivity between emergency ground and air operations, connecting people, sensors, aircraft and helicopters with the highest security and reliability. Over 300,000 emergency services personnel will benefit from these new critical communications capabilities, transforming emergency services’ mobile working.

Built by our EE mobile arm, the network already covers over 84% of the UK’s landmass and will soon be extended even further to the most rural parts of Britain, stretching 12 nautical miles out to sea and 10,000 feet above land. The general public are already benefiting from the enhanced network reach, with hundreds of 999 calls now being received every month from areas that previously had no mobile coverage.

Supporting the NHS and Police

Throughout the pandemic we have continued to work closely with the NHS, providing additional support and services to help it deal with the significant challenges of managing COVID-19. For example, we were tasked with getting the new Nightingale field hospitals around the country connected as quickly as possible. Within just 48 hours of being asked to help stand up the Nightingale hospital at London’s ExCel, we had installed 1000 IP Phones and the high-speed connectivity required, working with our infrastructure partner, Openreach.

As a nation, I think we were all struck by the plight of loved ones who were forced to distance themselves from family members in ICUs who were battling the disease, often with tragic outcomes. When Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Trust talked to us about their Life Lines Project, which allowed relatives to see and speak to their loved ones via a tablet, we were only too happy to get involved. Using a secure app, families were able to meet the clinical team, ask questions and stay in touch with their loved one whilst they were isolated in intensive care. This is a really compelling example of how technology can be harnessed to enhance care for patients – and something which we were very proud to have up and running in just a matter of days.

As COVID-19 gathered pace, we also worked with University Hospitals Birmingham to deliver a Remote Diagnostic Station, helping healthcare professionals to liaise with experts directly from patients' beds such as via wearable high-definition cameras. This solution enables healthcare professionals to deliver care for vulnerable patients who are in a different location whilst still maintaining social distancing guidelines. Through combining digital and remote medical devices with a converged network, the Station is a breakthrough innovation that is a game changer for the healthcare sector - both in a COVID-19 setting and beyond.

We’re also focused on stepping up our existing support to the police. In the increasingly digital world we now live in, police forces up and the down the country are facing new challenges every day. As part of our Connected Policing Model, we are empowering forces across the country– and their officers – to find new ways to gather intelligence, collect and share digital evidence, and ultimately, better serve the public. We also manage the Police National Management Centre (NMC); this 24/7 operation is a nationally coordinated centre to identify, manage and respond to internal and external cyber threats, protecting all Forces from cyber-attacks.

Celebrating our everyday heroes

Back to the point of today and celebrating the fantastic around-the-clock work which our emergency services workers dedicate their lives to. We couldn’t be prouder of standing with them. We’ll be celebrating this heroic work across BT today, and continue to work in partnership with the emergency services across the whole of the UK to prove how technology innovation can be harnessed to help save lives and deliver even better services for the public.