ESN under the spotlight at police testing event

Frontline police workers put an Emergency Services Network (ESN) push-to-talk product through its paces as part of an intensive test event staged in Cheshire. The event was hosted for the first time by the North West Police Hub, one of the five key assurance partners (APs), which get involved in ESN testing for the Emergency Services Mobile Communications Programme (ESMCP).

The ESN push-to-talk product, known as Direct 2 (D2), is the latest iteration in the development of ESN as a new 4G critical communication tool to replace Airwave across Great Britain.

The testing took place over four days and involved participants from police forces across the north west of England as well as user representatives from the fire and rescue services, Ambulance Radio Programme (ARP), Scotland and Border Force.

This event formed part of the programme’s Operational Validation (Op Val) testing, which involves working with ESN’s APs in the user community to test the function of each product on user infrastructure and in a pseudo-operational environment.

Clear feedback

Alicia Carr, Op Val Lead for ESN, said, “The testing we do as part of Op Val is important for the programme. We transition from technical testing to user testing with user devices that are enrolled on assurance partner infrastructure and following operational scenarios across multiple test teams. Often the end user participants have never directly interacted with the programme before or held a Direct 2 device in their hands prior to the event. That way, we obtain really clear feedback on what works, what doesn’t work, and also observations on how they may use the devices going forward.”

The comprehensive set of tests performed in Cheshire, in December 2021, included functionality, such as making standard telephone calls, sending messages and images, using private and group push-to-talk capability and making emergency and broadcast calls. Different operational environments were used as testing backdrops, such as within a high-speed moving vehicle, as well as in areas of weaker signal or limited coverage.

Impact on working practices

Suzy Makinson, ESN North West Assurance Partner Manager, Cheshire Constabulary, said, “A lot of planning and coordination effort has gone into getting here. It’s a privilege for us to host the first formal test event with police and it’s great for the actual participants, who are real police officers and staff, to be able to get hands-on with the devices. We had good debates and discussions about the opportunities and the potential impact on working practices and business change.”

Mitchell Fox, Policing Assurance Lead, Operational Communications in Policing (OCiP), added, “This testing will enable us to learn a lot of lessons on what has gone well, what hasn’t and what we need to change for the next phase of testing. We are trying to learn the lessons for all the other police forces so they have a much smoother journey when they get around to technically on-boarding, and ultimately transitioning onto the ESN solution.”

All results from these tests are fed back into the programme to inform the future delivery of ESN.