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Resilient Communications

Privileged Access Schemes – MTPAS, FTPAS and Airwave

There are three “privileged access” schemes which are limited to those with a role in an emergency.

Privilege access schemes can form an important part of an organisation's arrangements to enhance the resilience of their telecommunications. However, some of the current schemes, notably access to mobile public telecommunications infrastructures, have acquired a level of importance that far exceeds their utility. Others, such as Airwave, are only really suitable as an every-day solution for those organisations with the need to be in contact with the Emergency Services and are familiar with the protocols applicable to using private mobile radios.

The privileged access schemes are:

Access to these schemes is managed through a high-level list covering broad groups of responders who are, in principle, entitled to access privileged services. Narrower sets of criteria are laid down for each privileged service where there may be capacity or other factors limiting the numbers able to take up that service.

Below is information about each scheme and who is eligible to apply. We work with the service providers to ensure that management information is provided regularly to the responder community so that take-up can be monitored and emerging gaps identified and addressed.

Mobile Privileged Access Scheme (MTPAS)

Public cellular mobile telephony has played an important role during the response to recent emergencies, but the mobile networks can become overwhelmed by a high concentration of calls that often occur immediately after a major incident. Reliable access to the mobile networks, even during times when an exceptionally large number of calls are being made, is achieved by installing a special SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) card in the telephone handset. Special SIMs are only available to entitled users within the responder community and not to members of the public.

Launch of MTPAS

Due to a partnership of the Cabinet Office, Regional Government Offices, Local Resilience Forums’ Telecommunications Sub Groups (TSGs) and the responder community, the Mobile Telecoms Privileged Access Scheme was launched as scheduled on the 1st September 2009.  This means that the Scheme is fully operational; many user organisations are successfully working with the mobile Network Service Providers using the new management processes to ensure entitled roles have this facility available to them. 

For various unavoidable reasons, some Local Resilience Forums’ TSGs and the Devolved Administrations (DAs) are currently completing the required implementation work before the management processes can be used by the responder community in these areas.  We expect all TSGs and the DAs to have completed this work and be using the new management processes by the end of October 2009. 

MTPAS supersedes ACCOLC, the old Scheme for managing mobile privileged access, SIMs issued under the old scheme will continue to work under MTPAS.

Information for Entitled Organisations and Users

MTPAS is only available to Category 1 and 2 Responders (as defined in the Civil Contingencies Act 2004) and partner organisations which directly support them at the scene of an emergency incident. For full details of the entitlement criteria, please contact your local TSG.

The TSGs have responsibility for coordinating the Scheme in their local resilience area.  If you represent a responder organisation which currently don't use privileged access SIMs in their staff's mobile phones, please contact your local TSG for information on how to join the Scheme.  If you work in an organisation which is already part of the Scheme and believe your role entitles you to use this facility, then please contact your organisation's MTPAS Point of Contact.

Some responder organisations work on a national basis, rather than locally, these organisations are coordinated by a central government department.  If you are representing an organisation which may not be coordinated by a TSG, please enquire via the contact details below.

MTPAS Objectives

To support the strategy for enhancing the resilience of telecommunications, MTPAS will:

Activation Arrangements

Using an agreed protocol, the Police Gold Commander, in charge of the response to a major incident, notifies all network operators that a major incident has been declared. As a result of the incident, mobile telecommunications networks may experience an abnormally high concentration of calls. If networks become congested, handsets installed with a privileged access SIM will stand a much higher likelihood of being able to connect to their network and make calls than other customers.

Cost

There is no costs attached to MTPAS: this is both for the provision of SIMs to an entitled organisation (in addition to the usual and agreed contract costs), nor remuneration for loss of service if network restrictions are necessary during an emergency response.

MTPAS 2-Way paging

For a long time now, pagers have been used by the emergency response community to reliably get messages to their staff. Now 2-way pagers are a reliable means of communication that combines the speed, reliability and broadcast ability of paging, with the auto acknowledgement and response functions.

The benefits to the responder organisation are:

The individual user benefits from the ability to reply to a pager message via the mobile network. Recipients can choose from up to eight text based responses which can be chosen by the organisation.

PageOne is currently the only producer of 2-Way pagers in the UK. The Cabinet Office, O2 and PageOne agreed terms for supplying all Entitled Organisations with 2-way pagers already fitted with MTPAS SIMs.

While only Entitled Organisations can purchase MTPAS 2-way pagers, there are not the same restrictions about who within the Entitled Organisation can be issued these devices nor are there any restrictions about how many of the devices can be used within an Entitled Organisation. The reason for this is that the reply functions of 2-way pagers work over the mobile network and have very little impact on the overall level of traffic going over the network. For more information about PageOne's MTPAS 2-way pager please see PageOne’s website. This agreement with PageOne will be used as a template for any future supplier of 2-way pagers who wish to supply 2-way pagers already fitted with MTPAS SIMs to the responder community and is not an exclusive agreement between Cabinet Office and PageOne.

MTPAS and Vodafone Users

Some mobile NSPs can change the access of a SIM (from normal public access to privileged access and vice versa) remotely, also called over-the-air (OTA). Before this technology was available, all mobile devices with SIMs that had normal public access could only be given privileged access by physcially changing the SIM, which was provided by the mobile NSP. An OTA change to a SIM’s access is preferable to physically changing the SIM because it can be done quickly and easily once the mobile Network Service Provider recieves the request and means the user should not have their service interupted while SIMs are changed over in their handset.

Vodafone provide an OTA service and follow it up with a text message to inform the user of the change. However, older Vodafone SIMs cannot be changed OTA, to make sure your SIM can be changed OTA please check that the number of the SIM card starts 8944100030 and does not end L418.

If the SIM number does not start 8944100030 or does end L418, then a new SIM should be requested for the same phone number from Vodafone’s Customer Services (08700 700191). Once the SIM is received, put a request to the Vodafone MTPAS Team (MTPAS@vodafone.co.uk) to give the SIM privileged access. Once this has been done the SIM can be changed back to have normal public access OTA when the user is no longer entitled to have the facility.

Deregistration of privileged access SIMs no longer needed

All entitled organisations with MTPAS SIMs must deregister any privileged access SIM that’s no longer required. This allows emergency responders who really need privileged acess to the mobile networks to have it when it really counts. Other users with privileged access SIMs who aren’t emegrecy responders may add to the problem of network congection and which could result in loss of service for those who need mobile telecoms to respond to an emergency incident.

Contact

If you have any questions about the MTPAS please email MTPAS@cabinet-office.x.gsi.gov.uk.

Privileged access to fixed telecommunications networks

The Government Telephone Preference Scheme (GTPS) was established in the late 1950s when there was a threat of nuclear war destroying significant parts of the national infrastructure. GTPS was designed to conserved power and provide assured access to telephony for essential users in an emergency, when there may be a heavy load placed on the public telephone network, or the network itself may have been damaged.

GTPS is provided and managed on a national basis by both BT plc and Cable and Wireless plc and in the Hull area, by Kingston Communications. The Scheme is only available to two categories of registered users: those vital to the prosecution of war and national survival, and those necessary to maintain the life of the community during a civil emergency (which includes public access lines such as payphones connected directly to the provider’s network).

Although the three providers have implemented the Scheme in slightly different ways, when activated the majority of unregistered customers will loose access to the ‘dial tone’ preventing them from making out-going calls (including 999 / 112) however all customers can still receive calls. Only registered users will be able to make out-going calls from the telephone connected to a registered line.

The core telecommunications networks in the UK are being overhauled and existing services converged using the technology that underpins the Internet. These networks are referred to as 'next generation networks' or NGNs. Further details of BT’s NGN programme [External website] can be found on their site. The new networks provide functionality that can support an enhanced preference scheme. We envisage that the new scheme will be called the Fixed Telecommunications Privileged Access Scheme, or FTPAS.

Largely as a result of the draconian implications of activating the GTPS, that at least 90% of lines connected to an exchange cannot make calls even to the Emergency Services, the current scheme has been used very rarely. As a consequence, it would appear unwise for responders to rely on GTPS as a cornerstone for providing resilient telecommunications. Elsewhere on this site we provide Five Guiding Principles that can be used as a focus for measures to enhance the resilience of telecommunications arrangements. In view of the gradual removal of the old networks, over which the existing scheme works, we are not encouraging further take-up of the current scheme.

Airwave

Introduction to Airwave

Airwave [External website] is the secure and resilient mobile telecommunications system for the Emergency Services. It is used primarily by the Police, Ambulance and Fire and Rescue Services, who share the system with others with whom they need to communicate in responding to emergencies.

The radio spectrum used by Airwave is allocated for telecommunications of a community consisting of all Emergency Services and Public Safety Users which largely embraces Category 1 and 2 responders as defined by the Civil Contingencies Act (2004). As a consequence, Airwave is restricted to a closed community of responders.

Access by those outside the Emergency Services to mobile communications using Airwave - General

Access to Airwave is managed by Ofcom [External website] (the telecommunications regulator). Organisations that are currently entitled to take up Airwave are contained on the Sharer's List [External PDF]. Guidance on making an application [External website] to become a Sharer can be found on the Ofcom website.

The Multi Agency Airwave User Group [External website] is open to all public safety organisations which are either using Airwave or are interested in taking up the Service. The Group has a regional structure based on the Government Office regions.

Local Authority Emergency Planning Units

The Cabinet Office and Ofcom have agreed that all Local Authorities (LAs) Emergency Planning Units are approved to be included in the Airwave Sharers’ List.

LAs perform a pivotal role during a multi-agency emergency response. The addition to the Airwave Sharers’ List formally acknowledges that each Emergency Planning Unit has an established requirement to interoperate with the blue light services in emergency situations. This considerably shortens the length of time it would normally take to satisfy the pre-requisites before being allowed to take up the Airwave service.

During February 2010, the Cabinet Office made a group application on behalf of all the Local Authority Emergency Planning Units (EPUs) in England, Wales and Scotland to join the Airwave Sharers List. This application was recently approved by Ofcom.

This addition to the Airwave Sharers’ List is principally to allow Emergency Planning Units within each LA easier access to the Airwave capability. The criteria for an organisation and user group joining the Sharers’ List is that it must:

Previously, each LA EPU would have to seek support to use the Airwave service from a local emergency service. Then applications to the Airwave Sharer’s List would have to be submitted separately and comprehensively demonstrate the organisation has users which fulfil the criteria and will use the Airwave service in line with its intended purpose.

Now LA EPUs wishing to use the service can skip this part of the application process and need only apply for a TEA2 user sub-licence (FULL) which allows use of the TETRA Encryption Algorithm (TEA2) and the approved Sharer to procure its own terminals and network access.

This change does not affect those LA EPUs already on the Sharers’ List.

Sharer approval does not constitute automatic TEA2 approval and this licence is required before the organisation and/or user group can take up the Airwave Service or handle any Airwave radio terminals. The relevant and current documentation or further information can be obtained by emailing a request to the Airwave Accreditation Secretariat in the first instance.

Interoperability

The Civil Contingencies Secretariat has been working with the Multi-Agency Interoperability Programme [External website] at the National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA) [External website] to develop guidance for how to use the Airwave system across all the agencies involved in crisis response. This was created by the Multi-Agency Interoperability Programme team following consultation with the emergency services and other ‘sharer’ organisations.

Local Resilience Forums are being encouraged to use this guidance during both planned events and when responding to crises to ensure the advantages that this technology provides are recognised. It has been recommended that local Telecommunication Sub-Groups lead on incorporating this guidance into the revision and development of local telecommunications plans.