Phone system failure left West Mercia Police unable to take 999 or 101 calls

A “system outage” left West Mercia Police “unable to accept 999 and 101 calls” and relying on an external backup network just over a month ago, a committee has heard.

At a meeting on Tuesday, Police and Crime Panel chairman Aled Luckman asked how such a failure was “physically possible in this day and age” and why the force did not have an internal backup.

Police and Crime Commissioner John Campion said he could not go into detail about the July 23 outage, though he said incidents like that happen “more often than you would perhaps think” but there was a “well-practiced” procedure to deal with them based on “mutual aid” between forces.

The matter was raised during a discussion on Mr Campion’s 2020-21 Annual Report, which described the installation of a new call-handling system which went live last year.

It said: “SAAB Safe, the new police command and control system, was successfully installed in the summer.

“The system, which call handlers use to record details of crimes, emergencies and other incidents, and to deploy officers accordingly, replaced an ageing 30-year-old system which was no longer fit for purpose.

“The new software helps call handlers gather more information at the first point of contact, allowing the force to respond more effectively and gather more detail about a caller’s circumstances.”

Councillor Luckman said: “I’m just interested to know how, on July 23, the force had a full system outage where they were unable to accept 999 and 101 calls, how that is physically possible in this day and age and how there isn’t an immediate backup, as opposed to a separate force having to follow up with that.”

Mr Campion said he could “not go into details, as you would expect” but said he had been reassured about what had happened and that the force’s contingencies and mitigation measures worked well.

“The ‘nines’ system is based on mutual aid,” he said.

“It’s well practiced and happens more often than you would perhaps think when there is a serious incident in one area, or an ongoing period of serious incidents, that demand can come in a very big peak.

“There is always going to be the possibility of failure when it comes to technology. We, of course, can improve, absolutely, but I am assured the right things happened when the failure happened.”

He added that it was important “the demand we face is managed appropriately”, and there was still a lot of “inappropriate contact” on the emergency and non-emergency lines.

He said the force would have to engage with the public about how to use them, and when to use online reporting methods.

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