Secret to leading NZ emergency services rollout? Don’t talk tech

The Next Generation Critical Communications (NGCC) effort seeks to modernise how four agencies gather information and communicate during a range of emergencies.

gettyimages 92252281 emergency sign
Getty Images / Pablo Hart

How do you approach a multi-year communications upgrade of the nation’s emergency services that involves four separate agencies, four government ministers, and an independent governance board? The answer, according to Chris Goldsmith, is that you don’t ‘talk tech’.

Goldsmith is the lead entity director for Next Generation Critical Communications (NGCC), which is overseeing the replacement of critical communications for fire, police and ambulance services in New Zealand. “We begin with understanding the business problem and the business objectives and what the outcomes are. None of that has anything to do with technology. Technology is but an enabler, that comes once we have got very, very clear about what it is that we are trying to achieve and what success looks like,” he says.

Why emergency service communications needs upgrading

Front line responders currently rely on walkie-talkie-type capability, although police do have some access to applications which enable them to access information when they are at an incident. This technology is 30 years old, and emergency services today need access to modern communications such as video data, message, telemetry, push to talk and normal voice services, Goldsmith says.

He cites the example of a multiple-car accident. Today, the fire service will turn up with the jaws of life to cut people out of vehicles (and if it’s an electric vehicle they will need to know its schematics so they don’t get electrocuted), ambulance crews will attend to the injured and police will control traffic and gather information about the accident. Meanwhile their activities will be supported by despatchers and coordinators working offsite, who have access to only a small amount of real-time data to inform their decision making.

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