A UK Department of Homeland Security?

A UK Department of Homeland Security?

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Yesterday a report was released which called for a “Major overhaul of emergency services…to increase U.K. resilience and security“.

Proposals in this All-Party Parliamentary Group on Homeland Security report (which is highly provocative, perhaps deliberately so?), include the establishment of a Department of Homeland Security and a merger of fire services and ambulance trusts.


This would represent a paradigm shift in not just how the emergency services opperate, but, I feel, also opens the door to more collaborative styles of working across other agencies. Federation is an interesting approach, and one which should not be dismissed without consideration. However, understandably, the emergency services will be concerned about what these proposals mean.

Setting up a UK-DHS, wouldn’t be without it’s complications (one of which would certainly centre around ‘Americanisation’), and may strain or fracture some existing relationships in an attempt to build others. The Ambulance Service, for instance, currently works very closely with hospitals, and this is facilitated to some degree by ‘answering to’ the same Government Department. The future of these relationships would need careful consideration.

The diffuse structure of public services in the UK, as with most things, presents both challenges and opportunities.Establishing an umbrella structure and a Chief of the Emergency Services (a further proposal) could reduce the current relative autonomy. The report suggests that this would be similar to how the Chief of Defence Staff currently provides coordination and consistency for the military. I don’t have extensive experience of how the military works internally, but externally it certainly appears to provide a ‘united front’, and perhaps there is value in looking into this model.

A merger of fire and ambulance organisations in the UK has been suggested before, by the Chief Fire Officers Association. Providing that this proposal is around shared costs, rather than competencies I think there could be benefits. All organisations are looking to make savings without impacting on front line services, and this suggestion shouldn’t be discounted just because it’s unpalettable. However, I think the inherent risk, for example, of getting fire fighters to do the jobs of medical professionals, or visa-versa; would be far too great.

I wonder if the review group looked at benefits from further centralisation? Do we really need 43 Police forces, 46 Fire Services and 11 Ambulance Trusts? Could we not just have 1 of each, with local delivery units? It’s vital that the emergency services continue to provide first class responses to the public, that has to be their priority. But it’s surely worth looking at all potential methods to deliver those services, even if they challenge the here and now?

I’m sure there will be much discussion on these recommendations. Whether there is any resultant change is almost not the point, it’s more important that debates and discussion continue to happen about how we can ensure the best possible provision of emergency services.

I was at a JESIP event earlier this week and it seemed to me that the overarching objective of the programme is to develop a better answer to the question “Why do you do things like that?” than “Because we always have done”. Seems to me that this report is looking to do similar.

Image Source: standford.edu

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