Radio solution for Scottish Mountain Rescue team

Mountain rescue in Scotland is carried out on a voluntary basis by 26 teams, which are affiliated to the Mountain Rescue Committee of Scotland (MRCofS).

These teams are on call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and provide rapid response to find and rescue people in need. Prior to 2004, these volunteers worked with a legacy radio system which was efficient but resulted in severe radio-channel congestion on multi agency incidents.

What the Mountain Rescue teams needed was a modern communications network, which allowed reliable communications between the different teams and other emergency services attending incidents. They also required access to both fast and expert support and advice on the communications process and systems.

Solution

At the beginning of 2004, the MRCofS carried out in-depth research to evaluate the most effective and modern communications solutions available to the mountain rescue teams, in accordance with the new radio channels, granted to UK Search and Rescue (UKSAR) to enable multi-agency communications. Following this research, a comprehensive report was produced which highlighted the options which would satisfy the MRCofS’s radio equipment needs for a minimum period of 10 years, or until the rescue teams were obliged to change because of technical advances or outside influences.

Following the report, in the autumn of 2004, the MRCofS awarded Arqiva’s Public Safety Group a contract to provide a new unified communications system on a ‘design and build’ basis. The full contract required a bespoke radio solution which would enable multi-agency communications during Scottish SAR operations, using the relatively new UK SAR Bandplan.

Initial preparatory and advisory work undertaken by the Arqiva team ensured a smooth roll-out of the new network, and the provision of over 800 Icom handportable radios and accessories, 120 mobile radios for rescue vehicles and base stations (some fixed, some temporary) and relays and repeaters for up to 23 individual mountain rescue teams.

Finding the way in Scottish terrain
During the initial stages of the contract, the Arqiva team worked extensively with the MRCofS to discover just how important radio communications are to the mountain rescue teams. Members of the Arqiva team accompanied some of the volunteers on a number of rescue exercises and incidents in order to determine the communications issues and needs of the mountain rescue teams.

When rolling out the radio system in some areas, several challenges were encountered, particularly in the Cairngorm and Isle of Skye regions. For the Cairngorm system, both the Relay and the Repeater were installed at the summit of Cairngorm Mountain which is 1245m high.

Weather conditions at the summit are harsh and it is not unusual to encounter winds of over 100mph, making the roll-out particularly hazardous. Due to the weight of icing on the mast during the winter, specialised heavy duty antennae also had to be installed.

Together the relay and repeater provide enhanced coverage from the summit of Cairngorm and ensure that any other emergency service entering the area, for example an ambulance to support and assist a rescue, also has access to the system. Access to the summit can be via the Cairngorm Funicular Railway but may have to be reached by a 500m rise by foot to the “Igloo”, which is the local nickname for the Radio Cabin.

Communication benefits
The solution implemented by Arqiva’s Public Safety Group replaced the single channel operation system. The new radios operate on a multi-channel system, which cuts down on local interference as well as alleviating channel congestion and enabling efficient joined-up communications with other emergency organisations at search and rescue incidents. The new system has also significantly increased the network coverage available to the Mountain Rescue teams, particularly in hard-to-reach areas such as the Cairngorm summit and the mountains on the Isle of Skye. Radio officers from each mountain rescue team have, with assistance from Arqiva, been trained on how best to utilise the new system, ensuring the teams obtain maximum benefit from the considerable improvements the new equipment and operating plan permits.

Committed to high standards
Arqiva has been working with the UK emergency services for many years and has built up considerable expertise and commitment to providing communications support and equipment to these crucial organisations.

Working in partnership with the MRCofS, Arqiva is providing a dedicated team of engineers, based at Arqiva premises in Scotland, to maintain and support the radio system.

The Arqiva engineers are on call 24/7 and the Mountain Rescue teams can simply pick up the phone for assistance and advice if they are encountering any communications problems.

For further information, visit www.arqiva.com/publicsafety