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Essex Online Partnership

In 2017, the coastal flooding emergency at Jaywick Sands in Essex highlighted the need for a merging of data sources between the county council and the districts in order to best identify and evacuate vulnerable residents.

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The Challenge

Each major incident requires local government, Police and Fire and Rescue Services, as category one responders, to work cooperatively to plan, manage and respond to protect life and minimise harm during a civil emergency and in the resulting recovery period under the UK Civil Contingencies Act 2004.

Essex Online Partnership (EOLP) is a technology partnership with membership from all 15 Essex Local Authorities, Essex Fire & Rescue, and Essex Police. EOLP and the Essex Resilience Forum jointly adopted a project to develop a data tool, VIPER (Vulnerable Intelligent Persons Emergency Response), which would allow emergency planning responders to coordinate efforts utilising real time data in order to better comply with the Civil Contingencies Act duties minimising harm and risk to life of their residents.

The Solution

Through extensive research the multi-agency group had identified that Surrey County Council had a vulnerable persons system that would output data. Surrey shared some early advice but were unable to share their system as it needed significantly re-writing. This research helped focus EOLP on requirements for the development of VIPER. The existing Pan Essex data sharing platform incorporating VigilancePro core technology and provided by Vigilant Applications Ltd. was deemed to be the most appropriate and most cost-effective approach to delivering VIPER.

EOLP led a development workshop bringing together expertise from: emergency planners, IT specialists, Essex Police Search and Rescue, the LRF, local authorities and the Vigilant Applications software team – outputting a specification document for VIPER. Once this was agreed the tool went into development at Vigilant Applications undergoing data protection and security assessments to ensure compliance with GDPR.

VIPER operates in two modes.

The proactive mode allows emergency responders to pre-plan a response, drawing and notating on a map around the location of the emergency risk through integrated map applications. This could be a cordon around the epicentre of the emergency allowing local authorities and responders to view real-time pseudonymised statistics on residents and vulnerable groups who would be directly impacted in the cordon zone providing real time data to act upon. In this mode only pseudonymised statistics are used by the emergency responder constructing the map, no personal data is shared and therefore no GDPR breach occurs.

The second mode is reactive. The emergency responder accessing VIPER must undergo the METHANE process which is an acronym tool that helps responders gauge the severity of an emergency. It is only once an emergency incident is declared that the responders utilise and share data on the ground with other emergency responders in order to minimise risk and save lives under the Civil Contingencies Act and in compliance with GDPR.

Within VIPER, responders can assign an operations ‘bronze’ manager who is coordinating and leading the response in real time on the ground. This manager will receive data directly and securely to their mobile device allowing them to make informed decisions at the centre of activity. This access is only permitted within the predetermined map outlined by the responders working on the system so that if the operations manager moves outside the geographical boundaries access is revoked until they return. This function protects and limits exposure of the sensitive data streams that are being shared with this individual. Responders ‘on the ground’ can update VIPER, giving tactical and strategic responders real-time knowledge of the incident response activities.

With the help pf Vigilant Applications, a pre-release dataset was made available to all 14 of the 15 local authorities involved to identify their ‘Cat B’ COVID-19 vulnerable persons and each authority has the capability to manage any civil emergency incident using VIPER to identify vulnerable groups in need. It is important to note that VIPER is only as accurate as the different datasets that are available and emergency planning operations are still reliant upon establishing operational ‘ground truth’. VIPER is currently at the final development phase and will be fully operational in mid-July.

Who is Involved?

EOLP (Tendring DC, Basildon Council, Braintree DC, Brentwood BC, Castlepoint BC, Chelmsford City Council, Colchester BC, Essex Fire and Rescue, Essex Police, Harlow Council, Maldon DC, Rochford DC, Southend-on-Sea BC, Thurrock Council, Uttlesford DC) and the Essex Local Resilience Forum.

The Impact

“When we presented the VIPER development proposal to the Essex Chief Executives’ Association it was unanimously agreed as a no-brainer. All of us involved in the project genuinely believe that VIPER will save lives” - Dawn French, Uttlesford CEO.

VIPER is a huge technological step forward for all category one responders who for the first time will be able to plan, deliver and monitor the success of an emergency planning response digitally and in real-time with the benefit of focusing limited specialist resources to protect our most vulnerable residents.

“EOLP has championed VIPER from inception to delivery. It is a great example of what can be achieved when local authorities work together” - Scott Logan, Basildon CEO.

From experience the author can advise that the ‘silver’ tactical coordination team is desperate for real-time information in order to ascertain the effectiveness of an emergency response in order to react tactically and divert resources effectively – VIPER gives a digital view of events in real-time.

“VIPER has come about partly as a result of Essex partners’ collective Jaywick Sands coastal flooding evacuation experiences. We are delighted that others can benefit from our experiences and practical knowledge” – Ian Davidson, Tendring CEO.


John Higgins, Head of IT and Resilience, Tendring District Council [email protected]