Select Committee on Defence Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Letter from Deputy Chief Constable, Ian Readhead, Hampshire Constabulary (30 May 2002)

  Following our recent conversation I have pleasure in providing you with the following briefing about the failure of the telecommunications system within Hampshire on 25 April 2002 and in particular the failure of the 999 system.

  You will be aware that at about 1830 hours on 25 April 2002 we experienced a serious incident whereby the telephone exchange at Southampton suffered a catastrophic failure which resulted in the loss of telephones in the south western area of Hampshire and southern Wiltshire. In particular, these people lost access to the 999 system and we implemented a series of measures to deal with the incident. Among many actions we sent officers to the Hampshire fire and Rescue Service Control Room and to the Hampshire Ambulance Control Room with a radio each and communication was retained with them through those officers.

  Because of the loss of the exchange the only mobile phone network that remained operational was Orange, as they do not use British Telecom cabling in that area. We were without landline communications, e-mail, fax or mobile phones as well as our UHF radios. We were effectively cut off and unable to communicate with anyone else. The exchange began to function normally at about 2330 hours, some five hours after it had gone down, with full service to all residents at about 0345 hours the following morning.

  I can provide you with general information in relation to the causes of the breakdown of the telephone system and to update you on the progress we have made with British Telecom since the failure occurred. More detailed information about the failure of the exchange can be sought from British Telecom or Oftel.

  During the evening the telephone system was lost throughout a large part of Hampshire, effecting over 400,000 people. The result of this for us was the total loss of telephones and UHF radios, our usual method of communication, within the Command and Control Centre at Netley. We were able to maintain radio contact with officers through a few VHF radios, but had we been live with the new national radios, Airwave, it is anticipated we would have lost that capability as well.

  When we contracted British Telecom to supply our Command and Control centre with its telephone system, one of the stipulations was that we would have a high degree of resilience, and to facilitate this we have separate lines running out of Netley, to Hamble, Woolston and Bursledon. These in turn go to Southampton, Oxford and Gloucester and it was anticipated this would provide us with the level of resilience we required. Since the breakdown of the system on 25 April, it transpires that having left Woolston and Bursledon, these lines then come into the Southampton exchange, before going off to Oxford and Gloucester. This is not something we were previously aware of and we are now in negotiation with BT to remedy this by putting our lines through Portsmouth and Southampton, rather than all going through Southampton. British Telecom are unable to ascertain how many other Command and Control Centres around the country would be affected in a similar way. They have assured us that they will be carrying out an audit of the resilience of Emergency Authority Command and Control Centres.

  On the evening of 25 April a number of components failed within the BT exchange at Southampton and in addition to that, the alarms that would have notified the monitoring centre of these failures did not activate and this is part of an in depth review currently being undertaken by British Telecom into their practices and procedures.

  Oftel, the regulatory body of the telecommunications industry, have instigated an investigation into the events of 25 April and we are involved in that investigation. You may also be aware that this incident has been raised by Mr Andrew Turner, MP for the Isle of Wight, in the form of Parliamentary Questions on 14 May 2002. We have also updated a number of the local MPs and have agreed to update Mr John Denham MP, Minister for Police, in the near future.

  In my capacity of Secretary to the ACPO Information Management—Communications Sub-group, I am seeking answers on behalf of the Police Service nationally, especially in relation to the resilience of the Airwave Radio system. This is an additional matter of concern to both the Police Authority and myself and I have asked British Telecom to liaise with their colleagues in MMO2 (formally BT Cellnet) to seek their assurances about this system in the event of a similar situation in the future.

  It is worthy of note that although on this occasion it was a component failure that triggered the failure of the telecommunications systems, it could have easily have been a fire or other criminal action at the exchange and the result would have been the same, although the loss of the exchange would have been for a longer period.

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