File and Data Sharing

Protect and serve: Helping police gather information during major incidents

by Mark Bower
Published on 3rd Aug 2017

Major incidents are defined as events and situations that require the implementation of special arrangements by one or more emergency services, and typically meet at least one of the following criteria:

  • Involve or affect a large number of people
  • Require a potentially large number of casualties to be rescued and / or transported to another location
  • Emergency services need to contribute substantial amounts of resources to handle the incident
  • Both emergency services and support services (e.g. local authorities and transport operatives) have to be mobilised and organised to respond
  • A large number of enquiries from the public and news media (usually made to the police) need to be handled

The UK’s police services play a crucial role throughout major incidents. Among the first responders at such an event, police are tasked with co-ordinating emergency and support services to reduce the risk of loss of life, and to protect and preserve the scene.

Police investigations into the incident start almost immediately, during which time they need to collect and consolidate relevant information from witnesses. Of course, statements need to be taken from those involved, but these are often supported by digital evidence – such as video footage and photos taken on personal mobile phones, private CCTV footage that captures some or all of the incident (for example CCTV cameras directed at the street that are normally used by shopkeepers and restaurant owners to protect their property), and even dashcams from passing vehicles should an incident involve a traffic collision.

To facilitate this, police services require a solution that can not only handle the transfer of large files into their corporate network (and mitigate the associated risks, such as malware and viruses) but also protect the sensitive data submitted alongside these files, for example witnesses’ names and contact details.

Improving response and protecting data

We’ve previously discussed how police services can use a combination of a secure web form and encrypted collaboration environment to accept 101 evidence submissions, including the likes of video files and CCTV footage – and this approach can also be used to support evidence collection during a major incident.

A secure web form would meet data protection requirements by encrypting personally sensitive information, such as witnesses’ names and contact details. It is also a more secure alternative than, for example, sending this information on a USB stick in the post or via courier. As recent data breaches have shown us, when digital data is saved and transported physically, it is immediately at risk. Additionally, posting and couriering items takes longer and makes submitting evidence a greater burden for witnesses – both things police forces would want to avoid in the aftermath of a major incident. The secure form should also offer anti-virus scanning and protection as default, and therefore provide greater security to the network.

For additional protection, the data and files received should be sent to a secure collaboration environment that is independent of the police service’s network. Again, the files can be scanned for viruses within this environment to increase information security. All data submissions can also be stored encrypted at a file and folder-level to protect the personal data of the citizens involved. Users within the police service and related agencies can only access the files with the correct permissions and can be prevented from taking certain actions (such as downloading files), reducing the likelihood of an internal data breach. Finally, a full audit trail from both the secure form and the encrypted environment would help preserve the chain of evidence and could be relied on to verify when files were submitted and the actions taken with them. This functionality would also be crucial for compliance with data protection legislation, providing full visibility over sensitive information.

Receiving and handling data and files following a major incident is a subject that police services should consider sooner rather than later, so that they can prepare as much as possible for an unpredictable situation and respond as quickly as possible should the worst happen. Having forms and secure environments set up to use, with URLs for uploads made available following a major incident, police services can efficiently gather the information they need while reducing the impact on those involved.