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Download a PDF copy of RFCPU Report 46

 RFCPU report 46
(140 Kb)

Directorate of Telecommunications

Introduction (by Steven R. Cole)
Apart from it’s primary role of communication service provider to the Police Fire and Prison Services, the Directorate was also responsible for providing secondary support to other emergency organisations, many of whom had no direct central or local government funding.  One such organisation where the Directorate provided Technical and Regulatory support was Mountain Rescue.

In December 2007 Brian Hill wrote a personalised account of his association with the Mountain Rescue Council from 1989 until his retirement in 2000.  The early period spanned his time with the Directorate before transferring to Radio Frequency & Communications Planning Unit (RFCPU) in the early 90’s (RFCPU was a Home Office department set up in the early 90’s to provide core communication services previously undertaken by the Directorate and was not part of the eventual DTELS privatisation).

Brian’s account is reproduced below, together with RFCPU Technical Report 46 contained in the download file.  Although technically not a Directorate document, it has been included as this was an example of one of the many projects undertaken by the organisation that was eventually passed on post DTELS restructuring and subsequent privatisation.


We in the cities and urban areas have the very real presence of the Police, Fire and Ambulance services on almost a daily basis.  If there is a maritime or coastal slant to your activities, leisure or otherwise then HM Coastguard will slip into view, and indeed, for many situations where safety of life is of the immediate concern there is also the possibility of intervention by aircraft - usually at this stage a helicopter of some sort.  It must not be forgotten that in addition to our professional emergency services there are a number of voluntary organisations that spring to mind to offer close support to the public, such as the Royal National Lifeboat Institute (RNLI), Red Cross, St Johns Ambulance and many more.  All depend on having their own type of communications network to meet their particular needs.  Even today, with the advance of the ubiquitous personal mobile phone, there are still large tracts of our country that are distant from a source of ready communication and radio is still the most expedient means to provide an all-informed net with local control in an emergency.

Following the major upheavals and reorganisations of DTELS in 1989 I was asked whether I would take over the Home Office responsibility for the general communications aspect of Mountain Rescue, as the Mountain Rescue organisation of both England & Wales, and Scotland, are initially seen to be a police resource.  As such they had a supported need from the Home Office and the Scottish Office in both Technical and Regulatory matters. Then followed eleven years of various experiences covering mountains, caves, mines (in Cornwall), cliffs and estuaries all over England and Wales

Many volunteers in these sometimes remote areas are ready, willing and able to give their time and effort in supporting both people and animals that get into spots of bother that they cannot readily extricate themselves from.  It may be of injury sustained, exacerbation of a medical condition brought on by weather conditions or overexertion, or simply a matter of poor preparation on the part of a casualty.  I myself have seen a lady in a summer dress and high heels at the top of Helvellyn peak, suffering with cold and lost in the cloud - looking for the car park! (What car park!)  No matter what the occasion or the time of year, the teams will turn out and provide a worthwhile service.

Caves are funny things too.  Attending a mock emergency caving incident one November in North Yorkshire, I was initially surprised to find the teams' vehicles (complete with blue light) heading up into the hills.  After what can only be described as a traumatic hill climb, the Land Rover vehicles swept into a steep field whereupon people - males and females together - leapt out and started to strip off their clothes down to their undies!  I watched in amazement as they then donned wet suits, oilskins, boots, helmets and equipment in the middle of the field before rushing behind an isolated rock and promptly disappearing from sight!  On inspection, a small stream wandered downhill to the rock, then went underground through a small hole into a wet 'pitch' of some forty feet.  This was then followed by a short crawl entering into a large cave system, which I understood had not been fully explored to date due to its propensity to flood very quickly.  A communications net was set up  using a VLF device known as a 'Molephone' which was capable of communicating to a depth of some 200-300 feet below ground to the caving teams, and had in the past been used to assist in mapping the cave system, whilst normal VHF comms was used above ground.

I have attended a number of team exercises over the years both as an observer and communications advisor, and at times have actually been roped in as an extra team member if an incident occurred during that exercise.  One occasion I recall: The teams of South West England were running an exercise near Cheddar gorge.  It was scheduled to start with team briefings on Friday evening with practical events swinging into action on the Saturday, each team having a challenge suitable for its particular skills.  The RAF provided a Wessex Sea-King for support which was used to airlift teams (and search dogs!) to various obtuse locations in the Mendip hills to track and recover other team members acting as 'casualties' with faked injuries, be they hidden on moorland, in crevasses, hanging off of cliffs or just stuck in a cave.  There were several comms nets in force at that stage, including another 'Molephone' for use in the Cheddar caves complex as well as an air-to-ground link to the Wessex.  After a successful day, the de-briefing took place on the Saturday evening and was of course followed by the usual team building exercise exploring the virtue of the local ale!  By midnight, all started to settle down a bit in the camp.

Around 0100 on the Sunday morning the local police arrived with a real 'shout' for aid - a team of young air cadets had not reported in from a Mendips march.  After much booing and jeering, and realising that this was not a wind-up situation by the local bobbies, everybody somehow rallied and put together search teams although I am sure that in some cases the dogs had put their leads on the owners rather than the reverse!  The same helicopter and crew were still on standby and the whole shooting match swung into action - for real.  The cadets were quickly located, partly due to the fact that everyone's maps (including the pilot's) were still marked up with the successful exercise search patterns of the day; the youngsters suffered nothing worse than mild hypothermia (it was July) and some very tired young bunnies were returned to their parents.  The rest of the Sunday programme was cancelled by mutual agreement!

In the years up to 2000 when I retired, despite the formal meetings, conferences and seminars in various parts of the country, I have carried stretchers off of the Derbyshire peaks, plunged into caves as far apart as Yorkshire and the Mendips, been airlifted by both RAF and RN Wessex helicopters, abseil down Symonds Yat, tramped Dartmoor, Exmoor, parts of Wales and various sections of the Lake District, and become intimately involved with the treacherous navigation of the high end of the Severn Estuary and the river Wye using a RIB - all in the name of communications and all squeezed into weekends!  Looking at these situations in detail did allowed me to understand both the ground(?) level and the committee side of the MRC (Mountain Rescue Council) and to be in a good position to interface between the requirements of the various teams (as they saw them), and the necessary procedures and difficulties to be dealt with and overcome from the official side (as we saw them), both technical and regulatory, always an area for, shall we say, intense discussion.  I dealt with the technical side whilst an RFCPU colleague dealt with any regulatory aspects arising.
Mountain Rescue Regions
Mountain Rescue Council Logo

Since the general reorganisation of radio spectrum over the recent years, and the appreciation for better cross band co-operation with the different authorities, the MR teams have been able to improve their communications networks from using just the original single frequency national channel.  They now provide their own additional services by privately leased similar arrangements using single frequencies for individual team use and incorporating additional two frequency repeater systems with CTCSS where adjacent teams have combined within a convenient geographical area. At the time of my leaving the scene, sophisticated arrangements were under trial in some areas to transmit vital signs and medical data direct from the casualty to a central location such as a hospital.  No doubt ever increasing uses will be sought as time goes on.

I suppose that MR duties were looked on as something as rather a 'Cinderella' function or an odd job up at  Home Office HQ, but every task can be made to deliver back a proportion of what you put into it, and when I look back on my time with the MR, both as DTELS and afterwards as a function of Home Office, I certainly enjoyed putting in the effort.  I have retained contact with one or two members of various teams, and can look up at the 'Honorary Member' certificates on my wall with pride.  In 2003 I was presented with the Queen's Golden Jubilee Medal through the Mountain Rescue Council, effectively for services rendered.

As an interesting twist to the communications story I was informed recently that during the floods in North Gloucestershire and Worcestershire earlier this year, the only infrastructure based communications system that worked without disruption throughout the emergency was the MRC wide area vhf system.  The police tetra, fire & ambulance systems and the cell phones networks all suffered down times intermittently with no warning - the MRC just kept working! A fitting tribute to the volunteer sector.

Brian Hill.
7th December 2007

1.  Brian Hill for his personalised article.
2.  mountain.rescue.org.uk Mountain Rescue Regional Map and Logo
3.  RFCPU Report 46 Crown Copyright

page updated: 15/03/19

Copy of an email received on 6 August 2007 from Alan George, Regional Officer (South & West of England) Mountain Rescue England & Wales:

Take a look at the below and feel proud as it would have been a very different story without your hard work all that time ago.



Local West Country Volunteer Mountain Rescue Teams in Flood Action
Teams from Avon & Somerset Search and Rescue (A&S SAR) based in Bristol, S Glos, BANES, N Somerset & Mendip together with Severn Area Rescue Association’s (SARA) teams stations based at Beachley, Sharpness and Wyre Forest (Arley) have all been working throughout North Gloucestershire and Worcestershire, working alongside the local Police, Fire and Ambulance Services since the start of the flash floods on Friday.
Each team equipped with a four wheel drive vehicles, trailers with lifeboat or rescue boats and rescue / medical / communication equipment have been deployed with the statuary emergency services to rescuing people of all ages from homes or stranded vehicles and attending 999 medical emergency response calls where the ambulances could not get through due to the depth of flood water. These highly trained emergency service rescue teams are all unpaid volunteers who have been working up to 14 hour shifts before handing over their equipment to new rested teams to carry on the work continuously through out Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
“I am immensely proud of our teams who have all given gallant service to the community during this Major Incident. These men and women have all selflessly given their time and endured hardship and hazards. To provide this important life saving emergency service, the work has been long, hard and demanding both on the members and equipment.”
During the period of Friday through to Sunday A&S SAR and SARA
Recovered 800+ persons to a place of safety
Rescued 240+ persons where life was at direct risk
Attended 95+ medical emergency responses
Evacuated 50+ pets & animals
Assisted with the movement of 120+ persons from care or nursing homes
This is believed the highest recorded numbers of persons assisted or lives saved at any incident in the almost 75 year history of Mountain Rescue in England & Wales.
Both A&S SAR and SARA are Registered Charities who receive no direct Government Funding and are both funded solely by donations,
Alan George
Regional Officer {South & West of England} Mountain Rescue England & Wales
0117 969 12 65
07831 606 857

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