BT has won a contract from the Cabinet Office Civil Contingencies Secretariat and the Communities and Local Government department to develop a national extranet for civil emergencies.

The company will work alongside Ultra Electronics Datel to develop a National Resilience Extranet that should be live in 2009. The NRE will be a browser based system that will enable national and local government, health authorities and emergency services to share information and communicate online.

It will be available to 1,000 category 1 and 2 responders, including the NHS’ strategic health authorities, on a subscription basis. It will also provide optional emergency information management and geographical information systems capabilities. These will help organisations manage their response to developing emergencies.

The development of the extranet is part of the government’s response to reports on earlier incidents, including the 2007 floods and the national outbreak of foot and mouth disease.

In a separate announcement, the Department of Health and BSI British Standards have announced an initiative to increase the NHS’ resilience to major incidents and disruption. This will start with the implementation of the BS 25999 code of practice and specification on business continuity management.

The DH said that although the NHS had a good record on responding to “big bang” incidents, it had less experience of coping with emergencies that took time to develop, such as an influenza pandemic, flooding, or shortages of staff, power and water.

An NHS Resilience Project was set up in 2007 to help NHS organisations meet their business continuity management obligations under the 2004 civil contingencies act. The BSI British Standards are a way of benchmarking readiness. IT departments should be closely involved in planning.