SafePod Network completes installation programme across the UK
The final of 23 SafePods has now been installed, marking the completion of the ADR UK-funded SafePod Network programme. This blog by Darren Lightfoot, SafePod Network Manager, looks back on the history of the SafePod Network, and gives an insight into the plans for future developments in secure data access.
Before the SafePod Network was developed, accredited researchers had historically faced geographical, time and cost barriers to access sensitive data from a limited number of safe settings in the UK. These safe settings were also fragmented, only allowing data access from a single Data Centre.
In 2021, and with funding from ADR UK, the SafePod Network launched. It represented a world-first service providing researchers with local access to different Data Centres’ data from SafePods across the UK. This marked a major step change in the way data could be accessed for vital public good research.
A SafePod is a standardised small prefabricated room, typically installed into a university library. It has a dedicated room for research analysis and necessary security measures for accessing data, including door access controls and a CCTV system. Local Coordinators, who are background checked and trained, manage their SafePod and bookings in line with SafePod Network policies.
Up to two researchers (working on the same project) can use a SafePod at any one time. A dedicated IT system secured inside a SafePod provides the remote connection for data access.
SafePods are installed at various locations across the UK, enabling many researchers to travel within an hour to be able to access their project data. View the map of SafePod locations.
Researchers can use SafePods to access project data held in the following data centres in the UK:
- Office for National Statistics Secure Research Service
- SAIL Databank
- Scottish Government
- UK Data Service SecureLab
- National Records of Scotland
- Health and Social Care Northern Ireland
In early 2024, Public Health Scotland and the Leeds Institute for Data Analytics are also expected to join the SafePod Network.
SafePod bookings by researchers have steadily increased since launch. In 2023, the network averaged around 350 bookings quarterly. 450 researchers are now registered, and there are 160 Coordinators.
Other notable developments for the SafePod Network since launch include:
- establishing an upgrade programme for SafePods to provide two monitors for data analysis.
- creating an awards scheme for Coordinators in recognition of their time and contributions.
SafePoint: Introducing a new type of safe setting
In response to growing demand for SafePods and data access, the SafePod Network is developing a new type of standardised safe setting called SafePoint. This will provide secure data access from an approved room in an organisation using a custom-built SafePoint Desk.
A SafePoint has similar security controls to a SafePod, including management by a team of Coordinators based at the host organisation.
SafePoints bring their own distinct benefits. They are low cost and scalable, allowing any research organisation to have their own secure data access point. They also allow for collaborative working as multiple SafePoint desks can be installed in the same room.
A call for applications to install a SafePoint is expected to open in early 2024.