Testing 112/999 Calls In Europe

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You have to love the Internet and all of its information at your fingertips, but you also have to sit back and laugh about how rumors spread like wildfire in suddenly magically transform into truth-isms.

It happens in every industry, and 911 is no exception. I have an email somewhere talking about the reliability of the 911 network in the US. The discussion was based around outages that were experienced during some natural disasters in 2011 and 2012. The email explains that these failures must have been “human errors”, as it was “illegal for the 911 system to go out of service”. Statements like that really make you stop and think; I guess Mother Nature never read that law.

In a recent email chain from a colleague in the UK, they forwarded me a segment of an email they had received that stated:

BT_Logo.jpg “I was talking to someone at BT and apparently these days it is illegal to make test calls to 999/112 (or any non-real emergency call). No doubt politicians and the rule of unintended consequences – trying to stop the time wasters but the call centre operators have seized on the letter of the law, not the intent and people have been threatened with prosecution when trying to test routing.”

This obviously had all of the ingredients of the classic Internet rumor, and I decided to reach out to my colleagues at BT for the official version of the story. Jeff Phelan, 999 VoIP Product Support Manager for BT, got back to me with the following “Official BT Policy as posted”:

BT Retail’s 999 Product line recognises the need to support essential customer testing of new non-standard telephony provision for private networks.

We can arrange “test window” appointments and provide test scripts to customers.

Testing is only permitted within these BT defined “test windows” and by prior appointment only to ensure minimal impact on live 999 calls.

The purpose of the testing is to ensure that, when the customer initiates an emergency call from within their private network the call: –
is delivered to a BT operator as an emergency call,
displays the correct network signalling information
displays the Network CLI in the correct format
displays the expected name and address information for the Network CLI

NOTES: –

  • These tests are performed over the LIVE 999 network, the calls are treated and answered by BT Operators as genuine 999 calls.
  • In order to prevent the 999 Service from being compromised, customer testing is limited to initial new Data Centre/Switch provision ONLY.
  • The BT 999 service cannot be used by customers to verify the configuration of their private network.

There are a few important points behind this policy that customers and system technicians really need to be aware of, and these are probably the root of the Internet rumors.

1.) Testing must take place within defined test windows that need to be established prior to the test event.
2.) Testing is limited to new data center switch provisioning ONLY.
3.) The BT 999 service cannot be used for verification of the private network.

Initially, by the uneducated, these may seem like a difficult rules to work within. But when they’re broken down, you’ll see that they’re quite reasonable and based on good cause.

Testing must take place within defined test windows that need to be established prior to the test event.
Sorry folks, but this is just common courtesy, and good sense. You need to realize that YOUR DOWN TIME does not necessarily equal public safety’s downtime. In the enterprise world we tend to schedule our cut overs on the weekends, in the evenings. Unfortunately, that’s when things are hopping the most in the public safety networks. In the spirit of being a good “network neighbor”, you need to acknowledge Public Safety’s work schedule, and find a common time that is good for both of you.

Testing is limited to new data center switch provisioning ONLY.
Although I initially questioned this statement, the reasons behind it really became clear once the third requirement was understood. So, in the spirit of saving a little bit of time, let’s just “cut to the chase”.

The BT 999 service cannot be used for verification of the private network
Now, I realize you’re saying to yourself right now, “Wait a second Fletch, isn’t that what this whole article is really about?”

Yes it is, but this is a perfect example of hearing, but not listening. What BP is trying to say here, is that they don’t want you using the 999 emergency network to check your PBX configurations. In other words, do some internal testing first and make sure that you are sending what you expect to be sending.

Stressed Out Man-4.gifI get calls, and email all of the time that say, “HELP! My E911 programming is not working! What could be wrong?” My very first question is: “What did the PSAP see on their screen?”. Although I do make note of that information, the question is simply bait for my next question; “And what did you send to the PSAP?” Inevitably, this is followed by a moderate period of silence, or the stumbling answer of, “we sent them what we should have.” This, is a classic indicator that actually translates to, “Gee, I’m really not sure what we sent them, and we haven’t bothered to look”. This is where I have to stop them and ask how they’ve determined that the PSAP is not getting what they are sending, as they have no idea what’s being sent?

What BT is doing, is acknowledging the fact that you should know what you’re sending, and therefore you only need to check once that it’s making it through to the 999 operator. The rest of the network testing is all configuration validation, or setting up an environment using a second PBX, or a customer partition acting as a second PBX that will allow you to confirm, internally, what your test results should be at the carriers network.

Based on this, if there is a mismatch, it’s not a configuration-testing event, it’s a trouble ticket into the carrier to determine what’s broken.


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Until next week. . . dial carefully.

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