911 Answer Delays – Ready, Set, NO!

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Nobody likes to wait for anything, especially for a 911 call taker during an emergency, and 911 Center Public Safety Answer Points (PSAP) Average Call Answer Times have been under scrutiny lately in several states. But before you throw the baby out with the bath water and criticize 911 Call Taker efficiency, you need to validate the data.

Before you measure something, you need to define where you start measuring. For example, when you run a foot race, whether it’s 50 yards, or 5 km, there is a distinctive starting point and finishing point to the race. The clock starts when you cross the start line, and stops when you cross the finish. This sounds logical right? Looking at statistics for emergency calls, is no different; as long as you understand where the clock started, and why.

While discussing average answer times with a colleague this past week, a point came out in the conversation that created a significant amount of confusion around this very topic. In an emergency seconds matter and as it turns out, some emergency dispatchers were being penalized by not meeting a state-mandated answer time. Other agencies were accused of “fudging the numbers” in an effort to make their statistics fall within acceptable guidelines. While looking at the data, however, it became very apparent that the REAL problem was potentially no one was paying attention to when the clock started, only when it ended.

MSN: A 911 response in Detroit takes how long?
San Diego County’s 9-1-1 Communications Home Page


Cattarin-Gary_LG.jpgSo imagine yourself running a five-minute mile, only to find out later that your time was actually 10 minutes because the clock started while you are tying your shoes. Not really too fair, right? Well, the same goes with 911. For those that have asked for more ‘tech content’, here you go. For the rest of you, you’re welcome to read on, especially if it’s bedtime and your looking for a natural sleeping aid!


The Anatomy Of a 911 Call
Unless you’ve listened to the trunk side of a 911 call, you might be slightly astonished at the archaic analog nature of getting a call from Point A to Point B. About two years ago, I was fortunate enough to receive an audio clip from a 911 call that I quite often use for training purposes; as it highlights several points that otherwise aren’t very obvious.

911 Call Pre-amble: Getting Ready To Get Ready
911 CAMA trunks that connect the PSAP to the 911 Tandem central office, are specialized analog circuits similar to Centrex lines. When a call is presented to them from the 911 network, this signaling mechanism is not ringing voltage, as found on a normal telephone line. The central office will “wink” towards the PSAP by applying reverse battery on the circuit. The PBX will then “wink” back towards the central office confirming its readiness to accept a call. The central office will then “wink” back at the PBX confirming that the response was received, and digits will be coming down the line.

When you look at audio as a sound wave, these “winks” are clearly noticeable as a sharp spike in the audio file and can even be heard as a loud click on the line.

In this example you can clearly see the three winks at the very beginning of the call, and if you are measuring answer time from the central office side, this would be a likely spot to start counting from zero.

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At this point in time, the audio path is now open between the central office and the 911 PSAP call taking equipment. The central office then signals to the CPE equipment in band information using Multi-Frequency tones for digits and specialize signaling characters to indicate the pANI of the inbound 911 call. Depending on the area, and the carrier, the ANI that is received could be 7 (NNX-XXXX), 8 (I-NNX-XXXX), or 10 digits (NPA-NNX-XXXX)in length. Once again, looking at our example audio, the MF tones are clearly discernible in the audio wave.

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You will also notice that there is another audio spike, which is the PBX signaling a “wink” back to the central office acknowledging receipt and acceptance of the ANI information. It also serves as a go-ahead signal for the central office to open up the audio channel between the original caller and the PSAP.

At this point, based on the audio in this example, the PBX applies ringing to the line, and you can see the abrupt change in audio as the callers audio is now also patched through.

As an interesting side note, what has happened up until this point is fairly critical in processing and delivering the 911 call to the PSAP. I have seen cases in the past where adjunct equipment has been installed on the CAMA trunks to capture the ANI information and send it over to the CPE 911 equipment for processing. But, because they are signaling back to the central office was not in proper sequence, they returned answer supervision to early to the central office and the callers audio actually corrupted the receipt of the MF tones. In fact, as it turns out a woman screaming can often mimic an MF tone, causing the system to process garbage data and potentially make the call fail.

Another interesting thing happens at this point, and that is the CPE equipment now is aware of the call, and has the information required to process it, and typically generates a Call Detail Reporting (CDR) start record. Once again another potential starting point for the call. The only problem here, is that this starting point is three seconds out of sync with the central office starting point.

The next step in the sequence would be for the CPE or PBX to process the call, and deliver it to a 911 call taker. After analyzing and listing closely to this sample recording, it appears that the 911 call taker answered the line immediately after the first ring (and remember a ring cycle is to second on followed by four seconds of silence). Since we cannot see or hear the second ring, we can assume that the call was picked up almost immediately after the first ring, and in fact you can see a small blip of audio when the line is connected, which is immediately followed by the dispatcher saying “911 what is the location of your emergency?”

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At this point on the timeline, nine seconds has now passed from when the central office initiated the call, yet depending where the starting point is, can significantly skew the data, and the dispatcher could actually be penalized for a nine second delay
when in fact they answered the call within two seconds of it being presented to them.

Keeping it fair for everyone
let’s face it, we certainly want to make sure that our nation’s public safety operators are doing their job, and are performing within the excepted national specifications. What we have to be careful of though is to make sure that we are not penalizing them by looking at bad data.


Want more Technology, News and Information from Avaya? Be sure to check out the Avaya Podcast Network landing page at http://avaya.com/APN . There you will find additional Podcasts from Industry Events such as Avaya Evolutions and INTEROP, as well as other informative series by the APN Staff.

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Thanks for stopping by and reading the Avaya CONNECTED Blog on E9-1-1, I value your opinions, so please feel free to comment below or if you prefer, you can email me privately.

Public comments, suggestions, corrections and loose change is all graciously accepted 😉
Until next week. . . dial carefully.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter @Fletch911

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Avaya Mobile Engagement is #1 Seed to Power the March Basketball Championship Tournament

Let’s dance! I’ve been known to choreograph some big half-time dances in my day but this dance is all about college basketball. No, not Sadie Hawkins or the prom, the dance I’m referring to is, of course, the lively Division I Men’s Basketball Championship Tournament. Played mostly during March, the tournament has become one of the most famous annual sporting events in the United States. For the past five years, Avaya has powered these ultimate games in college basketball.

Experience is Everything in the World of Sports

To create a great experience, Allegiant USA partners with Avaya to power the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) annual convention in conjunction with the collegiate single-elimination championship tournament. For an event with this much coverage and participation, Allegiant USA sets up a mobile command center powered by Avaya’s IP Office™ Platform, inclusive of local and remote phones, wireless firewall switches, and VPN for secure, flexible, and easy set up that they can plug into anytime, even from their hotels. This mobile engagement kit enables the NABC to have instant access to an on-the-go office that is backed by simple, powerful unified collaboration technology for seamless engagement.

The Mobile Command Center

Avaya’s elite technology and solutions provide an instant office for the championship weekend, where the NABC sponsors several major events: the College All-Star Game, NABC Marketplace, coaching clinics, and a grand finale at the Guardians of the Game College Basketball Awards Show. During high-adrenaline times, the mobile command center connects coaches, staff, and volunteers with a reliable communications experience.

Scoring in the Cloud

The NABC Convention is home court for professional development and networking for coaches from all levels of play. NABC members use Avaya IP Office in their standard office, remote locations, tournament command center, and on-the-go offices for their mobile workforce. Throughout the single-elimination tournament, the NABC also opens a temporary office to attract new members, job applicants, and also provides networking experiences for participating coaches. Next season, the powerhouse team of NABC and Allegiant USA will be taking IP Office to the cloud for an elite, scalable, and championship-like infrastructure that protects their investment and scales as their communication needs change.

A Tradition of World Class Coaches and Technology

With the remaining four teams officially set (South Carolina vs Gonzaga and Oregon vs North Carolina), Avaya, Allegiant USA, and the NABC know it’s time to suit up and head out from Kansas City and Indianapolis and get to Phoenix, Arizona. While the championship game tips off at University of Phoenix Stadium, the NABC convention will be taking place nearby at the Phoenix Convention Center, which spans 24 acres and is named one of the top 10 conventions centers in the U.S.

The NABC was originally created to protect the essence of the game against the ban of dribbling. (See the NABC site for some background.) It evolved into an all-encompassing association committed to furthering the best interests of basketball for the players, coaches, and participants. Since its 1927 inaugural conference, NABC has grown from over 100 coaches to 2,500 coaches in recent years, and 5,000 members. Serving as an opportunity for the basketball coaching community to address issues surrounding the sport and collaborate on positive evolution of the game, it is ground zero for professional, high school, and collegiate coaches across the country.

Avaya carries a tradition of providing world class technology that pays tribute to the most important events and the highest levels of sports in the world. The national championship will be played Monday, April 3, so keep your eyes on #AvayaSports as the final bracket shapes up and the best of the best faces off.  

Hope to see you on the dance floor or sitting courtside!

Don’t Underestimate Smart and Secure Remote Access

Like many people, I’ve spent a lot of time watching great NCAA March Madness games in the last two weeks. During the commercials, I’ve been thinking about the challenges faced by athletes aspiring to get to the Final Four—and realizing that many careers bring similar tremendous pressure. In my communications industry, I think of IT professionals trying to solve technology issues, bridging legacy and new solutions, always on tight deadlines and tight budgets. These teams need things to go right—and when there’s an error—they need smooth, secure, fast fixes from their vendors.

Underestimating the skills of the remaining NCAA players might be a mistake—don’t blame their current success on luck or a fluke. That’s basketball, but I’ve seen IT departments underestimate the problem-solving power of remote connectivity in a similar way. Remote Access is often dismissed as being too risky for network security.

In his blog “Achieving Secure, Mission-Critical Technical Support is a Two-Way Street” Mike Runda, President of Avaya Client Services, refutes the misconceptions IT can have about remote access. Mike discusses the three key attributes that IT managers should demand of a remote access solution. Before you choose your communications solution, make sure that the provider’s connectivity into your enterprise is smart, secure, and gives you full control.

Secure remote access connectivity is the foundational component for resolving complex network issues. Mike tells the real-life story of an Avaya customer having a network issue, and blocking remote access for Avaya support technicians. The techs needed access to diagnose and resolve the problem. The customer was steadfast in its cybersecurity. The situation became a full-court press (i.e., escalations) by both teams. Once both teams got together and discussed the power and security of Avaya’s remote connectivity, the issue was quickly fixed. Read the whole story in Mike’s blog.

For now, we know the teams heading to the Final Four are doing all they can to bring their A Games to Phoenix. Likewise, when the pressure’s on in IT, Avaya customers can work with us via remote connectivity—with confidence that the pros at Avaya will protect security and bring proven results.

Customers Explain Why Chatbots Matter for Contact Centers

I recently attended Jeff Pulver’s 2017 MoNage conference to get the latest views on chatbot usage and expectations for serving customers. Jeff Pulver created the Voice over the Net Conference when voice over the internet was in its infancy. As a co-founder of Vonage and other companies, his vision helped drive the industry we all take for granted. He’s brought his vision to the world of chat with his 140-Character conferences and most recently the MoNage conference.

Jeff says that “as chatbots get better and better, there may be less of a need to visit a business website.” We may reach a point where chatbots connected to Facebook pages and voice services via Amazon’s Alexa become the main conduit for getting information.” He probably is right. There is no shortage of software and services companies, including Avaya, that are investing significantly in the field of chatbot technology for contact centers applications.

Industry analyst Jon Arnold says contact center operators need to ensure millennials have a chat experience that is fast and personal. The ability for an agent to leverage the full context of all of the previous transactions is at the heart of providing a personalized one-to-one customer experience.

Anyone with a teenager knows if you want to reach them, you text them—unless you like the nostalgia of hearing a voice mail greeting and leaving a message that may not be picked up for a week. Those millennials, who use chat over email, including chat applications at work, are the same ones raising the bar for businesses to serve them via chat. How long will it be before the response a millennial expects for a package status is an emoji?

The introduction of chatbots represents the re-birth of interactive voice response in textual self-service instead of voice prompts. Chatbots enable a customer to answer questions via text. They ask, “How can I help you?” The customer’s answer of “What is my account balance?” is the equivalent of speaking to a speech recognition application.

With chat, recent AI innovations interpret your sentence and provide a response that is best matched to the context of your question. This is similar to Amazon’s Alexa listening to your voice and providing a response. Many companies are working to perfect the ability to interpret chat sequences, often to assuage the customers who press 0 multiple times to reach an agent. Today, customers can have the same frustrating experience with chat that they’ve had with interactive voice—ultimately they want to talk with a live agent. The goal has always been to enable more automation and self-service methods to reduce costs, without having a negative impact on customer satisfaction. There is a critical need to get it right.

Requesting a live agent to assist with a chat session introduces major challenges for businesses. They must staff a contact center with agents who can respond appropriately to chat messages. This introduces the need for typing and grammar skills and new staffing level challenges for balancing voice and chat demand.

Businesses must ensure consistency in chat responses and, most importantly, ensure a positive experience with the live agent during a transaction. So agent skills must now include the ability to respond to SMS and text chat sessions from websites and mobile applications. This includes the ability to type clearly, and often handle multiple transactions simultaneously to fill the delays with customer responses. Many of us have experienced chat sessions with agents where there is a long delay due to agents serving other customers.

Chat sessions are often emailed to customers at the end, creating a document that customers can use for many purposes: tweeting about what an agent just wrote, or using what an agent just wrote to get improper discounts or advantages from errors. To guard against such customer behavior, agents must have fast access to standard, consistent answers to common questions and ensure responses conform to company policies.

Customers Communicate with Companies—Not Agents

Customers expect a business that can communicate via live chat to ensure the agent understands their situation. The last thing they want is to send a lengthy email describing a situation, and then be offered a live chat with someone who doesn’t have access to the email. Internal information silos require the customer to ask if it is worth starting over again and again. They expect the agent to have the full context of all their interactions. The effort to serve the customer by chat can result in a negative experience even if the agent tried everything they could to serve them.

Agents Need Contextual Information

Chatbots start with an attempt to serve a customer via automation. Costs are avoided when customers serve themselves, just like they deposit a check by taking a photo instead of having a bank employee process it. Contact center managers must enable their agents to access the full context of the chat dialog, any emails, and CRM records so they can serve the customer without asking what they should already know.

Chat Introduces a New Opportunity to Leverage Agent Attributes

Once you make the move to introducing live agent chat, you need to determine which agents have the proper attributes for handling chat, including multiple simultaneous chat sessions. You’ll need to train employees how to properly respond, including how to deliver recommended standard responses. In addition, you’ll have to evaluate how many multiple chats an agent can handle, which will vary based on individual abilities. Selecting agents based on these skills can make all the difference in customer satisfaction results.

Agent Attribute Models Increase Contact Center Operational Efficiency

There is a tremendous opportunity to increase contact center operations by having agents with the attributes for handling voice and chat and SMS sessions. Did you know 250+250=450. Here’s why: the workload of 250 voice-only agents plus 250 chat-only agents can be served by 450 agents who can do both. The result is a higher utilization level than with individual silos. Evaluating agent availability by their individual attributes and operating your contact center at higher utilization levels significantly reduces your most costly resource—your contact center agent labor expenses.

Interested in learning more about defining and leveraging agent attribute modeling? Get more info in this Avaya blog from Laura Bassett: “Get out of the Queue: Drive your CX with Attribute Matching?” And talk with Avaya Experts—we’re here to help you serve your customers like never before. We can help you match agents with the best attributes for each individual customer. The ultimate win for all. Contact us. Let’s chat!