Seriously?? Open Source PBX's in the NG911 PSAP?

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FLETCH: Hey, it’s Fletch with the Avaya Podcast Network and we’re sitting down tonight with Myron Herron who’s the President and Chief Technology Officer of Synergem Technologies, Inc., one the Avaya DevConnect solution providers of Next Generation emergency services for PSAP’s.


MYRON: Good evening, Fletch.

FLETCH: NextGen is going to do a lot for public safety that is not being done or can’t be done today. One of the things it’s going to help is with backup PSAP’s right?

MYRON: Absolutely. You got a situation today where in order to have a back-up PSAP, you pretty much have to spend a lot of money to emulate all the technologies that you have in your existing center and put them in some other center across town or across the county somewhere. NextGen makes that very simple. Basically, it is a NextGen application and a NextGen end-to-end NENA i3 top solution. You only have to have connectivity to the network somewhere. You then have the ability to receive calls at that location.

FLETCH: I don’t want to name the agency but there was an agency that I was dealing that had a considerably large PSAP, and they had a back-up facility. They calculated it would take the local exchange carrier 3 to 4 hours to swing their 911 trunks into that location because the 911 trunks are specialized trunks in the Legacy environment. You hit the nail on the head with Next Generation, you just need network connectivity to where you can get to the network. And today, network is ubiquitous with all the different transports. You’ve got wireless, microwave, you name it, right? You can shoot a signal over barbed wire or fence if you have to.

MYRON: Absolutely. Even using existing network access, simple VPN over the internet, as a means to connect the call if you need to. The NENA i3 Model particularly enables a level of reliability and fault tolerance that you can’t spend enough time, effort and money with the Legacy environment to create that type of full tolerance. So the scenario where you gave, where you’ve got the PSAP spending time 2 or 3 hours to try to get calls, thrown over to the back-up PSAP, that’s assuming that the central office that’s serving both those PSAP’s is still in service, that the problem isn’t in the central office.

There’s another interesting aspect about that and I think it’s not entirely represented properly in the NextGen environment, you’re using all off the shelf technologies for the most part. Technologies that have been around for years that have been proven technologies and now you’re bringing that type of proven capability into the 911 Center. So you’re really increasing, substantially, the level of reliability, fault tolerance that 911 Centers will have available to them when you employ a Next Generation type solution.

FLETCH: Again, with NextGen, I think you opened yourself up to a whole new realm of technologies where you can extend your presence out to getting somebody online. One of the jokes I had from when I first started talking about NextGen 911, one of the very first questions the call taker’s had was, “Does that mean I can work from home?” It was kind of funny. But you know what? Today, with your solution, you guys run around with a demo kit with a jungle box and in 15 minutes you’ve got a 2-seat PSAP setup where there is no network connectivity, you’re using an air card.

MYRON: I know, we’re using an air card, we go to local office supply store and we buy lowest priced PC that we can find, we load it up and it’s capable of supporting a call taking position. So now you don’t have to invest tens of thousands of dollars on a work station just for answering calls. You can put it on your existing equipment, your existing technology, whatever equipment you’ve already made an investment in, use it–if you don’t have it, not a problem.

Patrick Voigt and Steve O’Connor from Synergem demonstrating a 9-1-1 call using Voice, Video and Text to 9-1-1 in September of 2012 at a PSAP EOC in the Pacific Northwest
Thumbnail image for Synergem-NENA-i3.jpg

MYRON: You’re running a very light application on somebody’s home computer to answer a call because you want to answer on their slippers, yeah.

FLETCH: Well, you know what? What we’ve done is we’ve gotten rid of the specialized equipment that’s required and when you have that specialized equipment you’ve got to build it at a specific locations. If you want to replicate it, you need more specialized equipment.

MYRON: And you got to carry inventory spares and then you got to make sure all those spares are updated because when you do need them and you employ and now you need to make sure that they’re at the same revision that the current installation is.

FLETCH: I was up at a PSAP up in Alberta, Canada out in the middle of the state park up there. And what I saw was they had deployed technology for their telephony, for the CAD system, for the radio system and individually, those pieces worked great but they didn’t work together. It was all specialized equipment and had there been a fire and that ranger station was off line; That station took care of all the call answering for the entire country of Canada in all the National Parks and they really had no physical resiliency because they were hard wired to those locations. That’s probably one the biggest values behind NextGen. Just like the internet, you can go anywhere, you get online; you’re at the airport, wherever, you got internet and you’re online. You can now do the same thing with NextGen. Even although we don’t plan on that, it is important to say. We’re not saying put 911 NextGen on the internet.

MYRON: Right.

FLETCH: That’s a network that gets built, the ESI net, but to get access to the ESI net, you can get to it over the internet, if quality of service is there, why not use it?

MYRON: Why not? Security, quality of service is there. You just make sure that it’s secured properly and that’s just one of many different methods to get calls delivered to your call takers.

FLETCH: And also I think you drive the costs down because you say $10,000 per seat, but I’ll say that you could multiply that by 10 with some of the solutions that are out there, right?

MYRON: Absolutely right.

FLETCH: And you look at a 2-seat PSAP, and somebody is looking at spending a quarter million dollars to equip that. You know what? We’re in the middle of funding crisis here around 911 to let those funds, as little as they are, to be wasted on overpriced technology. That’s a whole other problem there. You can build so much more using common off the shelf parts, and this is something that commercial businesses have learned 10, 15 years ago.

MYRON: And there’s also a misconception often that if you’re moving to an IP-based network or if you’re moving to Voice Over IP and those type of terms are often used interchangeably with Next Generation. IP networks, Voice Over IP, that is not Next Generation 911. Next Generation 911 is defined by the NENA i3 standards and some of the other standards that have emerged from the various NENA working groups.

FLETCH: It’s the data.

MYRON: It’s the additional data that’s associate with it. The fundamental difference is that the location of the caller is sent with the call when it leaves the originating network provider and because you know that location of the call at that point in the call sequence, you can apply a lot of logic to the call routing based on the location of the caller and then you can apply your policy routing. But you can also do searches to find what other relevant data elements are associated with that location or that caller.

FLETCH: Exactly.

MYRON: So it gives you the ability to have intelligence when the call comes in to the network but it also enables you now to apply that intelligence to deliver to that call taker even if they are not located in the 911 Center where that call should be located but that call taker is maybe in an adjacent jurisdiction. Because they have a skill set, that call can still be routed to that person with that skill as opposed to the jurisdiction that should have otherwise receive that call. You can have that type of routing capabilities in the NextGen environment.

FLETCH: It’s just sharing resources. It’s just like “I’ve got all of my ambulances out right now. I need to borrow an ambulance from this town over here.” When people start collapsing the networks, they can start sharing those resources. That saves money, it saves time, it saves a lot of stuff and that’s the real value. I keep saying that delivering ANI and ALI phone number and addresses or addresses looked up from a phone number, just because it’s made into the PSAP over an IP protocol, that’s not NextGen. That’s like putting a rotary dial telephone on a PRI circuit.

MYRON: Exactly.

FLETCH: It’s two different things.

MYRON: If you’re talking to ANI, ALI, MSAG Selective Routing, then you are not talking about a NENA i3 Next Generation Solution. One of the other things that we’re talking about sharing resources, oftentimes, one of the terms that are thrown about in most commercial call centers is this notion of busy-hour call completion.

FLETCH: Right.

MYRON: And this important to 911 too, but it doesn’t seem to have, up to this point, the same level of importance because you can only receive the number of calls. If you have two CAMA trunks center, you get two calls.

FLETCH: Exactly,

MYRON: So you’re busy hour call completions, how fast can you get those two calls off? But if you think about in a NextGen environment where those two call takers in a PSAP, they’re simply call takers in a community of PSAPs. So there are communities of call takers now and now you can share the resources of all these other 911 centers or PSAP’s or part of maybe a larger region. So now your call volumes, you don’t have to have that wreck on the Interstate for example, busy all your positions because everybody is dialing 911 to report this accident. Instead, they can now start going to and be distributed based on the location of the caller to other PSAP’s. And when you build solutions that really have the ability to handle call volumes which is very important when you’re looking in NextGen Solution. There’s a lot of solutions out there now when you just look at your ability to handle maybe a couple hundred, maybe a couple of thousand busy-hour calls, that’s okay day-to-day. But when you have that major event, you got a lot of people now calling 911 needing help, you need to be able to handle those calls, so busy-hour call completion is something that certainly needs to be considered as you’re looking at systems and moving to NextGen.

FLETCH: Yes, and I look at a lot of the open source PBX’s that seem to be popular included in some of the other solutions that are out there. Those are open source, freeware PBX’s. Number one, the hackers have got their hands on that source code for 10 years or more and number two, if you can even find a BHCC rating which really equates the horsepower, right? It’s a hundred where a commercial communications platform will have 300,000 or 400,000. It’s like putting a Tonka Toy against a Ferrari, there’s just no comparison.

MYRON: It goes past that even. So when you’re talking about the busy-hour call completion that you say, “Well, I don’t have so many call takers. If I can receive that call, what do I do with it?” That’s the other advantage. When you’re looking at these systems based on open source technology, they don’t have that level of development where they have the tools to handle multimedia and know how to apply some logic to make sure that the priority calls get answered, other calls get handled and in a way that either gets distributed to other available call taker or to a system or allows the user to interact with a caller to maybe help dispatch or manage that call.

FLETCH: I look at the day after Thanksgiving, Black Friday. Folks out there in the Commercial Contact Center World are taking probably more calls that one day than the entire 911 network takes in the entire year and you don’t hear about those systems going down. You don’t hear about those systems being out for 10 minutes, 3 hours, 5 hours. You just don’t hear it because they have got the resiliency built in the architecture. They got the BHCC ratings that can handle the load. They’re designed to deal with that and again I think because the average PSAP is what? 3 or 4 positions, right? 80% of them in the US. You got 4 calls, that’s it, you’re busy, you’re tied up. They haven’t been presented with the mass influx of calls and when they have had mass call events, it’s in the newspaper and behind it is “It snowed hard in Washington DC” or “The wind was blowing up in New York City with hurricane Sandy.”

That’s when critical pieces of the infrastructure start going down. And now all of a sudden people start looking at mass call events. You could pick up your phone call the airlines and find out if your flight was delayed. You couldn’t call 911 during any of that. Two different technologies being deployed, and somebody wants to say, “Well, that’s commercial contact center technology. It doesn’t belong in public safety.” Well, I don’t know about that because that’s a technology that stayed up in the middle of disaster.

MYRON: If you just equate it to “globally” what technology is used in a vast majority of all the commercial call centers throughout the globe?

FLETCH: Right.

MYRON: And it’s not open source. Why is that only used pretty much now in public safety? And you can’t use the argument of open source is less expensive because in public safety it’s actually more expensive.


MYRON: So if it’s not more secure, it’s not less expensive, it doesn’t have the horsepower, why is open source being used in public safety?

FLETCH: If you make a conscious decision to do that, that’s fine. But I think the problem is people don’t even realize that that’s in the middle of their networks, right?

MYRON: Exactly.

FLETCH: And that is probably the biggest challenge that I’ve got a problem with. If that’s fine for you and you’re okay with it, great. Who am I to tell you what to do? But know what you’re doing.

MYRON: And why you’re doing it.

FLETCH: And why you’re doing it exactly. We have been sitting down with Myron Herron who’s the President and CTO of Synergem Technologies, Inc., an Avaya DevConnect Partner and part of our Next Generation 911 Solutions for PSAP’s. Thanks for sitting down with me.

MYRON: It was been my pleasure. I’ve enjoyed it.

Want more Technology, News and Information from Avaya? Be sure to check out the Avaya Podcast Network landing page at . 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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