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MLTS 9-1-1 Bad Practices

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While many of the podcasts and lists that we create focus on how to do something or a best practice, of equal value are lists of how NOT to do something. With the recent tragedy on December 1, 2013 in Marshall, Texas, the nine-year-old daughter of Kari Hunt watched as her mother was stabbed to death by her estranged husband in a hotel room. Allegedly the nine-year-old tried to dial 9-1-1 from the hotel room phone, but was unable to due to a 9 being required for an outside line.

This incident has sparked a number of comments, some of which are good common sense, and others that may sound logical, but when you look closely at the problem, it becomes clear that these may not be good choices.

Placards
178-Dial9911.gifProbably the most common knee-jerk reaction that I hear is to put a sticker on the phone that says Dial 9 9-1-1 for emergencies. The problem with placards is that you are assuming everyone’s primary language is English which is not the case, you are assuming that someone will read the placard, and don’t forget about persons who are blind, and you have the case where a small child may know to dial 9-1-1, but may not be able to read, hence rendering the placards useless.

Dialing 8 for an outside line instead of 9
178-Dial8.gifThere is a popular belief that the reason you cannot dial 9-1-1 directly from a telephone behind PBX is because 9 is used to make an outgoing call, therefore conflicting with 9-1-1. While this may have been true many years ago, it simply is no longer the case in most modern communications telephone systems. In the past, 9 would connect you to a trunk, where you would then dial the digits you needed. Most PBX telephone systems today collect all of the dialed digits, analyze them for routing and authorization, and then select a telephone trunk to place the call. While some programming is typically needed, dealing with 9-1-1 directly and 9 9-1-1 is a simple administrative task that should have been taken care of by the telephone installer. The fix is to allow 9-1-1 to reach 9-1-1.

Locally terminating 9-1-1
178-LTERM.jpgA common request by many large corporate entities is to redirect 9-1-1 calls to a local security desk where the calls are answered internally. It’s commonly assumed that on-site individuals are better equipped to deal with an emergency, and can do so faster. This is a fatal assumption to make for several reasons. Unless the position where you are terminating the 9-1-1 calls is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and has the ability to handle multiple simultaneous calls, you are potentially exposing an internal 9-1-1 caller to the risk of not having their call answered. Additionally, public safety 9-1-1 dispatchers are typically certified as an EMD or emergency medical dispatcher. They have been trained to deal with emergencies, and can provide basic instructions that can provide a little bit of breathing room in the response. For example, if someone is choking they can provide instructions on how to perform the Heimlich maneuver. If someone is bleeding they can provide basic first aid instructions that can give first responders precious extra minutes to get to the scene.

Confusing and unclear 9-1-1 legislation
178-CPUC911.pngQuite often 9-1-1 laws have been made in a vacuum, without input from industry technologists. Because of this, the legislation that exists in the 18 states that have it can be unclear or ineffective. The National Emergency Number Association (NENA) published model legislation in 2008. This legislation was crafted by industry experts and public safety representatives to provide a baseline of functionality for owners and operators of multi-line telephone systems (MLTS/PBX). Those baseline functions have been used in recent states like California in their pending legislation. The NENA MLTS Model Legislation suggests:

Access to 9-1-1 with and without a trunk access code
178-Num9.gifDialing plan conflicts are often no longer an issue with modern communications systems. People are taught to down 9-1-1 from a very young age. It’s critical that this functionality carries forward on all devices, regardless of what they’re attached to.

Location granularity aligning with fire alarm zones
178-FloorPlan.pngOne of the common areas of discussion around emergency calling from behind a PBX, is what specific granularity of location should be provided to the Public Safety Answer Position (PSAP). You would immediately think that the most granular information is the best. What you need to stop and realize is while cubicle 2C231 may be extremely relevant to people within the building, public safety first responders do not carry floor plans, and this extraneous information means nothing to them. Before a first responder can provide assistance, they need to be able to arrive at the right building, and right entrance way. Once they get there, local on-site responders should be well aware that there coming, and also should have knowledge that a 9-1-1 call has taken place, so they can take proactive steps in providing access, or even first aid while public safety is in route.

On-site notification of 9-1-1 call events
178_POP.pngThis functionality, as mentioned in the previous paragraph, is really the key to “situational awareness” that an event is, or has, taken place. It allows internal responders to confirm and assist the person who has dialed 9-1-1, and provides notice that first responders are on the way so that preparations can be made. This includes ensuring access doors are unlocked, elevators are available and hallways are unobstructed.

There is a large misnomer in the industry that E9-1-1 functionality in a PBX is one that is expensive to implement, and administratively difficult to maintain. This is a remnant from companies with technologies designed to manage user mobility in the public safety PS-ALI database. By removing the requirement to manage at the station level, with information that is cryptic and not useful to public safety, the cost of the solution is significantly reduced as the simplicity is significantly increased.

With increased simplicity, there is a more likely chance of deployment. Within more likely chance of deployment, incidents similar to what happened in Marshall, Texas can become a thing of the past.

Don’t get caught up in the hype. Barging in on a 9-1-1 call, or locally recording a 9-1-1 call, or interfering with the 9-1-1 call path are all knee-jerk reactions that are not considered best practices by the industry. Providing situational awareness in ease of access to 9-1-1 are things that are both built into most PBX systems today and that’s where the focus on 9-1-1 should be.


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Thanks for stopping by and reading the Avaya CONNECTED Blog, 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.

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Mark Fletcher is the Chief Architect for Worldwide Public Safety Solutions at Avaya. He is responsible for ensuring the roadmap and strategy of Next Generation Emergency Services in both the public and private sectors. With nearly 3 decades of experience in telecom, he has built and managed some of the world’s largest private networks. Mark is regularly called upon to provide insights to legislators and the industry to drive forward both innovation and compliance. more

2 comments
Daryl Branson
Daryl Branson

The problem with dialing 9 for an outside link isn't that people mistakenly believe that you can't dial 9-1-1 that way, it's that it makes it too easy for people to accidentally dial 9-1-1. PSAPs in resort towns are particularly affected.

Mark J. Fletcher, ENP
Mark J. Fletcher, ENP

Daryl, The problem of 9-1-1 misdials is one that is indeed of great concern. The answer to this is once again, some creative programming in the system. Most often a misdialed 9-1-1 call will have additional digits dialed. By simply flagging 911-1 through 911-9 in the dialing plan, these misdials can be minimized or eliminated completely. When one of those patterns is matched, an alert can be generated that lets the staff know that a 9-1-1 misdial has just occurred, and that further investigation is warranted. This functionality, as well as advanced features has been available in most PBX systems for nearly a decade now. Once again, it is the lack of public education that leads to this being a problem. If this is dealt with properly, the problem is reduced to tolerable occurrences that can be dealt with appropriately and safely. 9-1-1 calls will be able to egress without being impeded or answered locally, notification that an emergent event is taking place will be known by staff, and public safety will not be overloaded with misdial calls.