3 Simple Ways to Prevent Future E911 Tragedies

This Avaya Connected blog is also available as an MP3 audio file.

In nearly every industry, there is a close bond between customer, distributor and manufacturer. Strategically, companies become loyal to a specific brand, and in certain cases, to a specific technician or distributor. This is typically based on individuals going above and beyond or doing, what I commonly call, “the right thing.”

What exactly is the right thing? While it’s hard to put a finger on any specific action, it’s more of an attitude–a way of thinking, or persona that you develop. Shortly after Christmas, I got a call from a good friend of mine, Jim Colella, who runs a successful mid-tier telecommunications company, TelServ, LLC in Cromwell, CT.

When I worked as an end-user at a large global financial institution, Jim was employed by a large nationwide distributor, and was my service manager. We had several on-site technicians, and 30,000 or more ports in the New England area alone.

To say the least, it was a difficult account for anyone to manage, and even though we planned thoroughly, upgrades and weekend maintenance would once in a while go awry. Many times, in the middle of the night, I would wake Jim up from a dead sleep screaming about some problem, only to be met with a calm, soothing, “Fletch, everything will be all right. Just relax, we have our best people on it and will have you back to normal in no time at all.”

Eventually, Jim went out and started TelServ with a few colleagues, and maintained that calm attitude with every account they took on. He understood the value of going that extra mile, knowing that it would pay back over and over again in customer loyalty.

After the recent E911 tragedy in Texas in December 2013, where the 9-year-old daughter of Kari Hunt tried to desperately called 911 from a hotel, but did not know she needed to dial “9” first, Jim called me to make sure that he and his team understood what the problem was, and what they could do to protect their customers from the same issue.

I took this as an opportunity to see the brand-new facility they had just purchased and moved into in Connecticut, as well as an opportunity to sit down with his staff to work out a plan for their customers. I ended up doing an in-depth presentation on how E911 works, and then went over the three basic, built-in features in the PBX that would address many of the systems out there. These are the same things that I covered in my open letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler.

In that letter, I stated:

There are three simple steps, if addressed from a legislation perspective that will go a long way to remediate this problem to ensure that the number of tragedies such as the one that took the life of Kari Hunt will be significantly diminished if not entirely eliminated.

9-1-1 dialing from any telephone device, without the need for an access code
While dialing an access code (such as 9-9-1-1) should also be recognized, a requirement should be in place so that the dialed digits of 9-1-1 are recognized and properly routed to emergency services.

Immediate routing to 9-1-1
The interception of a 9-1-1 call event, and local answering by non-certified and/or untrained on-site personnel has become a dangerous and alarming trend. This practice jeopardizes the safety of callers with emergencies by allowing untrained individuals to answer emergency calls. This delays the response by trained and appropriate public safety officials at a point in time where seconds count in an emergency. This sub-optimal practice must be curtailed and rectified.

On-site notification or alerting that an emergency call has been initiated
Access to large buildings and facilities can be complicated. Internally- trained responders can be of great assistance to public safety officials in an emergency. On-site notification can ensure those in-house personnel that “need to know” have the appropriate information to both expedite an internal response and be prepared for first responders when they arrive at the building.

To say the least, everyone in the room was shocked and amazed how such simple steps could make a tremendous difference, and almost everyone had two or three different accounts that could immediately benefit from these three simple configuration tasks.

It was then that a brilliant idea emerged from the group. Since TelServ customers on maintenance already had their systems monitored by the brand-new NOC, it would be a simple, remote procedure to examine the customer systems, and determine the current status of E911 programming, and then come up with a remediation plan that would implement the three steps previously noted.

The coolest part about this plan was that Jim decided that this extra service would be done at NO CHARGE to existing maintenance customers, and only a basic service fee would be applicable to any customer who wanted to check their compliance status.

So not only is he bringing awareness to his customers about a potentially deadly problem, he’s reaching out to his local community and “doing the right thing.” I’m honored to have such good friends, who share the honesty, integrity and moral values that I do with the customers that they do business with.

It sets a shining example for everyone in the industry, because if a smaller, mid-tier distributor can take on an action such as this, it’s only logical that the larger, national distributors could do the same thing.

In fact, I’ll extend an open invitation to assist ANY Avaya channel partner in developing a remediation program for E911 for their customers, as well as raise awareness across the industry of a problem that shouldn’t exist.


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, 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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NG911: The Industry’s Most Misunderstood Buzzword

What exactly is next-generation 911? When people talk about it, they use the phrase like a noun, yet it’s not a person and it’s not a place. You may consider it a “thing,” although I can tell you that it most certainly is not, at least in the physical sense.

NG911 is not something you can buy and plug into your existing public safety network, miraculously transforming a legacy environment into a “next generation” environment. And yet, it’s often described that way.

Personally, I believe NG911 is best described as a true “solution.” It’s comprised of several components, each with a specific Functional Element that provides what the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) describes as a functional framework that provides definitive services that work in harmony. By themselves, any one of these components itself is not “next-generation 911.”

The current state

Across the country, dispatchers work around in the clock in more than 6,100 emergency contact centers, also known as public-safety answering points, or PSAPs. The underlying technology that powers public-safety answering points was created in the era of landline voice, and is truly optimized for people who call 911 from a traditional telephone.

Today, the great majority of 911 calls are mobile, but most public-safety answering points aren’t designed to effectively handle mobile—if you’ve ever called 911 from your smartphone, invariably the first question you’ll be asked is, “What’s the location of your emergency?”

Some 10 percent of 911 centers (so far) have adopted text-to-911: technology that promises the ability for people to send photos, video and text their emergency responder, optionally share their GPS coordinates and get relevant information delivered back to them via text.

The reality is far more modest: Most text-to-911 rollouts are bolted onto legacy infrastructures, hobbling their future capabilities. Most just allow back-and-forth text—no location, no direct multimedia.

Poorly-defined terminology

Nearly every week, new headlines tout that a public-safety answering point somewhere has “upgraded to NG911 technology” by adding text-to-911 technology. Adding new technology to an old infrastructure doesn’t magically make it a next-generation solution.

A good litmus test that can be applied to establish an agency’s level of NG911 readiness is to analyze how the agency defines NG911. If it’s using NG911 as a noun, there’s likely to be a disjointed understanding of the base premise behind the technology and architecture.

“We’ve implemented a NG911 PSAP solution,” the agency’s IT manager might tell a journalist, and there the cycle of misunderstanding begins.

The industry is doing a great disservice to the public by allowing these misconceptions to endure, as they lead citizens to believe they have something they do not.

The future state of 911

A true NG911 solution means dispatchers can receive voice, video, text, email and other forms of multimedia on a SIP-enabled infrastructure. NG911 is designed to accept PIDF-LO data in the call setup header that can contain other relevant contextual information. To truly describe an upgraded environment as next-generation 911, an Emergency Services IP Network containing required i3 Functional Elements (as defined by NENA) must be built and deployed, replacing the legacy E911 network.

Agencies may argue their system is “NG911-ready,” “NG911-capable” or some other derivative, but in reality those phrases are semantics being used as a technical loophole. Most people simply don’t understand the subtle nuances of those terms: People hear “next-generation 911” and equate that to being better, more capable and something they should spend money on.

When a network outage invariably occurs, the public is left to wonder, “What happened to that shiny new next-generation thing that was featured on the news and cost all that money?”

As text-to-911 is increasingly deployed across the country, the term “next-generation 911” will continue to crop up in the news. We need true NG911 services, delivered over a real Emergency Services IP network. If we accept anything less, we’re shortchanging ourselves and the public of a life-saving technology that’s available, but not deployed.

Kari’s Law Introduced in the Senate, Making ‘911’ Safer for Hotels and Office Buildings

Last week, Avaya celebrated the 48th anniversary of America’s first 911 call by announcing its support of Kari’s Law (S. 2553), a new Senate bill introduced earlier this month designed to improve 911 services for multiline phone systems, most commonly found in hotels and office buildings.

The bill would amend the Communications Act of 1934 to require phone vendors and individual buildings to make sure people could connect directly with emergency services without having to press ‘1’ or ‘9’ first. The bill would also add two new requirements—outgoing ‘911’ calls would connect directly to emergency services without local interference, while also notifying onsite personnel that a ‘911’ call was made.

As an industry leader in 911 communications technology, Avaya has played a leading role in clearing the path for Kari’s Law at the federal level, working with the FCC and various members of Congress to advocate for this important, life-saving bill.

Kari’s Law is named in honor of Kari Hunt, who was killed by her estranged husband in late 2013 at a motel in Northeast Texas. One of Hunt’s children tried repeatedly to dial ‘911’ from the motel room’s phone, but wasn’t able to get through—the motel required people to dial ‘9’ to get an outside line.

“When a 9-year-old child is brave, mature and determined enough to call 911 in an emergency, she should be answered,” said Kari’s father, Hank Hunt. “Kari’s Law has been successful at every juncture in the past two years because of the help and involvement of Avaya. To have an ally such as Avaya, in a goal such as this, is a sure winner.

“The caring and thoughtful gestures given to us from Avaya are scarce attributes in a corporation. The knowledge and experience Avaya brings to the table is reassuring, and the confidence that we have knowing this kind of institution is behind us is comforting.”

In the three years since Kari Hunt’s death, Mark Fletcher, Avaya’s Chief Architect for Worldwide Public Safety Solutions, has spearheaded the company’s work around Kari’s Law. Check out his recent podcast interview with FCC Chairman Ajit Pai on the new bill. If you’d like to get involved, sign the online petition for Kari’s Law, which has more than half a million supporters to date.

Solving India’s 911 Problem: Real Solution, or Knee-Jerk Reaction?

This article originally appeared on Avaya’s NG911 blog.

Emergency services in India have evolved over the years. But instead of consolidating access numbers, the decision was made to implement different numbers for everything. At the 9-1-1 Goes to Washington event in March 2014, FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai referred to this problem during his address to the public safety community:

“We in the United States often take our 911 system for granted. But my recent trip to India reminded me how fortunate we are. In India, there isn’t a single number that people can call for help. There’s one number to reach the police, another for the fire department, and yet another if you need an ambulance. There are even different numbers for senior citizens, women, and children to use. I learned that many Indian households have a long list of numbers stuck on their walls and refrigerator doors to remind them which number to call for which emergency. All of this leads to needless confusion and delayed response times.”

In an effort to solve the confusion, India’s Women & Child Development Minister, Maneka Gandhi, developed a proposal that would allow people to connect to emergency services by ‘pressing and holding the 9 button‘ on any cell phone. The idea was given the go-ahead in a recent meeting of representatives from the country’s service providers, as well as mobile phone manufacturers.

Apps were discussed, but dismissed, as they have not been effective elsewhere in the world. For an app to be useful, people need to install the app and keep it up to date. Unfortunately, most people don’t plan that far ahead.

Additionally, pressing ‘9’ on an older analog cell phone could effectively be implemented at the carrier level without excluding analog cellular phones, which remain prevalent across India.

While I have to commend the essential simplicity of this idea, it does raise a few concerns that may not have been completely vetted, and may actually have some unintended negative impact:

  • How long is a ‘long press’ exactly?
  • Can it be canceled?
  • What will multiple rapid presses do?
  • Pocket dialing is a huge problem. How many misdial events will this potentially generate, having a negative impact on public safety resources, which are already running paper thin?

Without a study being done on the misdial call load on PSAPs alone (something that can be tracked and measured) it appears this solution may be a ‘knee-jerk’ reaction to a problem, and has the possibility of making the situation worse by impacting public safety.

Another point to consider is the potential confusion this may cause to citizens. Clearly, 911, 112, and 999 are well-known emergency access numbers globally. They all have been promoting the concept of  “anywhere, anytime, and on any device” for more than a decade.

While this addresses mobile phones, it is likely the ‘long press’ of 9 on telephone devices that are NOT cell phones could be difficult, if not impossible, to reproduce or replicate. This would then eliminate the universality of access to emergency services we currently enjoy today.

After two years of fighting a policy battle in the US, we are just beginning to win the “No 9 Needed” battle with MLTS PBX systems. This initiative, know best under the name ‘Kari’s Law,’  requires MLTS systems to recognize just the digits 911, 112 and 999 as emergency numbers; effectively eliminating the “9” normally needed to get an outside line. The popular tagline for Kari’s law is “No 9 Needed”, but now we need to modify this message to be “Except in India, where you just press 9”? Hank Hunt may have a comment or two on that.

The IETF states that the numbers for emergency services globally should be 911, and 112. In the UK, 999 has been locally ingrained, and although attempts and suggestions have been made over the years to change it, history will live on, and the best that we will see is support for 911 and 112 in the local PSTN, and 999 will continue to live on in perpetuity.

Clearly the problem will continue, but it is good that people are looking to solve the issues. I would highly recommend the Ministers of India talk to the experts at NENA EENA and APCO International before potentially life-changing decisions like this are made without completely vetting the technical and social impact of the decision.