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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Lethal Tech Combo to Fight Crime

With tough economic conditions, high crime rates are adding to a climate of risk and uncertainty. While CCTV systems are support to protect schools, banks and other public facilities, is the answer as simple as just adding more cameras? How are CCTV systems making us more secure? We sat with Jean Turgeon and spoke about CCTV, crime and whether anyone has the lethal tech combination to fight crime.

Q:Millions of CCTV are being deployed around the world to catch a crime. Why is it still not working? 

Deploying more security cameras can only help in discouraging people from committing crimes – knowing they are more likely to be caught on camera – but what is really important is the quality of the video provided, the use of analytics to help prevent crimes, and ensuring that installed cameras eliminate blind spots.

CCTV has evolved tremendously from the old days of analog, which for the most part didn’t provide the right level of required quality – so it was difficult to clearly identify individuals but also hard, if not impossible, to perform real-time analytics. With the evolution of CCTV, cameras now offer extraordinary definition, for instance a license plate can be read clearly from hundreds of meters away. Even in dark conditions, video surveillance can capture amazing quality images, allowing analytics to be performed in real time.

The transition from analog to digital, combined with the IP enablement of deployments, provides many other key benefits. Centralized digital recording of high definition video, which can easily be time-stamped and indexed, not only allow whoever is committing the crime to be caught more easily, but also help authorities be much more pro-active by fully leveraging real-time analytics. Now suspicious individuals can easily be detected and tracked, while security authorities can be notified to hopefully prevent crimes from happening. This is Big Data: as you combine the video-surveillance data with other relevant data bases such as criminal records, arrest records, or whatever, one can easily imagine how positively impactful this technology can be to our citizens. The more CCTV we deploy, the more capabilities the world has to fight and prevent crime.

Q2: Experts say that without a strong network to support CCTV, we continue to be at risk. Why are networks failing to support CCTV apps ?

Legacy networks were built with a series of protocols running on top of each other to meet some of the security or virtualization requirements. For the most part, the legacy networks used a concept of unicast to communicate – think of it as a one-to-one conversation. This is very efficient in a client/server-type environment, where the PC or device communicating is communicating with one specific server application. Now imagine this model in a CCTV implementation, where thousands of cameras need to be deployed, causing 1,000’s of network unicast flows to be sent to the recorder and likely to a series of monitoring stations, even potentially to a police department. One unicast stream can quickly turn into three; hence it becomes very inefficient in this type of deployments.

If a camera is not used for monitoring or analytics but only for recording – for audit purposes for instance – then unicast can likely meet the business needs. Where it gets way more challenging is when you the business requirements demand not only recording, but multiple monitoring stations, and other agencies want to gain access to some of the video feeds too.

In such cases, then multicast technology will come to the rescue. However, this unfortunately comes with more complexity as more protocols are required to run these IP flows in a multicast mode: protocols such as PIM-SM, OSPF, VLANs with IGMP snooping, and so on will be required to be designed and implemented on the network.

At this point there are two challenges: the recovery times when a failure occurs and the complexity associated with a network that requires 5,000-10,000+ IP video surveillance cameras running multicast. Recovery times due to the inter-dependency of all of these protocols can be as long as 35-40 seconds; potential losing video recording for such a length of time makes audit capabilities pretty much impossible, and may make the video source invalid in a court of law. Rather than deal with the complexity associated with all these protocols needed to support multicast configurations, many organizations will choose to stay away from multicast deployments, and opt for smaller separate physical networks. This is less than ideal if you are attempting to reduce your TCO.

The good news, there is a solution available in the market, which is based on an IEEE (IEEE 802.1aq) and IETF (RFC 6329) standard that eliminates the needs for all of these protocols and allows a much simpler deployment with extremely fast recovery times in the range of 150ms to 400ms. Not just that, this solution brings scales to new levels where in excess of 14,500 multicast streams have been tested and validated running over a single physical network infrastructure. For customers that need multicast, they have to very seriously evaluate this technology. Avaya is leading the way in this area; we can help organizations address both your TCO and reliability needs, while meeting your specific business needs.

Q: So, does CCTV + Network = lethal weapon against crime? Or do we need to go deeper ?

The combination of CCTV deployed over a highly scalable and reliable network is definitely beneficial and can largely contribute to reducing crime and potentially pro-actively preventing it. But, where the technology gets really impactful is when you also add real-time analytics integrated with business process automation. It is great to have analytics detect some abnormal behavior, but when this becomes incredibly powerful is when an automated workflow can be triggered based on the situation analysis.

Imagine that somebody is attempting to steal something from a store – this could be detected by real-time monitoring and real-time analytics, triggering a workflow that could address the incident without human intervention. For instance, the workflow could automatically order other cameras to track all movements of the suspect, while integrating the video stream to a mobile video conferencing system that could provide full visualization to security guards or police officers on a smart device. The system could also trigger a store lockdown through SIP-enabled door locks, sound an alarm, enable a strobe light, trigger an alert through paging systems – whatever is required. In simple terms, the lethal weapon is when you combine a highly scalable, reliable network infrastructure optimized for multicast to support 10,000’s of IP video surveillance cameras, with a business process automation system allowing you to customize the desired business outcome.

This, believe it or not, is all possible today from Avaya. It is the combination of our SDN Fx architecture and Breeze, the latest iteration of our Engagement Development Platform (EDP). Business process automation and customization over an automated network optimized for CCTV leveraging multicast makes a very powerful combination today. Now, that is lethal to crime.

Jean Turgeon can be reached @JTurgeon63. Please visit Avaya.com to learn more about SDN Fx architecture and Avaya Breeze

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.