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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Kari’s Law Progress: Texas to implement new 911 Law

983 days. 983 days since a little girl lost her mother after a brutal stabbing, because the motel she was staying in required her to dial a “9” before 9-1-1. Because of one single digit, Kari Hunt perished.

At Avaya, my colleagues and I have fought hard alongside Hank Hunt, Kari’s father, for 983 days in the name of Kari’s Law. 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 additional requirements—outgoing 911 calls would connect directly to emergency services without local interference, while also notifying onsite personnel that a 911 call was made. With the help of FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai, we’ve made progress in several states and at the Federal level, promoting Kari’s Law. The state of Texas, Kari’s home state, did an exceptionally good job in fighting for this legislation. It was signed in May 2015.

On Sept. 1, 2016 the law goes into full effect in Texas, which means that businesses in Texas must make necessary provisions NOW. The best place for information is the Texas 911 page. And the Texas CSEC has produced a helpful PSA video featured on YouTube.

Did you know all Avaya systems can be programmed to be Kari’s Law compliant without upgrades? You read that correctly. In fact, many dealers will perform this service free of charge. Customers certainly do not have to purchase anything, as this law concerns access and notification. Expensive ALI management tools are not needed. We made sure this was the case, and even fought hard for a waiver process to protect a customer from having to buy a new system.

For more complex environments and VPN users, remote locations with no trunks, etc., some specific assistance will likely be needed, but customers are advised to talk with us first, as we can apply routing logic to minimize third party costs.

If a solution is required, our Avaya DevConnect SELECT PRODUCT PARTNER solutions are:

Not in Texas? We’re still working hard to make sure Kari’s Law is passed in every state, so that no child will ever face the awful outcome that Kari’s daughter lives with every day. But a change in the law isn’t necessary to do the right thing. Set the example in your state and make sure your 911 system is fully functional without the need for extra digits. Need help? We’re here to assist.


Why 50 Million People Can’t Call 911

Undoubtedly, the most common method used to contact emergency services is simply calling 911. While that will work just fine for most of us, for the 50 million citizens in the U.S. who are deaf, are deaf-blind or have a speech disability, dialing 911 on the phone is not an option.

Think about that for a second. You are deaf and experiencing a medical emergency, or witnessing one, and you can’t report it, at least not in a timely or efficient manner.

Wait—didn’t we solve this problem decades ago?
Sort of, but as it turns out, not completely. It is true that in the 1960s scientist Robert Weitbrecht proposed the use of surplus recycled Teletypewriter (TTY) machines for communications devices for the deaf. The TTYs were modified to allow the use of acoustic couplers, which made them easy to attach to any telephone receiver. The BAUDOT tones that they transmitted could be carried as audio on phone lines. And despite the machines being not very portable, for the first time a deaf person could reach out and communicate over phone lines.

That solved the problem to a degree, but a major drawback remained. Anyone wanting to use this technology could only communicate with a person who also owned a TTY device. This limited the scope of the calling party to a few select resources.

With advances in hardware technology, device transportability became less of a problem, and the 1970s and 1980s saw a significant redesign of these devices. The incorporation of modern electronics and rudimentary firmware logic allowed TTYs to become more compact and include functions such as memory and speed-dialing.

The distribution of units increased as various state entities advocated for the deaf and hard of hearing community and began to support equipment distribution programs, many of which still exist. Deaf users would be subsidized, making TTY technology affordable to a wider community base.

Despite those efforts, TTY development and advancement came to an abrupt halt, and then stagnated over the next 30 years. Meanwhile we saw incredible advances in other forms of personal communications technology used by the general public.

Why didn’t TTY technology flourish?
Even though TTY’s weren’t convenient to operate, their use and deployment was widespread, primarily as the result of requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), signed into law in 1990. TITLE I of the law mandated that any employer with 15 or more employees could not discriminate against any person who has a disability. Furthermore, TITLE III of the act required that a business of any size ensure that any individual who has a disability has equal access to all the business has to offer a customer who doesn’t have a disability.

In 2007 the smartphone was introduced, with Apple, Microsoft and Google all introducing solutions. Wireless carriers expanded with data plans and capabilities, as well as the internet connectivity that would accompany it. This was probably the main reason TTY use plummeted. Devices that could use SMS, text message, and the proprietary iMessage and FaceTime protocols have all brought ubiquitous multimedia communications to the masses. Apps have allowed services such as high-definition video relay calling to be provided to people who are deaf, are deaf blind or have speech disabilities, making the smartphone the device of choice for more and more people.

What about emergency calls?
While communicating with nearly anyone on the planet is only a click away, when it comes down to life safety issues and reaching officials at 911 centers, the legacy network once again stands in the way, blocking any possibility for direct access from these devices and the ability to use any multimedia capability. Think of it like trying to videoconference with that 1973 Harvest Gold, rotary dial wall phone that used to hang in your kitchen. Not going to happen.

The 911 network itself is the very thing that keeps public safety agencies from using these new modalities of communications—and the problem is not a new one. This same issue has suffocated the industry for decades, preventing use of intelligent, multimedia-capable, data-centric, network-connecting public safety agencies with the public they are charged with protecting.

As I have written many times in the past, the current 911 architecture in the U.S. is an antiquated, analog-based infrastructure capable of providing a single mode of communications: voice.

Even now, with carriers and public safety answering points (PSAPs) committed to rolling out Text to 911 services, it’s evident by the lack of implementations that progress is moving at a snail’s pace. In fact, according to the FCC report on PSAP Text to 911 Readiness, less than 10% of the counties have implemented the service, despite all major wireless carriers making this technology available through several mechanisms, requiring minimal effort on behalf of the PSAPs.

Are we building the wrong technology?
Next Generation 911 (NG911) systems will utilize an IP-based Emergency Services IP Network, also known as an ESInet. While it is politically correct to use the term “migrate,” in reality, the cutover to NG911 will be a flash cut, and transitional networks are there only to work out the policy and procedures required. This is why the Text to 911 solutions being deployed now are destined to be short lived. These networks, despite being new, are not deemed as “NENA i3 compliant—the adopted standard that designates the NG911 network from a functional and operational perspective.

Does that mean the existing Text to 911 network is a waste of time and money? No, I am clearly NOT saying that. What I am saying is that what we have for Text to 911 is not the end state goal of the NENA i3 NG911 network, and we need to continue to strive towards a goal that will include better accuracy. The FCC even warns on their FAQ Page about location concerns with Text to 911 today:

“Texting to 911 is different from making a voice call to 911 in this respect. When you make a voice call to 911, the call taker will typically receive your phone number and your approximate location automatically. This is called “Enhanced 911” or “E911.” However, in most cases when you text 911 from a wireless phone, the call taker will not receive this automated information. For this reason, if you send a text message to 911, it is important to give the 911 call taker an accurate address or location as quickly as possible, if you can.”

While we navigate this transitional phase of emergency communications, public safety officials everywhere remind us that the safe move continues to be: CALL IF YOU CAN — TEXT IF YOU CAN’T.

As featured on Network World

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