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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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.

Avaya Chief Public Safety Architect Talks Kari’s Law, Life-Saving Policies

When Hank Hunt’s nine-year-old granddaughter saw her mother being stabbed in a Texas hotel room, she did exactly what she learned to do in the case of an emergency: she dialed 9-1-1. When her call didn’t go through, she dialed again … and again … and again. Four times, she dialed 9-1-1, and four times, her call went nowhere.

Hunt’s granddaughter didn’t know – and why should she? – that the phone system in the hotel was an MLTS/PBX, a multiline system that often requires users to first dial a number to reach an outside line.

Since the murder of Hank Hunt’s daughter, named Kari, Avaya Chief Public Safety Architect Mark Fletcher, ENP has made 9-1-1 public safety awareness and progress his mission.

“We know from the coroner’s report that it was the last stab wound that killed Kari,” Fletcher said solemnly. “If Kari’s daughter had been able to directly dial and reach 9-1-1, Kari may be alive today. The gravity of that led me to an epiphany. This needs to change.”

Fletcher is an advocate for Kari’s Law, U.S. legislation that requires direct 9-1-1 dialing from multiline telephone systems, which are commonly found in schools, office buildings and, like in Kari’s case, hotels. At this year’s annual Public Safety conference, National Emergency Number Association President Christy Williams honored Fletcher with the President’s Award for his continuing advocacy.

Until last week, specific language regarding Kari’s Law was only seen at the state level – recently, it was approved by the likes of Illinois, Maryland, Texas and Pennsylvania. It was just introduced at the federal level on Dec. 3 by Representative Louie Gohmert, who filed a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives called The Kari’s Law Act of 2015, which requires anyone who dials 9-1-1 to be able to directly reach emergency personnel and requires the enablement of onsite notification.

On the heels of this milestone, Fletcher sat down with Avaya Connected for an exclusive Q&A about this life-saving legislation.

How have you and Avaya been involved with Kari’s Law?

I saw the initial news of Kari’s murder in Dec. 2013, and when I read the story, my heart sank as I realized what had happened and why. It was clearly an avoidable programming issue, and when I saw Hank’s Change.org petition, I thought I’d help Hank collect more signatures. I recorded a podcast for the Avaya Podcast Network (APN), telling the tragic tale. I also went a step further and got the idea to write an open letter to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler. I copied all four Commissioners and tweeted to Commissioners @AjitPaiFCC and @JRosenworcel. That evening, I was shocked to see Commissioner Pai favorite the tweet.

A few days later, I received a phone call from Commissioner Pai’s secretary. “He’d like to meet with you to talk about it.” I went to Washington, D.C. expecting to get 5 minutes. That day, we spoke for nearly an hour, and I knew I had his interest and concern.

From there, it’s taken off. We just hit more than half a million signatures on the Change.org petition, and, as you know, we have several statewide legislation initiatives passed and now an active bill filed in Congress. Avaya has given me the pulpit to go out there and educate our customers.  We can change the conversation about 9-1-1 and easily correct the problem, and, for that, I’m very grateful.

What do you mean when you say that Kari’s Law is “changing the conversation?”

There are 240 to 300 million 9-1-1 calls annually, and, based on personal experience, I’d say there’s a lack of direct 9-1-1 dialing access in at least 60 percent of those originating from MLTS/PBX systems. Improving these systems to have direct access and onsite notification isn’t difficult, and it isn’t expensive. Most systems have this ability already built in, and it just needs to be turned on. Kari’s Law is giving us a platform to say: this is something that can − and needs to − be fixed.

Then why would there be resistance?

It’s not resistance so much as a lack of awareness. When Commissioner Pai reached out to the American Hotel and Lodging Association, which represents nine of the top ten hotel chains, they were shocked. They convened an internal task force to address access to 9-1-1 and, now, they have committed to nearly 100 percent implementation of 9-1-1 direct dial access for the owned and managed properties of 10 of the association’s largest member chains, just because they were made aware of the problem. There was no huge financial impact to address this.

There’s a tragic misconception that this is costly – in time or in money. In my experience, it takes 3 minutes to fix the access problem, and 1 minute to configure on-site notification. In nearly all cases, it’s just the flip of a switch or a keyboard click, and can often be done remotely.

In terms of cost, I’ve spoken with four major PBX vendors/distributors/installers that said they’d be happy to check their maintenance customers free of charge to make sure direct 9-1-1 is turned on and, if it’s not, turn it on for free. Three of the four, CSDNet, CSG and DJJ Technologies, all said yes, of course, they’d check and enable their customers. The fourth one, TelServe in Connecticut, said, “I don’t care if it’s a customer or not. We’ll check their systems regardless.” That is a powerful statement and carries a lot of weight.

The Kari’s Law Act of 2015 would amend the Communications Act of 1934 to have phones configured to directly initiate a call to 9-1-1 without dialing any additional digit, code, prefix or post-fix and to require onsite notification for facilities with multi-line phone systems. What does The Kari’s Law Act of 2015 mean for the future of 9-1-1 legislation?

It justifies and promulgates it, but we still have work to do. This is just the Congressional bill. We need to get a Senate bill sponsored, and it needs to go through both houses and to the President’s desk before it is a law. While we will continue to push toward that federal law, in the meantime, we’ll be knocking on state doors to create safer and smarter 9-1-1 legislation for schools, businesses and anyone who uses an MLTS/PBX system.

What can a blog reader do to advocate for safer 9-1-1 technology?

Awareness and action. Don’t assume your office’s 9-1-1 system just works. Take proper precautions and have your maintenance vendor check.

Hank Hunt told us, “Mark Fletcher has been very instrumental in making Kari’s Law a reality. His knowledge of the telecommunications industries is without match and, without his and Avaya’s support, Kari’s Law wouldn’t have been nearly as well received.” If passed, the law would be, quite literally, a life-saver. Congratulations on the progress!

Thank you!

For continued public safety information, be sure to follow Fletcher on Avaya Connected.

Buyer Beware! The Hidden Dangers of WiFi-Enabled 911

The term ‘Caveat Emptor’ is a Latin phrase meaning, “let the buyer beware.” The term is primarily used in real estate transactions, but it’s applicable in any transaction. Essentially, it proclaims that the buyer must perform their due diligence when purchasing an item or service. That’s particularly true if you’re relying on Internet-based phone service for 911.

For any E911 service you subscribe too, reading the fine print may save your life. Don’t blindly click through the EULA.

So what the heck is a EULA? We have all see those annoying End User License Agreements that come with pretty much any software or service you use today. With more and more applications being delivered via the cloud and over the Internet, those EULAs may change over time, and virtually no one reads them completely.

With over-the-top, Internet-based Voice Over IP (VoIP) communications, the E911 services provided by these carriers may have some additional baggage you may not be aware of. If you read the EULA, those limitations are clearly spelled out, and the user has explicitly agreed to them by clicking OK on some form.

Case in point: a large cable provider promotes their online Internet service as a total replacement for cellular service. Utilizing their network of a ‘million WiFi hotspots,” this provider claims that you can drop your cellular service and use your smartphone on their network for just a fraction of what your current cell provider charges.

In fact, in several of their TV commercials, they openly state that E911 works, even when you don’t have a WiFi connection. But if you read their disclaimer outlining the specifics of their policy on E911, they clearly state in bold print:

WE STRONGLY RECOMMEND THAT YOU TELL OTHERS IN YOUR HOUSEHOLD, YOUR GUESTS, AND OTHER THIRD PARTIES WHO MAY USE THE SERVICE OF THESE LIMITATIONS. YOU SHOULD MAINTAIN AN ALTERNATIVE MEANS OF CALLING EMERGENCY SERVICES, AS THE SERVICE IS NOT MEANT TO BE A PRIMARY LINE REPLACEMENT SERVICE.

While I’m not a lawyer, and I don’t play one on TV, this seems to be an attempt to shift the liability for E911 to the consumer. What about the nice lady in the commercial? She told people exactly the opposite, and not to worry because “E911 always works.” I’m very concerned that the unsuspecting public will be led to believe they have an E911 safety net in place on their device, when in fact, depending on many contributing factors, they very well may not.

Cable providers are able to make this claim by relying on a provision in federal law that allows a mobile device to connect to the 911 network without a traditional mobile connection. This provision has been controversial, and there’s been talk of updating it, or possibly closing it entirely.

Although these devices work today, they carry with them a number of troubling issues:

  • They don’t provide the caller’s location
  • The emergency dispatcher can’t call them back”

Unless you work in public safety, these are facts you probably didn’t know. How many others are in a similar position, and how many people have switched to WiFi-only service on their smartphones, and are walking around with a device that may not work in the future for E911?

I really don’t want my epitaph to read ‘He Clicked OK, But He Never Read the EULA.’