Why 9-1-1 may NEVER work
After a brief hiatus spanning the past few weeks, I have had some time to reflect on the existing problems with emergency calling, and refocus on the root cause of the problem. Any regular subscriber to my blog or podcast is well aware of the tragic incident that happened on December 1, 2013 where the life of Kari René Hunt ended in a tragic incident in a Marshall Texas hotel room, when her nine-year-old daughter was unable to directly dial 9-1-1 without first dialing an access code of 9.
But getting a call out to 9-1-1 is just the beginning of the problem. Unfortunately, it is very much out of the control of the caller at this point, and the likelihood of the call being successful is at the mercy of an archaic, antiquated public switched telephone network and databases that may or may not be accurate.
From time to time, Hank Hunt (Kari’s father) will call me with a technology question about E9-1-1 as he tries to understand where technology failed and took the life of his daughter away from him. Surprisingly in the last eight months, Hank has become impressively steeped in the technology. As it turns out he was traveling through Marshall Texas this past weekend and happened to drive by the Baymont Inn and Suites at 5301 East End Boulevard South. Here is what happened on Sunday in Hank’s words:
“I stopped by this hotel Sunday, (the one Kari was murdered in) I hadn’t intended to but ‘swung” in there, got out and went in. The clerk asked if he could help and I asked him if I could dial 9-1-1 from this hotel if I rented a room there.
He didn’t know.
I explained who I was and why I was asking and he, to my amazement said, “Would you like to go to a room and find out?”.
Well, can you guess what I said?
I had him call the Marshall Police Departments non-emergency line and explain to them that we were going to test the 9-1-1 phone system and they very politely said OK. He then took me to room 111 where he opened the door for me and I entered the room.
I had to walk by the restroom, couldn’t look in there, and I found the phone. I picked up the receiver, asked him to be there when I dialed and he walked over to me and I dialed 9-1-1. Busy signal. I looked up at him, thought of my grand daughter and what she went through at this very hotel so I dialed 9-1-1 again, and then again, and then one more time.
Just like my grand daughter did.
Busy signal every time.
The only difference?
I wasn’t hearing my mother being murdered in the background.
The clerk took the receiver from me, dialed 9-9-1-1 and after 1 ring a Dispatcher answered, “9-1-1, what is your emergency?”
Precious words my grand daughter never heard but so desperately sought. [He] asked her, “What location information do you see?” and she answered,
“The only information I see is the call is coming from the La Quinta Inn.”
This hotel was La Quinta about 5 years ago. It is Baymont Inn now. So, not only has the very hotel where my daughter was murdered NOT corrected their phone system to directly call 9-1-1 they haven’t even corrected the name of the business.”
Alarm bells started going off in my head. There was still a La Quinta Inn and Suites in Marshall, and a quick search on the Internet revealed that it was just a half a mile down the road at 6015 East End Blvd. South!
So let’s think about this; Had the 9-1-1 call been successful, and the call taker was not able to confirm the address, or the hotel name, it may have been dispatched according to the ALI record as the La Quinta Inn on SE End Boulevard, and not the Baymont Inn on SE End Boulevard; A very simple, yet easily understandable mistake.
This is a very disturbing thought. Not only has the entire premise of our 9-1-1 routing architecture been invalidated by the fact that telephone numbers (ANI) no longer have to equal fixed locations on the planet, the database that we are cross referencing to (ALI) are grossly out of date, difficult to update and maintain, and just plain wrong as in the case in Marshall Texas.
As it turns out, I’m not the only one that is concerned about the inaccuracy of ALI. On July 28th the Colorado PUC issued Emergency Rules Governing Automatic Location Identification Service. In a statement located on their website they have published the opinion that they had concerns, specifically:
- The databases used by either CenturyLink or Intrado were NOT accurate and updated.
- That CenturyLink and Intrado have NOT coordinated and communicated with other service providers to ensure accurate location information in existing databases.
- That the connections and other functions necessary for ALI services were NOT reliable.
- That offering separate ALI services to certain areas of the state WOULD endanger the current pricing structure that allows for rural areas of the state to afford 9-1-1 services that might otherwise be too expensive.
- That CenturyLink or Intrado had NOT communicated adequately with PSAPs and 9-1-1 Authorities in the state concerning the transition.
- That all systems and connections had NOT been adequately tested and had NOT been proven to be sufficiently reliable.
The plan to let Intrado sell the ALI services direct to PSAPs has now been challenged based on the perceived inaccuracy of ALI databases.
This seemingly innocuous problem is actually a huge fracture in the core logic of our public safety communications network. If we don’t stop and correct this horrible inexactitude more lives could be lost, and people will question “How did this happen?”
Unfortunately, the answer will be “Because we let it happen.”