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!

PHOTO CREDIT: GOOGLE MAPS

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.”

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America’s 9-1-1 System: John Oliver Got it Right (Mostly)—9-1-1 Access still remains the most crucial step to emergency response

For those who may have missed HBO’s “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” on this past Sunday night, there was a humorous but important segment featuring America’s 9-1-1 system. I had gotten a heads up on this earlier in the week, and was anxious, albeit fully expecting this to be the average story, poorly researched and full of inaccurate assumptions around 911.

Fortunately, I could not have been more wrong. I sat back, watching the segment go on for nearly 15 minutes—each second being more amazing than the last—sprinkled with just the right amount of humor to make the important points stand out. I have to commend Mr. Oliver, and his staff, who obviously did a great deal of homework on the topic. The level of detail, as well as the subtle references, proved that quite a bit of preparation went into this piece, and they had talked to the right people in the industry. While John formulated a ton of pertinent points, accurately describing the sad state of America’s overall 9-1-1 infrastructure, he focused on cellular location accuracy and challenges leading to how we got there. But in addition to this problem, a few other critical points were missed—starting with ‘access.’

For any current 911, or Next Generation 911 system, to function properly—access into the system is first required. Only then can any end-to-end functionality and benefit for citizens be expected.

Universal access to 911 means being able to reach emergency services from any device, at any time and from anywhere. It means that 911 works both with and without an access code in Multi-Line Telephone Systems (MLTS), as I have covered in Kari’s Law many times. Currently there are House and Senate Bills working their way through the legislative process, and in these, we make the point that access to 911 must be followed immediately by on-site notification that immediately establishes situational awareness—bringing the building aware of the fact that a particular station dialed 911, and most importantly, the location of where that particular device is in the building.

We are not asking for internal folks to answer those calls—they are likely not trained to do so—we want them to be aware the calls happened. Doors may need to be unlocked, elevators may need to be held, and life-saving assistance might be rendered while waiting for public safety to arrive. Such pre-arrival coordination can speed response considerably. Despite the fact that many building operators feel they should be answering their own 911 calls, this is generally not a good practice to follow. When you dial 911 or you dial another established emergency code in the building, the call needs to reach the proper public safety answer point (PSAP) and not be intercepted by someone who is not trained to respond properly.

Less than half of U.S. States have current legislation covering this, and only a small few have any penalty for non-compliance. This may radically change if the House of Representatives takes an important next step in ensuring access that will lead to increased public safety by voting on H.R. 4167, also known as “The Kari’s Law Act of 2015.” This Bill sat in committee for only a day before a unanimous vote and 24 Republican and Democratic sponsors brought this to the House floor for a full vote. As most of my readers already know, Kari’s Law was named for “Kari Dunn who was murdered in 2013 by her estranged husband in a Marshall motel room while her 9-year-old daughter tried unsuccessfully to dial 911…because the girl did not know that the motel phone system required dialing an extra 9 to reach an outside line.” After much work in Texas, Governor Greg Abbott enacted Kari’s Law as the first Bill he signed. A similar bill is expected to be signed by Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam sometime in the next month.

Federally, Kari’s Law in the bi-partisan H.R. 4167 Bill, with a companion S.2553 in the U.S. Senate, will accomplish the following:

    • Amend the Communications Act of 1934 to require phone vendors and individual buildings to ensure people can connect directly with emergency services without having to press ‘1’ or ‘9’ first.

 

    • Require outgoing ‘911’ calls connect directly to emergency services without local interference.

 

    • Ensure that on-site personnel are notified that a ‘911’ call was made.

 

Why does this matter? It matters because countless Americans will finally have protection, confidence and necessary peace of mind that when a 9-1-1 call is made, there will be a first responder who will have the necessary information to reach the victim without the many issues raised by you, Mr. Oliver. It will mean that America’s network of phones, an invention created by Alexander Graham Bell in March 1876, who’s first call was actually an emergency call, when he called out to Watson after spilling acid on himself, will finally serve the interests of all Americans nationwide.

So what can Americans do? Call your Congressman NOW at (202) 225-3121 to express your support for H.R. 4167. Support for this initiative has never been so important.

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.