Here's Why the LifeSaver iPhone Case Won't Work

Earlier this month, a Florida-based startup launched a fundraising campaign on Indiegogo for a new, E911-enabled iPhone case that makes some pretty impressive claims: Simply flip a switch on the outside of the case, and a companion app will broadcast your GPS coordinates, personal information and a live audio/video stream to emergency dispatchers.

The problem is, the technology necessary to run the LifeSaver iPhone Case simply doesn’t exist. Currently, none of the world’s 911 dispatch centers (also called public-safety answering points, or PSAPs), or the 911 network in the U.S., is set up to receive the data this case broadcasts.

The company has raised a little more than $3,000 to date (with $97,000 to go). Here’s their pitch:

One of the ways that PSAPs might receive such data in the future is through technologies like WebRTC. To get to the real answer, I figured I’d get our utmost expert on WebRTC services on the podcast, and because that guy wasn’t available, I decided to get Chris Vitek, who’s the president of WebRTC Strategies.

Fletch: Hey Chris, welcome to the podcast.

Chris: Hey, always good to be here, Mark.

Fletch: Always good to break your chops over something. But no, you are absolutely, all kidding aside, you are absolutely the consummate WebRTC guy. So I know you saw this article. I know you saw this iPhone case that supposedly transmits all this information, and you and I kind of got into a little bit of an exchange. What they’re claiming just can’t be done.

Chris: Right. Well, not with the current technologies. And not really with the way that they describe they want to use E911 or next-gen 911. And it started me thinking about the fact that what we’re looking at here is really simple in a lot of respects.

I don’t want to insult anybody in the public safety community, but 911 is complex and maybe there are some simpler paths. And I think that WebRTC, some of the components, notably data channel and the ability to embed certain functions on mobile devices, can create some functionality that would be desirable in a 911 center, for very little money and with no license and that you’d have to maintain in a database. And that’s something else we can discuss as we go through this.

But yeah. Here’s my vision. The idea would be this. You get your 10-digit number at the PSAP. You’re always going to get that 10-digit number. If I asymmetrically broadcast information from that device to a database somewhere in the network, on the Internet, and I link to that 10-digit number, then all I have to do is query for that 10-digit number and I could pull down all the known data about that device.

Fletch: Sure the PSAPS are already querying on the 10 digit number today into the ALI database which is managed by the public safety community. This is just querying an extra database, and there are a lot of other applications that are out there that are setup over that same structure.

The problem is that these guys advertise a cell phone case, and quoting right from the webpage, “Users simply slide and push the safety switch to activate the function. Once that happens, the exact GPS location is streamed to authorities using E911 technology.”

That right there… it doesn’t work.

Related article: “Swatting,” the Internet Prank With Deadly Consequences

Chris: Right. There’s too many gotchas there. I leave my GPS turned off, because it sucks my battery dry all the time. So you’re not going to get around situations like that.

Then you’re going to get antenna information and you maybe be able to do some triangulation pretty easy, but a lot of people are going to have that GPS turned off because of their battery life.

Fletch: Yeah. And the thing is that the PSAP has to be capable of receiving it. Right now over the existing E911 technology, that’s an analog-based voice call coming in with caller ID, that’s queried through a back channel. There’s no data transmission.

I think people really get confused, “Oh I got a smart phone, I can Facetime anybody. Obviously I can send that information to the PSAP.” And that’s what’s just missing. The network isn’t built for that.

Chris: Right, and even in the scenario that I call out there, at the minimum the PSAP has got to have browser there that can access across the Internet a database, to be able to pull this information back to their interface.

Fletch: Yeah, there’s got to be that piece. Again, with something you and I were talking before, you could probably build that in a day or two. We’re not talking about complex stuff, but the fact is, it doesn’t exist.

Chris: Exactly, exactly, it doesn’t exist, and it can’t really exist in the current infrastructure. What I’m talking about is asymmetrical communications, which 911 already is, but I’m talking about extending that asymmetrical paradigm further and possibly simplifying it at the same time.

Just because I’m saying it’s a browser in the PSAP that doesn’t mean we can’t automate that search. And it occurs to me that maybe I ought to give my friends on TCS a call. I used to work with those guys a lot. This could be something that they could put side-by-side and drive it into their database. Maybe that’s an avenue to get this to market faster than would be otherwise.

Fletch: Right, because there’s 67-some hundred PSAPs out there. In order for this to be effective, you’re going to have to implement that technology in a good chunk of those, because the customer is not going to know where they’ve got this functionality available to them or not.

Chris: Right, right. And the customers, they’re not going to be necessarily concerned about it. TCS and West, and I think I got some friends at West that I could talk to too, so maybe that’s the right place to start to get this and there’s really no money in it, honestly not for me.

Because like I said it’s like two, three days worth of Javascript programming and you’re done. That can make it bulletproof. You can prototype this in about half an hour.

Fletch: Sure you could, absolutely. And there are companies that are out there already today like Smart911 that are already managing these types of databases.

Getting to the app side, that’s the next step for those guys. But they’ve already started with the database, so as a user all of my PSTN numbers are in Smart911. So if I’m in Washington D.C., or King Country or any other municipality that’s implemented the Smart911, when I dial 911 from any of my landlines, it’ll show up here is Fletcher’s personal profile, or hell, it’s only Fletch, we don’t have to go to this one.

Chris: Maybe it’ll make them drive the other direction.

Fletch: Yeah, maybe it will. Maybe it will. But that’s the beauty of it whether I’m home or I’m in Washington or wherever if Smart911 is active, it’s a widget in the PSAP that’s going, “Yeah, I know the 10-digit caller ID. That’s Fletch. Here is his profile. Here’s the meds that he’s on. Here’s his emergency contacts.”

I’ve got floorplans of my house, all 1,400 square feet of it, in the database. But what’s important on that is, yeah, bedrooms are in the second floor, my office is in the detached garage. That’s an important part, because I work from home.

Chris: Oh absolutely. And that’s the beauty of WebRTC in a lot of respects, is because data channel it’s designed to be a real time communications tool for large volumes of data. If we’ve got that information, whether it’s on the device or linked to another database, which would not necessarily have to use data channel. I’m only talking about using data channel for the device specific information. All the rest of that profile information? That can be stored on a separate database and joined at the moment that call is made.

Fletch: Absolutely. So the main thing is we want to raise awareness in the public community and say the old adage is always true right Chris, “If you read about something and it sounds like it’s too good to be true, it probably is.”

Again, here you’ve got a company that’s out there trying to do some crowd funding at $60 a case where they’re really compelling story. But a story that just is a fairytale. I mean go find Jack and buy some magic beans.

Chris: Yeah, they’ll bring it up and they’ll work in 18 zip codes globally.

Fletch: Yeah, if you’re lucky, if you’re lucky. Well good, I’m glad we got to the bottom of that from the real data source, WebRTC. The authoritative source on WebRTC. You guys have an event coming up pretty soon, right, down in Atlanta?

Chris: We do in June, in the third week in June. That’s our WebRTC conference. It’s our forth one and Rich Tehrani who runs the media company for us, he says he hadn’t seen a growth pattern in a trade show like this since beginning of the Internet. So, it’s taken off pretty fast. It’s a different crowd, it’s not a telephone crowd. It’s a software developer crowd that runs with the show, but is growing like crazy.

Fletch: Yeah, so when we were out in Santa Clara, at the Santa Clara Convention Center, there was another huge, ginormous show that was going on, and you guys still packed the house.

Chris: Yeah, we were head-to-head with, and they drew 130,000 people to that trade show. In fact, some of our key vendors actually didn’t show up at our conference. They went there. We still grew by another 50%. Every six months, we seem to be growing by 50%.

Fletch: Well the attendance was so good because of the Avaya Podcast Network was there, that’s what I heard. That’s what I heard.

Chris: I am absolutely with you brother. I’m with you.

Fletch: Hey Chris, I really appreciate you sitting down and chatting with us on this. This is important information that people really need to understand, and there’s a lot of great stuff that’s going to happen with WebRTC around E911.

I think that’s going to be a huge enabler, but it’s not going to come out of a protective case and it’s not going to happen today until there is some advancements that are made in the–not necessarily the network side–but certainly at the PSAP side, from the application level to receive this data.

Because the infrastructure just isn’t there to receive it today. It’s kind of a chicken-or-the-egg thing.

Chris: Yep, yep. Well we’ll keep pushing it, and see if we can make something easy enough to make it adoptable easy enough then maybe some folks will start picking it up.

Fletch: There you go. Talking with Chris Vitek who’s the president of WebRTC Strategies and probably one of the smartest guys I know on the planet around WebRTC. Thanks for talking with us.

Chris: Many thanks Mark, good to be here.

Chris Vitek, President of WebRTC Strategies

Chris Vitek is the president of WebRTC Strategies, and has been an entrepreneur for the past 17 years.

During this time, he has specialized in complex telecommunications, unified communications, contact center applications and business process optimization. Recently, he has been engaged in the use of WebRTC to reduce cost and improve the precision of enterprise communications for his clients.

As an independent consultant, Mr. Vitek has solved problems for many of the largest companies in the world. Past client include J&J, McNeil Labs, Janssen Pharmaceutica, Freddie Mac, T-Mobile, Leap Wireless, Citi Bank, Carefirst, Choice International, Marriott, TD Bank, Rite Aid, Dillard’s, Giant Food, Catalyst RX, Becton Dickinson Power Team, Pepco Holding, GTE, United Airlines, Interactive Media Group and IBM.

Prior to becoming a consultant he worked for Nortel and General Electric Information Systems. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the Society of Telecommunications Consultants, and a member of the Society of Workforce Planning Professionals.

He is a member of the Advisory Board for the WebRTC World Expo and a member of the Advisory Board for the Illinois Institute of Technology’s Real-Time Communications Conference.

Additionally, he is the Editor of the Society of Telecommunications Consultants blog at

Want more technology, news and information from Avaya? Be sure to check out the Avaya Podcast Network landing page at 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 E911. I value your opinions, so please feel free to comment below or, if you prefer, you can 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 at @Fletch911


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E911’s Fatal Flaw is Lack of Location Data—How Avaya Breeze Can Solve

The night of her husband’s death, Alison Vroome did everything she knew to be right. She grabbed her phone, called 911 and told the operator her address. Then she repeated her address a second, third and fourth time.

The call went to a different North Carolina county; the operator couldn’t understand her address. It was more than 10 minutes into the 911 call before paramedics arrived. Like anyone calling 911 in an emergency, Vroome expected her call to go quickly and smoothly, but it didn’t. Vroome’s call was one of 5.7 million 911 calls that come from wireless phones in NC—about 74% of all 911 calls in the state according to data from 2015. Yet 911 call centers rely on the cellular carrier to provide a cell phone’s location data. The legacy 911 network is voice only and cannot pass any data from the device. Instead, they can only receive the location data from the tower pinged by the call, something not nearly as accurate.

No one can say for certain if Vroome’s husband would be alive today had paramedics arrived sooner, but there isn’t any doubt that the current technology used in E911 emergency situations fails citizens. And this isn’t an issue isolated to the U.S. With the rise of mobile devices, countries and communities around the globe face the same technological flaw—the lack of location information.

As Avaya’s Jean Turgeon addressed in his recent blog on the current state of public safety and E911, accurate location information is one of, if not the most important piece of information that an emergency responder needs; and resolving this fatal flaw requires proactive urgency.

How Today’s #Tech Can Address E911’s Fatal Flaw

My Avaya colleague Mark Fletcher, ENP, recently wrote that when it comes to significantly improving public safety and E911 response times, tech is king. He’s right.

Case in point: In Europe, the introduction of EU eCall to become an integral element of the European emergency number 112 is solving the GPS precision challenge for new passenger vehicles sold in the EU after 2018. In an emergency, an eCall will relay a vehicle’s exact location, time of the incident, and direction of travel to emergency personnel, as sourced from the device, and very accurate. This is done automatically by the vehicle or can be triggered manually by the driver by pushing a button inside the car. That’s technology in action! While we have about two years to go before it becomes available large scale, we’re heading in the right direction.

In addition to eCall, there’s another remarkable solution called Advanced Mobile Location (AML). When a person in distress calls emergency services with a smartphone where AML is enabled, the phone automatically activates its location service to establish its position and then sends this info to emergency services via an SMS. The current downside to this is that AML is only compatible with Android mobile devices (R3.4 or greater). But still … it’s a huge step forward, and sets an excellent example for others.

The concept of AML was developed in the UK by BT’s John Medland in partnership with mobile service provider EE and handset manufacturer HTC initially. First tests were so promising that the European Emergency Number Association (EENA) began to promote AML, which sparked the interest of Google, ultimately getting AML introduced into Android natively. Talk about a ripple effect!

As the world’s leading software and services company, Avaya understands there are better ways to deliver public safety and emergency services, and we’ve been innovating these same capabilities in many commercial arenas for years. Our efforts there have set off their own ripple effect across the public safety industry, urging government agencies around the globe to harness the power of technology to enhance public safety services for citizens. What’s more, our teams are leveraging the Avaya Breeze™ Platform to intelligently link the location data to the incoming eCall or AML call and make it available to the E911 responder. Recently, in partnership with Engelbart Software and Oecon, we’ve developed a flexible and scalable solution for this type of enhanced emergency calling scenario and the results have been positive.

In fact, eCall is looking more and more like a potential game changer, and here’s why.

Let’s look at the technology side of the overall process:

  • A car is involved in an accident.
  • Sensors in the car trigger a sequence of events performed by the In-Vehicle System (IVS).
  • The SIM card registers to the strongest mobile network to raise the emergency call to the EU E112.
  • A modem kicks in, coding the GPS data and other car-related information as audio tones into the voice channel.
  • Immediately following the data transmission, the IVS switches to the hands-free communications system allowing the people in the car to communicate with the E112 responder.

What does this mean for the emergency responder?

  • The E112 responder picks up a call from a mobile device, immediately receiving precise location information. That’s new!
  • The E112 responder can be sure that it’s a serious situation because the airbags have been deployed, which triggers the emergency call sequence to start. So no one is left to wonder the seriousness of the call.
  • Most likely there’s no one for the E112 responder to speak with in the car. Why? Because this is an automatic call, not a call voluntarily initiated by a real person. And while the modem is beeping its data to the Public Safety Answering Point, the passengers might already have stepped out of the car and can’t hear the E112 responder’s “Are you OK?” Or they simply can’t respond because they’re unable due to the severity of the accident.

So are we still talking about a normal emergency call? From my point of view, this is the Internet of Things (IoT) plunging right into public safety and emergency services: sensors, data, processes and integrations. IoT under the disguise of a voice call … this IS a game changer!

At Avaya, we leverage our Breeze workflow engine to tie together voice calls and the IoT. Even though eCall is an initiative in the European Union, we see the concept of telematic calls being discussed around the globe, in public safety as well as in private businesses like the automotive industry. And, yes, we strongly believe that this approach of integration building on Avaya Breeze can also work to help overcome E911’s same fatal flaw, location.

I’ve delivered a series of Avaya Breeze webinars with my colleague, Andrew Maher, featuring Engelbart Software developers. Together, we demonstrate how to deal with eCall and AML. Have a look to learn more about the capabilities of Breeze and its impact on public safety. The demo starts at 00:19:30.


When Is Enough Actually Enough? Exploring the Lagging Face of Public Safety (Part 2)

In Part 1 of this series, Avaya Vice President and Chief Technologist for software-defined architecture Jean Turgeon opened up a much-needed conversation about the current state of public safety and E911 (which, for the record, doesn’t look good). Just consider that a 2014 study of 1,000 public safety answering points (PSAPs) found that only 18.7% are confident in the location data they receive from wireless callers.

It’s no surprise that technology is vital for improving public safety. The way I see it, this is like a three-legged stool. We need:

  1. Originating devices to support location accuracy

  2. 911 call center networks capable of receiving the information

  3. A Public Safety Emergency Services IP Network to connect them

PSAPs must ensure all three legs are sturdy and of equal length, otherwise fundamental capabilities will be severely limited or missing altogether.

Let’s take a look at the networking side of public safety for a moment. Today in the U.S., there are life-threatening complexities associated with dialing 911 for no other reason than the restrictive legacy networks that transport these calls.

That’s a terrifying thought.

Many times the system programming in hotels and office buildings has similar restrictions. This is why I fight tirelessly in support of Kari’s Law, a U.S. Senate bill introduced earlier this year designed to improve 911 services for multiline phone systems. The 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 because the motel required people to dial 9 to get an outside line. This is a fact I continue to repeat, as I still find people who have not heard of this tragedy, or gave it a second thought.

At the same time, the majority of the emergency call centers today have a serious problem with grade of service. It’s something that’s often in the news, constantly talked about, but rarely acted upon. Our public safety networks are something rarely thought about. Consider the fact that there are somewhere close to 6,000 911 call centers across the U.S. today. Given this, what do you think is the average number of positions staffed in those centers? You likely think dozens, and maybe even hundreds. In actuality, that number is a sparse four people.

So, what happens when all four employees at the average 911 center are tied up because 20 people are calling about the same car accident? Those calls will likely overflow to a neighboring town or city, which then also immediately becomes tied up. This cascading effect starts to immediately make sense how quickly several local governments can be taken out of service. This becomes a serious issue when a person is having a heart attack and dials 911 only to get a busy signal or to be put through to a city 10-20 miles away. A more nefarious problem is how easily it would be to disrupt the U.S. 911 network via Telephony Denial of Service (TDoS) attacks, something the FBI and Public Safety worry about daily.

Overcoming Today’s Greatest 911 Challenges

In Part 1 of this series, JT mentioned a few reasons why PSAPs may overlook infrastructure upgrades. In my opinion, there’s only one primary reason: it’s cost-prohibitive. Why? Because at one point, a handful of businesses in the industry decided they wanted to capitalize on the market by creating very specialized and expensive equipment. Because so few people understand 911, these cost-prohibitive solutions (which run on old technology with massive limitations) are widely believed to be the only options available in the market today.

It has never been more evident that almost every 911 center is currently grappling with technological, financial and operational challenges that seem difficult to overcome. As FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said July 12 in a congressional testimony: “Unless we find a way to help the nation’s [911 centers] overcome the funding, planning and operational challenges they face as commercial communications networks evolve, NG911 will remain beyond reach for much of the nation. Let me be clear on this point: 911 service quality will not stay where it is today, it will degrade if we don’t invest in NG911.”

But remember the three-legged stool, and the originating network, or the enterprise customer. For example, we recently worked with a large customer based in New England that boasted more than 25,000 network endpoints across 700 locations. This included everything from small two-person offices to regional medical centers all the way to large teaching hospitals and universities. The 911 solution this customer was originally going to deploy was estimated at $650,000 in CAPEX, in addition to a monthly recurring operational cost of about $25,000.

Thankfully, this organization came to Avaya before signing the contract and asked if we could assess the situation. After consulting with them, and examining their workflows, we engineered a new operational model that only cost $130,000 in CAPEX, and would be less than $1,500 a month in recurring operational costs. With Avaya functionalities along with technologies delivered by our trusted Select DevConnect Partner Conveyant Systems, Inc., we were able to hand this customer a half a million dollars back in CAPEX, and decreased their OPEX by $282,000 annually. The result of building an efficient 911 solution was the organization now being able to allocate hard-earned dollars towards other top-priority initiatives that had previously gone unfunded. That’s the beauty of it all.

The lesson learned and the key to easily and cost-effectively upgrading your 911 infrastructure is to not accept the status quo, and partner with the right provider for your needs. At Avaya, we know there’s a better way to deliver 911. We take pride in our commitment to driving awareness around this need. It gives us great honor to be advocates for those whose voices must be heard or whose voices have been silenced, like Kari Hunt. We’re dedicated to teaching organizations and our customers that there is in fact a way to seamlessly overcome today’s greatest 911 challenges. We hope that you’ll join us in this very important mission.

When is Enough Actually Enough? A Hard Look at the Lagging Face of Public Safety (Part 1)

When we talk about the state of public safety today, we unfortunately have to recognize the devastating tragedies that have forever affected our communities, schools and businesses worldwide. Research shows that we’re currently experiencing four times as many terrorist attacks globally than in 1990. This month alone, there have been 120 confirmed or suspected attacks—an increase from around 95 in January.

People are being targeted based on their religious beliefs, ideologies and even identities. In France, for instance, we’re seeing new laws that ban certain cultural garbs for fear of terrorist-related threats. Meanwhile, in the U.S., we’re seeing a divide between law enforcement and the very citizens that officers have sworn to serve and protect. In the Middle East, we continue to see unthinkable devastation as violence escalates daily. I understand these aren’t things we want to talk or hear about, but it’s important that we do in order to improve communication infrastructure and transform the global state of public safety and emergency response.

To this end, we’re seeing technology rapidly evolving to a point where there are next-generation solutions available that can help get us to where we need to be. For example, consider the all-new, reopened Sandy Hook Elementary School. On Dec. 14, 2012, the Newtown, CT-based grade school suffered the deadliest mass school shooting in U.S. history. Last month, however, the school reopened its doors equipped with extraordinary technology that ensures next-generation protection for children and staff this school year.

The new design boasts advanced security features that are hidden in plain sight, improving natural surveillance of the grounds. The technology also offers increased situational awareness through a series of impact-resistant windows. Overall, the hope is that the rebuilt school will be the first within the state of Connecticut to be compliant with a new state school safety code, the School Safety Infrastructure Council guidelines.

The redesigned Sandy Hook Elementary School proves that technology can reimagine the possibilities of public safety, if only we allow it to. Examples like this make it really difficult for me to accept that our current state of public safety lags so much. At Avaya, we’re doing all we can to actively bridge this gap. One massive inadequacy we’re especially passionate about improving is the accuracy of E911, or Enhanced 911.

E911 was designed to allow emergency responders to determine the location of a caller based on the caller ID. Today, however, devices have become nomadic and the phone number to location correlation is no longer a valid assumption. Fortunately, there are alternative solutions available that can detect the exact location of a device, an IoT object, or an individual by leveraging smart devices, wearable technologies, and more.

This combination of advanced technology (i.e., Wi-Fi triangulations, GPS, wearables with NFC capabilities) is a key to overcoming 911’s greatest flaw: lack of location data. These advances in technology make it possible, for example, to detect a child that has left a secure area and then immediately send an alert to emergency response teams. These different mechanisms make it possible to save lives. Imagine if someone was suffering a heart attack in an office complex. In this case, standard 911 will enable first responders to locate the building the person is in, but how do they know if the person is on the fifth floor, the 40th floor or in the basement? This same scenario applies to any suspected or proven terrorist.

All of this sounds great, but there’s one problem: for many, deploying these technologies isn’t top of mind. Just consider findings from a 2015 national investigation conducted by USA Today. After sorting through hundreds of pages of local, state and federal documents, it was discovered that:

  • The average chance of 911 getting a quick fix on location ranges from as low as 10% to as high as 95%.
  • In California, 63% of cell phone calls to 911 didn’t share location in 2014.
  • In Texas, two-thirds of cell phone calls reached 911 without an instant fix on location during 2010 to 2013.

No two ways about it: the reason why so many emergency calls today reach 911 without an accurate location is because there’s a severe technology issue at play. Public safety access points (PSAPs) still rely on technology that was designed to locate landlines, despite the fact that the number of 911 calls that come from cell phone networks is 70% to 80% and growing.

Users are evolving from land lines to wireless technologies, but PSAPs continue to remain behind, locked into technology designed in the 1960s. Despite technology being readily available, it isn’t being implemented. Why does this travesty exist? The reason for this is simple: because providers choose not to. Because it’s too costly. Because it’s too much of a hassle or inconvenience. Meanwhile, the reason for implementation is and always will be more important: because lives hang in the balance when archaic infrastructure remains in place.

The bottom line is this: there needs to be a greater movement towards next-generation methodologies of tracking one’s location. PSAPs need to effectively keep up with today’s pace of innovation in order to better serve the general public. It’s great to have a caller’s general location, but responders need richer and more relevant caller information to elevate public safety to where it needs to be today. We need to create proactive urgency around this issue—otherwise, we’re going to keep suffering preventable tragedies until someone finally decides that enough is enough.

Coming up: In Part II of this series, Avaya’s Chief Architect for Worldwide Public Safety Solutions Mark Fletcher will dig into specific technology deficiencies and how to overcome them by easily and cost-effectively upgrading your 911 infrastructure.