Would an Emergency 911 Call Work from a SIP Phone?

Have you ever had the need to dial 9-1-1?

Unfortunately, I have.

It was just one time, but one time is enough for me. I won’t bother you with the details, but minutes after the call was answered, a swarm of paramedics had converged on my house and although the emergency was resolved seconds prior to their arrival, I am grateful that the right people could be summoned so quickly.

According to that National Emergency Number Association (NENA), 240 million 9-1-1 calls are made each year. The FCC adds that one third of those calls are from wireless telephones. In some communities, nearly one half of the 9-1-1 calls are made from cell phones. Clearly, the need for this single number to call for help is extremely valuable.

Related article: If You Dial 911, You Should Be Able to REACH SOMEONE

9-1-1 has been around since 1968, but I highly doubt that most of those 240 million people knew what was happening when they made their calls.

How do the calls end up at the right place? How do the emergency response agents know where the calls are coming from?

Before I delve into explanations, allow me to define a few terms.

NENA. The National Emergency Number Association (NENA) is the organization responsible for fostering the technological advancement, availability, and implementation of an emergency telephone number system in the United States.

PSAP. A Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) is a call center responsible for answering 9-1-1 calls. As of April 2014, the United States has 5,976 primary and secondary PSAPs in 3,135 counties, parishes, independent cities, boroughs and Census areas.

ELIN. An Emergency Location Identification Number (ELIN) is a North American dialing plan number used to represent one or more telephone extensions off a PBX. The telephones that use the same ELIN should be physically located near one another. ELINs can be used when it is not necessary to identify the exact location of every telephone in a business.

ANI. Automatic Number Identification (ANI) is a ten-digit number sent from a telephone on the public network. Like an ELIN, it identifies the caller.  However, ANI is generally assigned to a more precise location.

ERL. An Emergency Response Location is typically used by a PBX to define telephone locations. A company may have many ERLs, but fewer than the number of employees or DID numbers.  An ERL might be the company address along with information about a location within that address (e.g. southwest corner of the second floor). Several ELINS may be assigned to a single ERL.

Selective Router. Also referred to as a Tandem Router, a Selective Router uses an ANI/ELIN to find the correct PSAP for an emergency call.

MSAG. The Master Street Address Guide database maintains the ELIN to PSAP mapping and is used by the Selective Router.

PS-ALI. The Private Switch Automatic Location Identifier database is used by the PSAP to map ANI/ELINs to caller information. This provides the emergency response agent with the ALI for the caller.

ALI. Automatic Location Identification (ALI) provides the PSAP agent with location information about the 9-1-1 call.  ALI consists of the following:

  • Phone number
  • Location, 20 characters
  • Customer name
  • Street directional
  • Street name
  • Community and state

Whew! Does that sound a little overwhelming? Actually, once you understand the basic call flow, it’s not that bad. To assist you in understanding how it all comes together, let’s take a look at a very simple example.

  1. Someone makes a 9-1-1 call. The caller is identified by his or her ANI or ELIN. ANI if the call is from a telephone on the public network. ELIN if the call is from a private network such as a PBX. Remember, ERLs are used to map locations within a business to  ELINs.
  2. The Telephone Company/Selective Router uses the ANI/ELIN to search the MSAG to determine which PSAP should handle the call.  The call is then sent to that PSAP.
  3. When the call arrives at the PSAP, the ANI/ELIN is passed to the PS-ALI database to determine the correct ALI for this call.
  4. The call is routed to an agent along with the retrieved ALI.
  5. If necessary, emergency response providers are dispatched to the location described within the ALI.

9-1-1 from a cell phone is a little more complicated, but by using cell tower triangulation, the caller’s location can also be determined.

That’s not so bad, is it? As long as the call is made to the appropriate place and the ANI/ELIN matches an entry in the PS-ALI database, the emergency will be efficiently handled.

911 SIP Chart

* Image from Wikipedia.

However, what if the call isn’t sent to the appropriate place or the ALI cannot be determined from the ANI/ELIN? These are the issues that arise from IP telephony.

In the TDM world, telephones are pretty static. You plug your phone into a jack that is directly connected to wire that terminates on a port off your PBX. This makes it pretty easy to match caller to location.

Additionally, the telephones and PBX are in the same location and the PBX has TDM trunks to the local telephone company. So, if a user off a PBX in Bloomington, Minnesota makes a 9-1-1 call, the chances are extremely high that it will be answered at a nearby PSAP.

IP Telephony Brings Issues

SIP phones aren’t physically tied to a PBX. This is especially true with a SIP client on a mobile device. With SIP, I can make calls regardless of where I am. However, it won’t do me any good if I have an emergency in Illinois and the 9-1-1 call is answered by someone in Minnesota. Clearly, something needs to be done to connect callers with the correct emergency responders.

Ignoring the case of mobile or remote SIP for a moment, this is where the ERL can be used. ERLs can be associated with ports on LAN switches. An ERL for one group of ports might map to one set of ELINs and the ERL for another group of ports might map to a different set of ELINs. ELINs from the first group could equate to floor 1, Pillar 6 at a company’s address and ELINs from the second group could equate to Floor 2, Pillar 3 at that same address.

ERLs can also be associated with wireless adapters for in-building mobility.

I should point out that there are a variety of companies (911 ETC, Conveyant, RedSky, 911 Enable, Amcom, etc.) that offer products that work with your PBX to assist in mapping IP telephones to ERLs.

ERLs and ELIN mapping doesn’t solve everything, though. You need to make sure that the ELIN is sent to the correct place in order for the Selective Router to find the appropriate PSAP. This requires 9-1-1 calls to be sent out on the right trunks.

9-1-1 routing isn’t overly complicated when trunks coexist with the users they serve. This means trunks exist at both the main site and any gateways off the PBX. Route tables are configured to send 9-1-1 calls out the appropriate local trunk no matter where the telephone is receiving its call control processing (main or gateway).

It becomes complicated for branch offices when a company eliminates trunks from their remote gateways and centralizes all calls on SIP trunks. In this case, there is no connection between a remote location and its PSAP.

Thankfully, there are companies that offer cloud based solutions to map remote IP users to the correct PSAP. Three that come to mind are RedSky, 9-1-1 Enable, and 911 ETC. All allow you to send 9-1-1 calls directly to their clouds. Their clouds will then route 9-1-1 calls to the appropriate places. For example, you might consolidate all your trunks in Chicago and have a “trunkless” gateway in Minneapolis. If a Minneapolis user makes a 9-1-1 call it will be sent out a SIP trunk in Chicago to a cloud service which will then send the call back to Minneapolis and the correct PSAP.

Mobile Users

Unfortunately, there is still a hole when it comes to mobile SIP clients. I could be wrong, but I don’t know of any solution that allows you to place a 9-1-1 call from a SIP client on an iPhone or Android connected to a 3G or 4G network. In this case, the call must either be disallowed by the client software or the soft-phone must place the call on the cellular connection.

At some point, I would love to see SIP messages imbed location information such as GPS coordinates and have that used to route calls, but I know of nothing on the horizon that allows for that.

Wrapping Things Up

I didn’t expect this article to be this long, but once I got going it was hard to know when to stop. Hopefully you’ve learned something over these past three or four pages and are now prepared to dig into 9-1-1 even deeper than I’ve taken you. If you are going to implement 9-1-1 on your PBX, I would highly recommend that you take the extra steps to become even more knowledgeable. You don’t want to mess around when it comes to life or death situations.

For a different look at this interesting subject, I suggest that you read my article, Next Generation 9-1-1.

* * *

This article originally appeared on SIP Adventures and is reprinted with permission.

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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.