How Did a 911 Call Placed in California End Up in Canada?
This week, I am putting down my keyboard and letting a good friend for many years take over the blog, with an important story about assuming that 911 is properly set up and available in your PBX telephone system. This was originally posted on the Colorado 911 Resource Center site, a great resource for 911 information.
Lisa Hoffman recently retired from the position of Deputy Director of the San Francisco Division of Emergency Communications. In that position, she was responsible for San Francisco’s police, fire, and emergency medical communications citywide.
Prior to that, she was the Communications Center Director for the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s department. She has worked tirelessly on MLTS legislation in California, championed wireless accuracy, and defeating legislation detrimental to 911. She has held several positions within NENA and APCO, including NENA California Chapter President, APCO Northern California Board, NENA Editorial Review Board, the APCO Emerging Technologies Committee and served as NENA Western Regional Director.
With that, I introduce you to my dear friend, Lisa Hoffman, ENP:
In February of this year, a media article caught my attention. The article stated that a child at a school died when his 9-1-1 call was routed out of California to a call center in Canada.
This made me ask the question, “Why and how could a 9-1-1 call that originated in California, get into the Canadian 9-1-1 system?!”
I was very troubled and wanted to get to the bottom of what happened.
Through research, I discovered that there are at least two private Emergency Call Relay Centers (ECRCs) who act as “centers of last resort” when attempting to connect certain types of 9-1-1 calls with PSAPs. One of the emergency call centers is at Intrado in Colorado. The other is Northern 9-1-1 Call Routing in Canada, which handled this particular incident.
It was reported that part of the routing problem was that Northern 9-1-1 did not have the correct 10-digit emergency number for the PSAP. Because of this, the call was transferred to an administrative line, which further delayed the correct routing.
Anecdotally, one of the routing centers reported that they have had trouble getting the 10-digit emergency numbers from the PSAPs and rely on information provided from other sources.
This may be something that Public Safety Officials can address locally, ensuring the PSAPs are aware of who these companies are, the service they provide, and encourage PSAPs to provide the correct 10-digit emergency number information. PSAPs may be giving the ECRCs administrative numbers because they believe these are telemarketing calls.
PSAPs can contact ECRCs directly to ensure they have the correct 10-digit emergency transfer number registered. Additionally, call takers may not be aware ECRCs exist. When a transfer comes in from an ECRC, the call takers may be confused about who is making the transfer. This alone can slow down the process. So we need to make sure call takers know about ECRCs.
Why This Happens
Under certain conditions, say an incorrectly provisioned VoIP system, calls from Femtocell/Ubicell devices, satellite devices, Telecom Relay Services, Telematics, etc., or VoIP enterprise products that lose power or have other network failures, improperly provisioned PBX or MLTS lines, 9-1-1 calls cannot be routed to the native PSAP, as the network does not know how to process the call.
When calls cannot route, rather than getting a ‘fast busy’ signal or simply not routing at all, the call is routed to ECRC; which is a center of last resort. This also happens when the MLTS caller ID is not provisioned correctly and the LEC passes the call to the 9-1-1 network with bad ANI. This is similar to a condition known as ANI FAIL in the normal 9-1-1 network.
The call needs to land somewhere, and the ECRC facilities in Colorado and Canada are precisely those resources. The call takers at the ECRC attempt to direct the call to the correct PSAP. In some cases, they can transfer the call through the 9-1-1 system natively or transfer to the prescribed 10-digit emergency number of the correct PSAP. Think of this service as a safety net or failsafe for calls that otherwise cannot route over 9-1-1 networks in the USA, Canada, Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico.
Can You Hear Me Now?
In the installation of these systems, the installer/consumer needs to make a test call to 9-1-1 to check the proper provisioning of the line. If the call fails to reach the PSAP and instead hits the ECRC, the customer/installer may consider the test a success.
They dialed 9-1-1, and got an answer from someone.
Little do they know the complexities of the 9-1-1 network, and ANI Failure with ECRC routing as a failsafe. They may not realize the difference between a call transfer via the 9-1-1 network or 10-digit emergency lines, or the fact that the 10-digit emergency lines are not always the right agency responsible for dispatch.
Many PSAPs (rightly so) restrict the times the provisioning can take place due to call volume and resources available. This often results in a failure to follow through by the installer. The purchasers of these devices likely don’t even realize that the incorrect provisioning exists, let alone that it can lead to misroute delays.
Even if package warning inserts are added, or public service messaging goes out, consumers may simply not get the message or understand the seriousness of its’ implication.
Thanks to Mark Fletcher of Avaya, who provided me with a lot of the information on how and why this happens. Also thanks to Davlynn Racadio, Communications Supervisor at Maui Police Department. Her center recently received an ECRC transfer, below is an email excerpt from Davlynn talking about the process.
“…I just wanted to share something with all of you. Upon returning to work, I sent an email out to my personnel about the Emergency Call Relay Center.
I wanted to make sure that they were aware of this service and handle their calls appropriately. We received a call yesterday from the Relay Center on behalf of Vonage, with the location of the caller and type of case it was (medical)…
I hope there is a level of concern here, as this problem can go very deep and very wide as this type of 9-1-1 service is being deployed more and more.