Heard of What's Changing With E911? You Will!
E911 has its challenges, but you must do your part in making sure we get our emergency response system fixed.
"911. Where's the emergency?"
Imagine you have to work late. Everybody else has gone home, and it's just you in the office. "Hey, this isn't so bad, now I can really get some work done," you say to yourself. But then the unthinkable happens. Chest pains, shortness of breath, pain in your arms. You are having a heart attack and you need help now! You call 911, but you can't say anything to the person on the other end of the phone. Of course they send emergency responders, but how confident are you that they'll find you in your office?
What if you work in a building with multiple floors, buildings tied together with one phone system or even no room numbers for someone to find you? What if responders go to the billing address instead?
You might have even heard about the 2005 case in which the state of Texas sued Vonage after a homeowner with its VoIP service wasn't able to reach 911 during a break-in and shooting. Since then VoIP customers have received more stickers then first graders with their books full of scratch-and-sniffs. VoIP providers want these stickers, which might explain what to do if the phone is moved or provide instructions on which line to call from, on all phones. Sometimes the stickers even simply provide the disclaimer that calling 911 may not work!
These are examples of why states across the nation are enacting new laws for Enhanced 911. Chances are the state you live in has or will enforce a law soon.
You could list dozens of emergencies, but regardless of the situation necessitating a 911 call, we as a society need to do better, with the technology we have, to get emergency responders to those is crisis ASAP!
How 911 Works
When a caller dials 911 from a landline, the service provider routes the call to the closest public-safety answering point, or PSAP (in this article I'll limit the scope of this to landlines ). The problem is, and always has been, where exactly is the caller? This isn't difficult when you have a few plain old telephone lines and a small key phone system. But times are changing, and businesses are using hosted VoIP and SIP trunks, deploying fiber to connect buildings, and receiving dial tone from phone systems that may reside in different buildings, states, or countries!
The new laws, which vary from state to state, dictate a caller's address location identification, or ALI, which might include specific address, building, floor, and room so emergency responders know exactly where to find the caller. Good idea right? And you can see why these laws are in or going into effect around the nation. But implementing this? Meh... not so easy.
What It Means for Businesses
What does being in compliance mean for your telecom or IT staff?
- Know your local laws and dates of enforcement. Even if no law has taken effect where you are, you certainly still face the risk of litigation.
- Determine if your phone system is E911 compliant. That is, can it hold a database of ALI information to pass to the carrier? If not, you don't necessarily need to upgrade or replace it but rather use a service that works between the phone system and carriers.
- Build the database. You must include the physical location of the phone and get as granular as possible. You'll find this a tedious task, filled with "move add change or delete," but remember this information could come into use in a life-or-death situation. In addition, you'll need to create a process for gathering this information (e.g., make sure it is included in Human Resources orientations).
- Here's the trickiest part: You have to push this information to the local carrier or SIP trunk provider -- and don't expect uniformity on costs (you think they'll do this for free?!), participation, and methods of uploading.
- Test it. Just like your disaster-recovery plan is useless unless you test it, so to is this. With such high stakes, you must test your database for accuracy. I recommend calling the non-emergency PSAP number and coordinating with the provider on testing.
Technological transitions are hard. Y2K. Cellular adoption. VoIP conversion. Windows OS upgrades. Similarly, E911 will have its challenges in the compliance, database build-out, carrier participation, and cost negotiations. Hey, it's job security... right?!
"SCTC Perspectives" is written by members of the Society of Communications Technology Consultants, an international organization of independent information and communications technology professionals serving clients in all business sectors and government worldwide.