9-1-1: Fix it Once . . . Fix it Right

It’s no great secret that the existing E911 infrastructure in the US is well overdue for an overhaul. Does it need an upgrade? NO.. Does it need a refresh? NO..  Does it need a complete overhaul? Unequivocally, YES.

On February 16, 1968, technicians from the Haleyville Phone Company in Haleyville Alabama decided to take on and challenge Ma Bell to a race. They worked tirelessly to design and deploy the very first 911 system in the country. It wasn’t necessarily a technological revolution,  by today’s standards, but it was incredibly disruptive thinking applied to a problem that needed to be solved. Over the years, updates and upgrades were placed on our telephone network. These added capabilities like Selective Routing in the Northern Telecom DMS-100 Digital Switch Platform, as well as using CAMA trunk technology (borrowed from the Hotel/Motel industry to report room long distance to lodging operators) to provide the originating number to the PSAP operator, as this was long before the invention of Caller ID.

In the network, call routing to the right 911 PSAP was based on telephone numbers, and Ma Bell being the keeper of telephone numbers and their installation addresses. At the time, this became the de facto standard for ‘location’ discovery and proved to be very accurate. This worked well for years, and again, the technology was patched and band-aided to add capabilities like PSAP to PSAP call transfer, at least within localized areas of the country.

Then, in the mid 80’s a disruptive new communications technology reared its ugly head. That technology is what we all now know and understand as the cellular telephone. This fantastic technology provided mobility to those that had the service, initially vehicle bound, but soon these devices gained legs and were portable. First introduced as ‘bag phones,’ handheld devices became small and cheaper, and within 15 years, this new trend in communications became well entrenched in our lives.

Fast forward to today, the cellular penetration has exceeded 100% in the US, in fact, the latest report from the CTIA put the figure at 117%. While this fantastic new technology developed and flourished, the 911 emergency network remained stagnant with little to no improvements. Even the devices no longer had a fixed location, the Legacy model of the telephone number to street address correlation remained in place despite its growing uselessness.

When we look at modifying the existing 911 network to utilize the vast data that smart devices bring to the table today, everyone searches for the magical box that will convert old technology to new. Want to talk about this publicly, I always warn the crowds that this is the part where I need to use the ‘F-word,’ so please be ready and don’t be offended. There is the magical box. There’s no magic wand that I can wave to transform old to new. If you want to change the existing network to a new next-generation network, (get ready for the ‘F-word’), you’re only going to have to ”Forklift” what you have today. I know that term is not well-liked by many in the technology industry, but it is, unfortunately, a reality.

At least some of my readers will still remember growing up with the black-and-white television. At some point in time, Color TV programming became available. But until we replaced that black-and-white TV with a color set, it would be impossible did you color content. If a television station New York City utilized a black-and-white television transmitter, even if they were transmitting programs that were recorded in color, anyone receiving their signal would be restricted to a black-and-white transmission. Until they took that black-and-white transmitter and replaced it with a color transmitter, their signal would be stuck in the black-and-white world.

Now, one may argue that the black-and-white television or the black-and-white TV transmitter could be disassembled, and then rebuilt with new color components. While that may or may not be true, it is most certainly the long way around, and likely fraught with problems. This is precisely where the Band-Aid approach has brought us today.

I often wonder why the carriers and 911 database providers take this approach. Well you understand there’s a financial advantage to tying a telephone number to every device, and then creating a database for that device, it’s incredibly inefficient and limits functionality and the ability to move forward. With no technological advantage, the only alternative left is revenue, something that carriers desperately hang on to, like it’s their lifeblood.

I was recently a member of a panel discussing real-time text (RTT) at the Federal Communications Commission. During that, the question came up about location capabilities with RTT. The way text to 911 is delivered today, location is often omitted and not available to the 911 call taker. It seemed to be a legitimate question since RTT is a form of digital IP communications, the originating device, which is well aware of its location, now has the ability to communicate that information directly with the PSAP. But, I was shocked to hear the representative from a large 911 database company respond with, “we’ll use the same mechanisms that we use today, and communicate location through telephone numbers.” After hearing that response, I nearly dropped to the floor. Here we have an opportunity to correct one of the biggest problems affecting Cellular devices and 911 calls. And we have a technology that is enabling a peer-to-peer IP connection that will allow passing the explicit data from the device to the dispatcher, yet we’re going to opt for antiquated technology that is ineffective for the mission. This would be like filming a movie in high definition Color, and then buying a high definition color TV to watch it on, but sticking a black-and-white TV transmitter in the middle to broadcast the signal.

What I listened to FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel comment a week earlier on implementing Kari’s Law, there is one part of her statement that ring true. She reminded everyone that not only do we need to correct this particular problem, but we need to set a deadline of when the work would be completed. I believe by establishing specific set timelines, in applying penalties for those that failed to meet them, we’ll change the financial model to be one that will support the upgraded and refresher technology, and we won’t be left with such a dichotomy of Origination device capabilities, and the network’s ability to carry the new data.

This is not rocket science. Many of the basic principles applied by commercial enterprises apply to public safety. In fact, the only difference is the amount of resiliency and redundancy apply to the architecture. The workflows are similar, if not the same. We’ve solved the multimedia problem for the airlines, Financial institutions, and commercial retail businesses. For them, it was a competitive advantage. Their customers were made up of the same Group of citizens that want to contact emergency services through new digital channels. Large commercial enterprises were faced with a forklift of their current technology or risk losing their customer base. Now, Public Safety isn’t that same decision point. Except, they won’t lose customers, they’ll lose lives. And that is something none of us can live with.

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iOS 12 – Legacy 911 Meets its Match

On Monday, September 17, 2018, the very first nail in the coffin of the legacy 911 network will be firmly planted and driven home. Apple is set to release iOS 12 that contained several new features and enhancements, one of them being “EES,” Enhanced Emergency Services. In a white paper published in August of this year, Apple announced their Hybridized Emergency Location (HELo) technology providing precise, high integrity location data to 911 centers.

The white paper states, “Apple devices contain a variety of location sensors. […] Apple devices can “fuse” information from various sensors, such is [GPS] and Wi-Fi. [The technology provides] a low uncertainty, high integrity estimate of the devices location.”

As it was in the past
HELo is a radical and revolutionary step forward. Currently, the only source for location on a cellular device has been the wireless carriers, who provide this location information through often very inaccurate triangulation calculations. These give much less precise location information, or even worse, merely the cell tower handling the call. This causes a significant problem for those who cannot communicate precisely where they are because they either don’t know or are not capable of speaking. This is a problem for the deaf and hard of hearing community, as well as for individuals with speech disabilities. These individuals are forced through relay centers, outside of the 911 network, that have zero visibility into any location information.

As it will be going forward
HELo is the United States adaptation, of a technology that’s been operating in the European Union for a few years, called AML (Advanced Mobile Location) and operating on Android devices since last year. The concept is simple and initiated initially by John Medland at BT in England. HELo, AML operate nearly the same, conceptually, and even the European eCall (the EU version of OnStar) initiative follows a similar approach on the backend consumption of the data.

How it works

Screenshot 2018-09-16 14.07.49
When your cellular device initiates an emergency call, the voice call is sent to the legacy 911 network as it is today. The wireless carrier uses the cell tower information to route your request to the closest Public Safety Answer Point or 911 PSAP. At the exact same time, HELo takes the location data from your phone (the precise same location data that Uber and Domino’s uses in their app) and places that in a National NexGen 911 Clearinghouse Data Repository with your telephone number as the index reference. When the 911 center gets your emergency call, they initiate the standard database queries to the carrier and are displayed the legacy location parameters, but many 911 desktop application providers have added the functionality to immediately make a secondary query to the National NexGen 911 Clearinghouse Database. The location from that response is often exact and considered to be “high fidelity”. The 911 call taker gets a second plot displayed on their display along with the original location accuracy estimates from the carrier.

Where it will work
While native support for EED will be available to compatible Apple devices when they do the free software update to iOS 12, some carrier networks may block or impair the service from operating as designed. For example, not all networks support simultaneous voice and data. So, if a carrier prevents the outbound data connection, the device would only be able to communicate the location payload over a Wi-Fi connection. I experienced this phenomenon two years ago when Avaya was testing similar technology being accessed through HTML 5. Our initial tests went perfectly, but we happened to make a check in an area where my connection was downgraded from LTE to 3G. Under these conditions, my carrier blocked external data connections during a voice call that was an emergency. It was a perfect example of legacy thinking bubbling through current technology impeding innovation. I had to actually file formal complaints with the FCC against several carrier networks to get this practice changed and removed, under the basis that it had no merit in today’s environment.

Privacy – Everyone’s concern
I am sure that Apple is going to maintain confidentiality and security as a core value. Apple has stated that they will take “extra steps to ensure that our products and services protect the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of our users data during an emergency call.” to enforce this stance on the issue, Apple plans to use Geofiltering to minimize the potential for disclosure even to trusted parties that are not associated with the incident. Also, if the PSAP servicing the user’s location has not opted in to receive this new information, the data is dropped and not stored.

Security – Data Encryption
Data between the user’s device, the RapidSOS clearinghouse database, and the PSAP is all encrypted with strong ciphers and long keys. Additionally, the data remains encrypted while in transit, and even at rest in the databases.

Data Longevity
To prevent a future data breach from yielding information about previous events, Apple discards all data that fails to match geolocation criteria of a PSAP servicing that location, and all data is deleted after 12 hours. Any information that is sent to the RapidSOS clearinghouse database follows the same guidelines. Any data that is ultimately transmitted to a PSAP, state and local records retention laws apply and are up to the receiving agency to enforce as with all data they received today.

Thanks – Not for me . . .
I sat racking my brain trying to figure out a reason why you would NOT want this service activated, but unfortunately, came up blank. Even with that being the case, Apple has provided an opt-out capability, and EED, although enabled by default, can be easily deactivated and disabled in the settings app of an iOS device at any time.

I’m excited
While this new capability is currently limited to Apple iOS 12 devices, this puts in place a key component for next-generation emergency services in the United States. The National NG 911 Clearinghouse, officially known as an ADR (additional data repository) is a crucial element in the transition from the legacy network to next-generation 911 capabilities for all devices. This element must exist for originating devices to place their data in and will serve as a DMZ boundary for PSAP’s to reliably trust adding explicit information to emergency call events.

While the legacy 911 databases remain an essential source of information today, the implementation of architectures like this allows intelligent networks and devices with relevant information not only about the location but situational awareness of the environment, to now have a mechanism and pathway to public safety first responders that can utilize this information.

Knowing that Mark Fletcher sits at cube 2C – 231 is irrelevant information that isn’t actionable because first responders have no idea where that is without a map of my building. Now I can provide them with a floor plan, as well as the fact that it’s 185° at that location. Hmmmm . . . That’s a little warm. Maybe something’s on fire?

That’s actionable data, and worth formulating a system to collect, correlate and propagate to public safety.

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Technology Overlaps – Kari’s Law, Panic Buttons and NG911

To listen to an audio podcast of this blog  [  CLICK HERE  ]

More than four years ago, I published an article on my Avaya CONNECTED blog written by my friend and colleague, Ty Wooten, ENP. Ty is NENA’s director of PSAP Operations and Training, and he along with Maureen Will, director of Emergency Communications at Newtown, Conn., contributed a great article on school safety.  Since that time, the relevance and importance of communications between 9-1-1, local first responders and school officials have increased even more.  Every month brings a new tragic shooting, often in a school. The lessons learned on how to minimize the impact of these events remains the same – improved communication. Recent articles out of Nassau and Suffolk Counties in New York are focusing on the deployment of a software panic button technology there, and this has an intriguing overlap with E9-1-1, Kari’s Law (first enacted in Suffolk County), and the evolution of Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG9-1-1) technologies.

The Communication Gap

It’s well-documented in several studies that most active shooter incidents are over within 5 minutes to 12 minutes.  Likewise, the average response time for public safety personnel ranges from 13 minutes to 18 minutes. The Naval Post Graduate School, the State of Massachusetts, the FBI and NYPD research projects all point to two key factors in reducing the casualty impact in these incidents:

  1. Improved communications
  2. Victim-initiated notifications

What “victim initiated” basically boils down to is the person who is closest to the situation initiates the alarm as quickly as possible, notifying authorities as well as any collateral population, such as faculty and students.  Confusion and procedural missteps can occur when a call for help gets intercepted and is“triaged” by untrained staff. One has to ask “Why?!”  It seems that all too often systems notify the administrator or front desk, where it is expected that the call will be answered and evaluated, and then responders are notified.  This scenario, to the uninitiated, may sound efficient but it’s a stark reminder of how hotels configured their PBXs to intercept calls to 9-1-1 internally. As a result of Kari Hunt, a mother of three died in 2013. Why? A failure in communications. 9-1-1 was not able to be dialed, and no notification was made to anyone.

The Rave Panic Button, which is a software solution being deployed in Long Island, N.Y.,  took the basic concept of an on-site notification that is inherent in Kari’s Law and applied it to cellular phones (where 80 percent of 9-1-1 calls originate from). 9-1-1 remains a critical communication point and needs to stay involved to properly coordinate the response. Simultaneously, individuals on-site get situational awareness around the event and can initiate appropriate preparations.  In line with this, regardless if 9-1-1 is dialed from the PBX, natively on a cell phone, or a physical device is activated either from a dedicated panic button on the wall, or an app that simulates the same capability directly, on-site notifications are sent to the designated individuals with situational awareness, while the call is directed to the 9-1-1 PSAP.

As the call is answered by 9-1-1, notifications are sent to the Rave app and update the status.– This step alone is valuable in reducing mass call events and call overload at the PSAP.  Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the call taker now has an intelligent link and the ability to push follow-on information and notifications to personnel on site. As Maureen and Ty highlighted in their article, 9-1-1 is essentially incident command for the duration of these incidents. The ability to manage all resources, including providing critical updates to individuals on-site can be invaluable.  Just imagine, if 9-1-1 had been able to provide notice to those evacuating the Parkland school that the fire alarm was false and just a diversion and that they should remain in lockdown, lives may have been saved.

 

Does this fit with NG9-1-1?

Without a doubt, I am one of the biggest proponents of Next Generation 9-1-1, but it amazes me that I still find people that feel (coupled with FirstNet), NG9-1-1 will automatically solve all of Public Safety’s communication challenges, and the world will now have rainbows and unicorns. SORRY,  that’s NOT going to happen.  While NG9-1-1 will be an enabling technology providing a base framework for powerful applications, it is not in itself the answer to the problem. Take, for example, the additional location data repository and additional caller data repository that are functional NG9-1-1 elements. The challenge is that while NG9-1-1 specifies these elements, outside of the Avaya SENTRY™ solution, we rarely see anyone providing a source of additional data for public safety’s use.  While some municipalities have gone through the exercise of collecting floor plans, these plans are usually gathered at the time of construction and are rarely updated. Data is good, but inaccurate or old data is useless. That being the case, while NG9-1-1 and FirstNet provide the architecture and pipeline to get data to first responders, we still need a source of GOOD DATA to make any impact on the operational effectiveness and response.

 

There are examples of CAD systems supporting additional data, and the Avaya SENTRY and BETA 80 example we demonstrated last year at NENA and APCO proved the “over-the-top model” we presented to the FCC in 2012. Rave also built an “over-the-top” approach, providing a simple way to “crowdsource” any additional data, validate it through a public safety approval workflow, and then keep the data updated. The data ultimately expires or is “aged” out when it becomes no longer current.  Existing NENA i3-compliant interfaces allow any application to ingest the data, as well as responders and on-site personnel directly. In fact, Rave’s mobile interface provides that exact functionality.  Indoor location accuracy continues to improve, and National Clearing House NG9-1-1 repositories from RapidSOS are emerging. There is now a huge need to collect and maintain floor plans as a key component of making the improved location information actionable for responders.

Improving safety, whether at a school or in a hotel room, is never a one-size-fits-all approach, but we owe it to the public we serve to identify ways to improve collaboration and communication around incidents that occur with alarming and increasing, frequency.

 

THIS IS NOT A TEST: ACTION IS NEEDED

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As we wind our way through hurricane season this year, and this Saturday marks the beginning of National Preparedness Month, we need to think about citizen safety and education. If there’s one thing that gets under my skin, it’s the manipulation of people’s feelings under the guise and banner of “Public Safety.” I believe that many take advantage of the limited knowledge that constituents have around public safety networks, and capabilities.

Why does this happen? Simple, unrealistic television. While I know that I sound my age when I say something like that, it is true. Our environment today is a visual one. Since Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey”, Hollywood has taught us that if we can dream it, it will come, although it may take a few years. Instead of HAL, we have Siri, Alexa, and a whole host of smaller players that we interact with on a daily basis. Quite often, it surprises me at the length and amount of energy we expel trying to do a simple task. Just this week, a colleague of mine was having trouble with her vehicle automation turning on the air conditioning. She diligently tried six or seven times, and I’m thinking, “you know, you can just press that button right there?” Despite whatever the problem was, she was persistent, and the air conditioning came on, and I could feel her sense of pride, proving that she had the ability of mastering technology.

Lisa is a smart person. She knew she could figure it out, and she wasn’t going to give up without a fight. Lisa is a smart person. She understands technology and knew that something was wrong and that she had to correct. Lisa is a smart person, and she was determined to show off her technical prowess to her colleague that she rarely gets to see in person. For myself, I already know Lisa’s a smart person, so I sat back and mentally critiqued her troubleshooting skills. Guess what? She passed.

That’s a long way to go to make a point that’s critical, and the purpose of this blog. While Lisa was smart and determination drove her to correct her temporary issue, when it comes to legislation and budgets and funding in the actual legislative process in a state, most people (myself included) never really paid attention to that day in high school. Also, we tend to sit back and let things happen. The risk that we run by doing that is that we end up with situations like the state of New Jersey diverting $2 billion over 14 years, which works out to be just over $391,000 EACH AND EVERY DAY. We also end up with situations as we have in California that just recently emerged. The California SETNA fund (State Emergency Telephone Number Account), is a fund based on collecting a small amount from each telephone number bill. That collection occurs on landline devices only and has been reduced by almost 40% over the last 10 years due to the migration of landlines to cellular phones, and voice over IP telephones.

To correct the issue, Gov. Jerry Brown has a plan to bring together State Bill 870 and Assembly Bill 1836, pending approval from two-thirds of the California legislature. This new bill establishes a flat rate on every access line that can utilize the 911 system, and provide for a monthly collection of between $0.20 to $0.80 per line. The fee would begin January 1 of 2019 and is expected to raise $138 million during its first year of operation. Not only would this money support the legacy network, but it would fund Next Generation 911 services for the state.

While this plan does have broad support, some naysayers are holding up this critical legislation in the legal process. They refer to a $9 billion surplus that the state currently has, and wants the money to come from there. While that seems like a plausible solution, the Gov.’s Office of Emergency Services issued a statement stating that “there is a significant danger in tying the future of the 911 system to a budget surplus that we have in 2018 and 2019. The legislation will last for another 25 years. What if we are flush this year and not next year?”

It’s a great argument. However, instead of arguing about “who gets the surplus?”, Why not figure out what’s wrong with the budget that gave you $9 billion in surplus, to start? Maybe a more palatable solution would be to pass a bill that would perpetually fund a 911 network and enhancements. These new laws need to modernize where and how we collect fees from all access lines. Finally, if you feel it is worthy, make a one-time cash donation from your “surplus,” and kick this project off to save lives, and therefore making a difference. While you’re doing that, you can get rid of your current accountant, who doesn’t have the ability budget well, in return for one that does.

While this may seem to be a California problem, it is not. Every citizen, every constituent, every voter needs to express their opinion. It’s how the system works, and it’s how things get changed but go awry. It is not by any means, a perfect world. However, we can do a better job of managing our life-safety services.

To tie this back around with the original paragraph of this blog, while you’re thinking about preparedness for September, make sure you have an emergency services network in place that can respond to your request for help. It seems that may be pretty high on the list of “being prepared.”

 

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New Jersey: The Diversion State

An audio version of this Blog can be heard on APN The Avaya Podcast Network
[CLICK HERE] to listen or download

911 $ERVICE FEE$

They exist on your telephone bill;
They are typically only a few dollars a month;
Most people pay them without question;
And it seems no one knows where the money actually goes.

ANSWER: Apparently it is NOT 911!

This is where the problem lies. The reason behind this is that for at least the past decade, Public Safety has been wrestling with the adoption of Next Generation 911 services. The main reason given as the blocking factor is funding. Estimates have been given regarding the cost of the new National NG911 Network. Most State agencies will spin tales of woe about the hundreds of millions, and even billions of dollars that NG 911 will ultimately require to update the existing infrastructure to one that is capable of communicating using the new modalities that make up the way we interact with each other today. Not only will this need to include things like video, text, and additional modalities yet to be developed, but the existing infrastructure needs to be REPLACED to effect this change.

Old and new

Unfortunately, the existing legacy networks cannot be”upgraded.” While you can call it an upgrade, in actuality, it’s a technology forklift, and many are afraid to come out and openly admit that. Cost is one factor. An ‘upgrade’ sounds more affordable than ‘forklift’ and a solution that sounds more affordable. One must ask, though, “is money really the issue?” While many will say,”yes”, there are several examples to the contrary.

Let’s take my home state of New Jersey, an example. Recent reports, backed by FCC Commissioner Mike O’Reilly and Rep. Leonard Lance, (R-7th), claim since 2004, the State of New Jersey has “diverted” nearly $2 billion in 911 fees charged to phone users. These fees were earmarked for improvements to the state’s 911 call centers and could have been used to migrate to NG911.  That’s right,$2 billionIs missing over the last 14 years in New Jersey. For this, the State loses the moniker of “The Garden State” and I will now refer to New Jersey as,”The Diversion State”.

When large numbers (like $2,000,000,000) are thrown around, I believe that they lose their impact on people. After all, $2 billion really doesn’t seem that bad, but when you do some basic math, the impact of $2 billion becomes quite staggering.

Let’s assume that 14 years is about 5113 days. If you were tasked with spending $2 billion over that span of 14 years, your daily outflow of cash would be nearly $400,000 a day, Actually, the exact number would be $391,159.79 – PER DAY. This $400,000 PER DAY is the amount of money that has gone MISSING in New Jersey for the past 14 years. The money is from fees that were collected in order to provide life safety services and the E911 Network but then subsequently diverted for some other purpose.

In all fairness, many STates have laws on the books that require a balanced budget, and if there is a surplus in any fund, it can be redirected to balance the budget.  But to continue to the practice of charging excessive amounts to operate the network, then sweep the use of those funds under the rug, becomes a practice that is highly suspect and questionable

FCC Commissioner Michael O’Reilly is similarly upset, and publicly vocal,  with this practice. I have a deep respect for Commissioner O’Reilly, mainly because he says what’s on his mind and if something is not right, he will not remain silent. Case in point, when I was promoting Kari’s Law, the Commissioner questioned if the FCC itself was compliant with direct access to 911, and when he tested it, he found that it was not. In his blog post, he questioned why his very own agency was not compliant on an issue that they were actually promoting. While embarrassing to this Federal agency, it did highlight a problem that needed to be fixed, and after a few months, it was.

The Commissioner also feels very strong about fund diversion practices, that have been going on for such a long time. Recently Rhode Island was found to be diverting  money to its general fund, and in NJ, he commented that if states such as New Jersey were regulated by his agency “and you did what’s happening here, we would have sent you to the Department of Justice for criminal prosecution.” He also referred to the practice as “unconscionable.” Kudos Mike!

During the TFOPA sessions, the Commissioner questioned why the US has over 6,100 individual 911 centers, when this technology could be virtualized and run out of just a few super-centers, providing the latest and greatest technology to the 150 seat PSAP that serves NYC, down to the small 2 seat PSAP that serves Ogdensburg, NJ. This would not even require physical consolidation of people and equipment. Similar to many workers today, dispatchers and Call Takers could remain in regional or local facilities and then connect through various technologies commonly available for networking.

How Many 9’s is Your Network?

While Public Safety is absolutely a critical life safety network that needs the ultimate in resiliency, and reliability, when I see 911 networks go down for hours and days due to a single fiber cut, I have to ask “Who designed that single point if failure?” The next conversation is usually about money and the lack of funding.

This is what gets me fired up. Don’t cry to me that you are too poor to buy the latest and greatest when you DIVERT nearly $400,000.00 each day that is collected for 911 but spent elsewhere. Don’t claim you cannot afford the technology to save lives when $16,000.00 an HOUR are wasted elsewhere, and while you are at it, tell the people who have lost a loved one due to short staffing of a center, or cellular technology that get a pizza to me anywhere on the planet in 30 minutes, but cannot locate a 911 caller, when states are squandering over $260 EACH MINUTE.

Think about it, just in the 7 minutes it took you to read this blog, nearly 3200 calls to 911 occurred in the US, and in New Jersey alone, almost $2,000 of 911 Tax Fees was pilfered from 911 budgets.

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Securing Data With BLOCKCHAIN . . . In Plain English

An AUDIO version of this blog is available on http://Avaya.com/APN

Like any other Sunday morning when I’m not traveling, I park myself at my local luncheonette; grab my big Avaya mug from the wall behind the counter, and stick on my headphones. I Then immerse myself into the weeks technology tweets and blogs from the people I respect the most in the industry.

Evan Kirstel is one individual that never ceases to amaze me, either with inspiring tweets of his own, or something worthy of his RT, and likely worth reading. Today, a particular article he posted caught my eye. It appears that a D-Link DNS hack has become problematic where Hackers modify the router DNS to their own nefarious DNS look-alike. By doing this, any requests made for the IP address of someone’s bank, for example, would return a spoofed address of the hackers look alike bank site. Unsuspecting users would then login with their normal credentials, which would be collected by the hackers and then used later to drain accounts.

The security exploit here, is that the person is relying on information from one location, the DNS entry in the D-Link Router. it assumes that the IP Address of the DNS server provisioned is valid and authenticated, which in fact is not. This immediately struck me as a classic use case for blockchain, and an excellent way to explain it to those who may not understand.

As it was explained to me, blockchain is an architecture that stores data in multiple locations (or blocks) across the Internet. The actual data in the block itself is irrelevant. In fact, it is the container of that data that is tagged with an identifier unique to that block of data. In addition, the identifier is changed each time the contents of the container is modified, and this identifier is replicated everywhere the data is stored across the internet. When a user retrieves a specific block of data, they can then compare the identifier of the container with the other containers of the information. Should there be a mismatch in the identifier, it becomes immediately apparent that the data is not current, or valid. So, while it may be possible, or even easy to hack a particular container, replicating that to every other instance of the container would be nearly impossible. The more secure the data needs to be, the more container instances would exist, making it near impossible without quantum computing power and many say even that would be questionable.

This makes the value proposition here quite simple. If I’m going to hack your data, I need to hack every instance of your data, or you will know that the proverbial “seal has been broken”. It would be clear to all that the data has been tampered with without actually seeing the data, which ensures privacy. Knowing this, let’s go back to our DNS hack example.

When your router establishes an online connection, the router obtains its IP address, subnet mask, default Gateway, and DNS server information via DHCP. To ensure that DNS has not been hacked and spoofed, with a nefarious spoofed server address, it would be a simple matter of inspecting the blockchain identifier on the DNS data coming in, and also when the contents have changed. This will confirm if the blockchain address is valid as compared to other known data sources.

If a hacker managed to attack your router and modify the DNS IP address entry, it would be immediately known and could be flagged as an insecure source of data. That being said, please remember this was intended to be just an example to illustrate how blockchain could be used in a very simple environment. As you evaluate new infrastructure and architecture, don’t ignore the block chain value proposition built within products. Understand what they have, where the manufacturer is going from a roadmap perspective, and what could be used to lock down your data in this ever-changing, and fast-moving Internet of Everything.

To bring this full circle back into my Public Safety practice, Next Generation 911 networks will be chock-full of data and information from various sources. Protecting our critical life safety systems on the backend will be a challenge. At the same time, we can no longer lock these systems away in the back room away from the data that’s needed to evaluate situational awareness that will ultimately save lives. I believe blockchain will play a significant role in the validation of that data, and the architecture that will allow good data to flow from the people who have it to the people who needed, while protecting those first responders from attacks by those looking to circumvent, and infect the system.

The lesson here is not only is guarded diligence. Understanding networks is critical in building our NG911 environment, but a specific eye on public safety security best practices is paramount. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter, and what you perceive as suggestions and fears for the future.

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The Truth Behind the 911 F.E.E. (For Everything Else)

[CLICK HERE for an Audio Version of this Blog]

You are likely familiar with the expression, “I’m being nickled and dimed to death here!” The premise of that statement is that small subsets of a much larger bill will ultimately go unnoticed to most, as the scrutiny required to find each instance is typically more costly of an effort compared to just paying the bill. “Spending a dollar to save a quarter”, is another example.

Given this unfortunate situation, when you steal enough quarters, the payout can be huge. It’s right out of the script from the classic movie plot. Steal 1 penny 2,000,000 times and you have $20,000 completely under the radar. Steal a dollar every month from every cellular phone with a plan on the market, and you have a whopping pool of money! The CTIA estimates that in 2017, there were 396,000,000 cellular subscribers (https://api.ctia.org/docs/default-source/default-document-library/ctia-wireless-snapshot.pdf). That means in the US ALONE there is a potential money pool of $4,752,000,000 each year, if a single dollar per month were collected from each subscriber, and actually given to the cause it was collected for. Again, this is just the cellular fees alone.

It’s no wonder that States like New York, and New Jersey and several others all fail to report this income. Even worse, is when States openly spend the money on other uses, like Rhode Island. To make matters even worse, when the Ocean State got caught with their hand in the proverbial cookie jar, and were called out by the FCC, they simply changed the name of the fee, and continued to divert monies to activities that were not 911 related.

New Jersey was another example of gross misrepresentation where 89% of their funds were diverted. Think about that, if you knew that 90% of the money you put in the Salvation Army charity pots at Christmas time was going to something unrelated, would you continue to drop in your spare change? If the volunteer firemen took 90 cents out of every dollar they collected at intersections on the Holiday weekends, and spent it on beer and hamburgers, would you ever drop another dollar in the fire helmet? I sure wouldn’t.

THERE SHOULD BE A LAW . . .

Yes, there should, and quite possibly there will be one Legislator who gets his way. Rep. Chris Collins introduced the 911 Fee Integrity Act (H.R. 6424) to the U.S. House of Representatives in an effort to change how states use 911 fees they collect. The bill was referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce on July 18th, where it will be scheduled for a hearing.

As most Bills are, at this stage in their life cycle, the Bill is simple to understand and reads:

To amend the Wireless Communications and Public Safety Act of 1999,
to clarify acceptable 9–1–1 obligations or expenditures, and for other purposes. 

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,

SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.
This Act may be cited as the “9–1–1 Fee Integrity Act”.

 SEC. 2. CLARIFYING ACCEPTABLE 9–1–1 OBLIGATIONS OR EXPENDITURES.
Section 6(f) of the Wireless Communications and Public Safety Act of 1999 (47 U.S.C. 615a–1(f)) is amended—

  • in paragraph (1), by striking “as specified in the provision of State or local law adopting the fee or charge” and inserting “consistent with acceptable obligations or expenditures in the final rules issued pursuant to paragraph (3)”; and
  • after paragraph (2), by inserting the following new paragraph:

“(3) ACCEPTABLE OBLIGATION OR EXPENDITURE.—

“(A) REGULATIONS REQUIRED.—In order to prevent diversion of 9–1–1 taxes, fees, or charges, the Commission shall, within 180 days after date of the enactment of this paragraph, issue final rules designating purposes and functions that are acceptable obligations or expenditures by any State or taxing jurisdiction authorized to impose a tax, fee, or charge.

“(B) PURPOSES AND FUNCTIONS.—The purposes and functions described in subparagraph (A) include only those used solely for the support and implementation of a State or taxing jurisdiction 9–1–1 services and operational expenses of public safety answering points within a State or taxing jurisdiction.

“(C) CONSULTATION REQUIRED.—The Commission shall consult with public safety organizations and State, local, and Tribal governments as part of any proceeding under this paragraph.

“(D) DEFINITIONS.—In this paragraph:

“(i) 9–1–1 SERVICES; E9–1–1 SERVICES; NEXT GENERATION 9–1–1 SERVICES.—The terms ‘9–1–1 services’, ‘E9–1–1 services’, and ‘Next Generation 9–1–1 services’ have the meaning given those terms in section 158(e) of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration Organization Act (47 U.S.C. 942(e)).

“(ii) STATE OR TAXING JURISDICTION.—The term ‘State or taxing jurisdiction’ means a State, political subdivision thereof, Indian Tribe, or village or regional corporation serving a region established pursuant to the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (43 U.S.C. 1601 et seq.).”.

Remember, your elected officials WILL VOTE based on your input. Reach out to them, make them aware that your personal safety, and theirs, is on the line here. Tell them that if they will not change the law to keep this from happening, you will ensure that someone who will is going to get your vote at the next election.

Our nation’s First Responder agencies need our help, they put their lives on the line everyday so that we can remain safe, the least we can do is ensure the monies collected in the name actually get to them!

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Simple, Safe and Smart Cities – Enterprise Solutions at NENA

Anyone that’s known me for any amount of time knows that I’m a huge advocate of access to emergency services within the enterprise or commercial workspace, and a main driver behind Kari’s Law.

Quite often, when a problem exists that we don’t understand, wrong solutions are selected, as the decision is based on emotional response and misunderstandings. Enterprise public safety services are a perfect example of this issue.

Enterprise E911 can be summarized in a simple statement:
“Emergency Services are based on the caller ID presented with the call, and the billing address that is associated with that number.”

The workflow are simple, and no different than when I call United Airlines; where I am greeted by name by their AI based voice response system. According to my past history, I’m offered a choice of options presented to me in the most logical order, according to what the system  knows about me this instant, which happens to be  and my trip to Nashville on Friday. If I called last week, it would have asked me about my trip to Toronto. There really is no great magic here; These are simply forms of AI logic, interacting with me in an environments that is contained, predictable, and has a definitive list service of potential  outcomes.

So how does this apply to public safety? Quite simply, as far as the enterprise is concerned today?, It really doesn’t. But what does apply to the enterprise is the management of call presentation, as well as providing detailed situational awareness to internal management and staff that can now formulate, as well as coordinate an effective response plan, and THEN make that data available in a open interface to Public Safety if they want it,

In the past, it’s been common practice to place individual enterprise telephone numbers into the 911 location database, while including information such as cubicle 2C–231 so that Public Safety knows exactly where I am in the building. But when you step back and look at the solution, what you actually provided is very specific and detailed information, but information that is not actionable. This creates a false sense of security, thinking that a problem is been corrected, when in fact it’s just been moved.

The BIG PICTURE is the fire truck, police car, or ambulance getting to the proper building, and ideally the most appropriate entrance. Despite how big the building is, or how many people are housed in that building. If a building has four entrances, then first responders need to understand which one is most appropriate, not an untranslatable reference to specific location.

On the backend of that scenario: the internal mission that has begun inside of the facility. Whether it’s a school, commercial business, or even a hospital, someone likely needs to respond to that location, or at a bare minimum, they need to meet the public safety response team at one of those four doors while having full awareness of the location and severity of the incident.

This construct is actually not a new idea. You may have several telephones in your house, yet each phone doesn’t have its own unique telephone number in most cases. Based on this, the math becomes simple. In my building of 500 people, do I want to pay several dollars a month each in order to cover each person with information that is not actionable or relevant? Or do I want to focus on a solution that provides not just on-site notification of the event, but situational awareness. Floor plans, temperature sensors, the world of IOT, IP video cameras exist in  each enterprise, yet we do nothing to capture, catalog, and utilize that precious information.

Many people are confused about what Next-Generation 911 services will provide. While location accuracy can certainly be improved upon, with richer fidelity of the information, the goal behind NG 911 is NOT to send heaps of data to the PSAP. It’s about providing an indicator to the PSAP call taker that additional data is available, and if they are interested in that information, here is a web URL or URI that will bring it to you.

This new concept, changes the game for the enterprise. Not only are they now responsible for generating a call or session to emergency services, they will be responsible for providing a list, or ‘menu’ if you will, of additional data that’s available if the call taker is interested.

Based on new legislation and our customers’ requirements for this new model and functionality, Avaya has entered into a resale agreement with the developers of a tried and true application called SENTRY™. For the past several years, SENTRY™ has been available to customers and partners through the Avaya DevConnect Select Product program, however now, SENTRY™ is now available directly from Avaya,  and operates on the Avaya Aura CM, Session Manager, and the IP office architecture.

In addition to covering wired and wireless users within the enterprise, support for remote, nomadic, and home teleworkers, SENTRY™ functionality is also available securely to ANY MLTS system through a national umbrella of coverage, and a direct relationship with a Tier 1 NG 911 network carrier, as well as the ability to take E911 call routing from any system. For more information contact your local Avaya representative or distributor, and ask for demonstration of the SENTRY™ 911 solution for the enterprise. You’ll be amazed at the simplicity, functionality, and price.

Stop by and see the Avaya Smart City at NENA Booth #545, where we’ll demonstrate Avaya’s End to End Emergency Services Solution powered by Avaya, Beta 80, Engelbart Software, iNemsoft, and Secure 911.

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A Breezy Summer – Artificial Innovations

This weekend I had the opportunity to go shopping at the local mall. Since it was raining, and I needed to pick up quite a bit of stuff, I decided to valet park. The initial nice surprise was that valet parking was free! The next nicety, was that when I arrived the attendant merely asked me for my cell phone number. I immediately got a text message with links to my electronic valet ticket, and although parking was free the opportunity to use my credit card for a tip.

[ FOR AN AUDIO VERSION OF THIS BLOG – CLICK HERE ]

Almost immediately, the gears in my head began to turn slowly as my internal “workflow engine” thought process neurons sprung to life. Working at Avaya has taught me many things, but one thing it has taught me, is to always be watching for innovative new ways that technology can be applied to improve a process that already exists. When I’m asked what I do for a living, or what Avaya does, I typically respond that, “Avaya connects people with the information and resources that they need, when they need it, and then empowers those resources by providing additional information needed to complete the task “.

That being said, here is the workflow behind my new AutoValet™ Breeze™ Snapp-In application, using common off-the-shelf technology openly available today.

A car enters the parking lot, and the license plate reader scans the plate.

If an account exists, AutoValet™ sends an SMS message to my phone with a link to my electronic valet ticket.

If validation is required, merchants can simply scan the QR code on my electronic valet ticket, or provide a validation code in a text message back to the AutoValet™ application.

On my way out of the M all, I click on the link in my electronic valet ticket, indicating my departure, and providing an opportunity to pay if appropriate.

A text message is sent to the valet attendant with all of my vehicle information, as well as payment confirmation if needed.

When I arrive to the pickup area, my vehicle is there waiting for me, and the financial transaction is eliminated, unless I want to give him a few extra dollars for this wonderful new customer engagement and digital transformation that I just experienced!

AutoValet™ can send me monthly statements, let me manage my account, add additional vehicles, and associate specific mobile numbers with one or more of those license plates.

As the account owner, I can be notified when any vehicle utilizes the service, letting me know who has used it, and where.

New accounts can be set up online in advance, or by simply responding to the initial license plate scan with a keyword such as “NEW ACCOUNT”. The application would  then deliver a webpage that would allow a new account to be established.

This is simple Artificial Intelligence. Not the scary kind of AI, but the assistive side of AI. This is a helper application designed to make human employees more efficient in the tasks that they already perform. In this case, this AI is nothing more than a tool. Too often I hear horror stories about what people believe that AI is all about. And like most other things, ignorance is bliss.

That being said, I think we all have opportunities to innovate and elevate our lives through technology. In the 1950’s, Charles J. Fletcher, my father was working on vertical takeoff aircraft as a Pilot and Commander in the United States Navy.  With vertical takeoff being a difficult engineering challenge, my father came up with an alternative solution for the problem. He eliminated the rough ground problem by floating on a cushion of air, and this basic concept has become the primary technology behind today’s hovercraft.

One of the many life lessons taught to me as a child growing up, was to look at the ways that a problem could not be solved, determine the roadblock, then eliminate it. What will remain, is an innovative path that no one has thought of before.

So I challenge you, one day during this next week, examine what you are doing, and how you were doing it. Identify those annoying repetitive tasks that you do over, and over, and over each day. Then think about how that process could be made “artificially intelligent”, by adding some common logic to eliminate those repetitive tasks. I honestly believe that what you’ll find is some incredibly new innovative ideas. Now, go invent something great!

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NG911 and Big Data – Is It TMI?

It’s no secret that, according to VcloudNews, humans and machines generated 2.5 quintillion bytes of information each day on the Internet. How big this is? It would fill 100 million Blu-ray discs, which if stacked, would measure the height of four Eiffel Towers on top of each other. With this much data being generated, we reached a point in our lives when humans can no longer be expected to process information at a usable rate by themselves. This is where the “Age of Artificial Intelligence” needs to come into existence if we are going to utilize this information in any useful way.

Listen to an audio Podcast version of this Blog on SoundCloud
<Listen to the APN PODCAST HERE>
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Understandably, AI scares people. We are often afraid of what we don’t understand. However, when used properly, AI can be an assistive technology and not in control. Intelligence is already built into some of the most common events in our lives. For example, after washing, I put my clothes in the dryer. I use the automatic setting, and press start. I’ now free to walk away, go for dinner, or even take a nap if I choose. The dryer is “programmed” to run for a period of time, and on a newer machine, a sensor indicates the moisture content of my delicates. In either case, when criteria is met, the heat shuts off and my close continue to tumble for a period of time. This simple logic has made my dumb clothes dryer “artificially intelligent”.

This can be applied to any process, including many predefined procedures found in public safety 911 centers. Remember though, this is not about replacing the call taker or dispatcher; it is about providing them with relevant additional information, based on predetermined indicators, helping them arrive at a decision point quickly.

Let’s look at two outcomes of the same scenario, first using today’s technology, and then using artificial intelligence to augment and assist in the decision-making process.

David is speeding down the highway in his 2018 GM vehicle. His fiancée Susan is sitting next to him in the passenger seat. A deer runs out impacting him head-on. David violently swerves into the median, where the car overturns four times landing on its roof leaving both occupants unconscious and seriously injured. Sensors in the vehicle detect the high Delta-V (rate of deceleration), the deployment of both passenger and driver airbags, as well as the detection of specific crush zones on the vehicle.

Today:
The in vehicle system (IVS) generates a call to the OnStar call center, flagged as an emergency. The call is routed to an ACD queue staffed by emergency medical dispatchers. Vehicle data and location information appears on their screen. An attempt to communicate with the occupants verbally is initiated, and a three-way conference with the public safety agency responsible is started. Information is passed on verbally to the 911 call center, where local protocol for dispatch is followed.

Tomorrow:
The same situation initiates a different process or workflow. In addition to notifying OnStar and attempting to get a call taker in verbal contact with the vehicle, an IP enabled SIP session is set up into the local Emergency Services IP Network (ESInet) where the 911 call taker is presented with the telematics data and bridged into a three way audio bridge between the vehicle, the OnStar call taker, and the PSAP. The system does an analysis of the data, indicating an 80% chance of entrapment and lower leg trauma on the driver.

The dispatcher is prompted to dispatch recommended resources which include heavy rescue, advanced life support, and a medical air evacuation unit. They also have the ability to edit resources desired and then dispatch with a single button.

Bed counts and staffing levels are examined at the local hospitals, the availability of an orthopedic surgeon and operating room is determined, and based on big data, a destination facility is recommended. A single touch to confirm or edit, and the data is on its way to the hospital where staff can prepare for the patient arrival.

This situation has brought to light the efficient use of AI to determine the best response and action, all while remaining under complete control of a human. Resources become more efficient and effective and are available sooner for other missions. While many may be afraid of AI replacing humans, thanks to Arnold Schwarzenegger in the Terminator movies, I don’t see Skynet being right around the corner.

An added benefit is that AI is available from the cloud, making it affordable to agencies from New York City in a large-scale deployment, or as small as Sparta Police in New Jersey with their two positions, where I cut my teeth on dispatching 37 years ago.

It’s not about building a data center to process data in the building anymore. It’s about using the cloud through multiple resilient paths; sharing the workload with other agencies who will also be available to provide coverage and backup for when “the big one” hits, no matter where or when that might be. This radically changes the curriculum for a Public Safety career, however the skill sets required are also taught for positions in the commercial space, and best practices remain across verticals.

Screenshot 2018-05-06 17.20.35

As I’ve said before, AI is not just about HAL, and getting pod bay doors open.
Besides, in addition to being intelligent, HAL copped an attitude . . .

But in reality he was just programmed that way.

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