The 911 Truth: Outdated Tech Putting Your Life at Risk

The 911 Truth: Outdated Tech Putting Your Life at Risk
 
When tragedy strikes, we’re told to dial 911.

Unfortunately, tragedy does strike … and often—millions of people call 911 each year. But what happens when the technology meant to save us, fails us? Four hundred times each minute, people across the country will dial 911 on sophisticated handheld devices and lose precious seconds trying to describe where they are and what they’re seeing over the phone, rather than sharing precise coordinates or a live video stream.

What these several hundred million callers don’t realize is that they’re dialing an antiquated emergency telephone network, a system that – even in its most advanced state today – can’t even deliver geographical location with a text message.

Looking around, you’d be hard-pressed to find lifesaving technology in use today that hasn’t been overhauled since the 1970s. 911 is one of the few exceptions. Fortunately, Next-Generation 911 will change that.

What is Next-Generation 911?

Next-Generation 911 (NG 911 for short) represents the capabilities, technology and processes needed to update the emergency networks we rely on today. 911 has a relatively short history in the United States — the first 911 call was completed in the small town of Haleyville, Alabama in 1968, and in the early 1970s, cities began adopting the number universally.

While the tools sitting on top of the 911 network have been updated throughout the years, the fundamental core technology — analog-based, 1970s phone switching — has not. That’s a problem, because 911 was designed to efficiently handle people calling in on landline phones, which are quickly disappearing. Given next-generation capabilities, 911 will be able to handle the additional information smartphones contain, as well as IP telephones, text messaging, video and online chat.

How does NG 911 improve what we have today?

In the late 1960s and early 1970s,telephone networks were designed to carry voice calls from one location to another. Services were regionalized, and the local phone company managed the entire infrastructure from end to end. When the 911 network was designed, it was done so under those constraints.

Popular communication channels commonly used today simply will not work over the legacy 911 environment. Take, for example, text-to-911, a relatively simple technology that allows citizens to send text messages to the 911 center, rather than calling on a phone.

Text-to-911 has taken more than a decade to roll out in the U.S., and is available in just 5 percent of the 6,800 emergency 911 centers in use today, according to the Federal Communications Commission. In those roughly 340 emergency 911 centers, text-to-911 is still an add-on feature that lacks the ability to deliver location with the text message.

To be clear, we’re not talking about the accuracy of that location data—no location data is delivered to the 911 center with a text message today  simply because the underlying legacy technology isn’t designed to handle it.   to many centers, simply because the method used to deliver that data was not initially deployed. On the other hand, (as Darryl Branson, ENP pointed out to me) Colorado has rolled out IP delivery of Text-2-911 calls on an IP network, where they can, at a minimum, deliver the centroid (mathematical center) of the cell sector. Certainly far from perfect, but it’s a start.

NG 911 will give people the ability to send photos, video, GPS coordinates and other additional data (such as blood pressure or glucose data from a wearable device) to the 911 center.

How do we upgrade 911?

In many ways, the technology that powers 911 is very similar to the technology that powers the commercial customer service call center in use at airlines and financial institutions. Customers (citizens) contact the business (police and fire) using a number of different communication channels. The business (police or fire) takes action (responds to the emergency) and resolves the issue (saves a life). Since the 1970s, businesses have advanced, and steadily upgraded the technology powering these customer service centers, and there’s now a well-worn migration path the 6,800 emergency call centers can follow.

Simply put, this is a logical technology decision that’s decidedly possible today, with considerable lifesaving consequences tomorrow. Case in point is this story out  Las Vegas just the other day:  http://lasvegassun.com/news/2015/jul/21/clark-county-officials-considers-fix-after-911-bre/

How will NG 911 affect me?

The answer to this question is limited only by your imagination.

Imagine if you could dial 911 from your smartphone and send police and fire a range of digital information — your exact GPS coordinates, live video, your phone’s battery level and default language, possibly even biometric data from your wearable devices.

With a next-generation 911 infrastructure, first responders could send details about your health and condition to the hospital while en route. Emergency room doctors could even establish a live video link with the ambulance, to get a sense of what to expect when you arrive.

In the future, wearable devices could automatically alert your family or your doctor if your vital signs dip into dangerous territory, and contact 911 directly if your heart stops beating or if you go unconscious.

If you have a family member with dementia, you could program a wearable device to notify you if they wander outside a pre-set geographic area. You might decide to send that data to emergency responders, who would be able to find that person and bring them home.

Internet-connected mobile devices and wearables are here, and they’re ready to save lives, but the legacy 911 centers in our communities are ill-prepared to handle them.

It’s time to future-proof 911. Rather than adding more layers of complexity to the top, it’s time to upgrade the technology’s foundation. It’s time for Next-Generation 911.

In the 5 minutes it took you to read this story about 2,000 people called 911 because they were having the worse day of their lives. Hopefully they got help.

Follow me on Twitter @Fletch911

Read my other AVAYA CONNECTED Blogs

Mark J. Fletcher, ENP is the Chief Architect for Worldwide Public Safety Solutions at Avaya. As a seasoned professional with nearly 30 years of service, he provides the strategic roadmap and direction of Next Generation Emergency Services in both the Enterprise and Government portfolios at Avaya. In 2014, Fletcher was made a member of the NENA Institute Board in the US, and co-chair of the EENA NG112 Committee in the EU, where he provides insight to State and Federal legislators globally driving forward both innovation and compliance.

FCC Fines – What’s considered an outage, and where the money goes

FCC Fines - What's considered an outage, and where the money goes
 
This past week T-Mobile was slammed with a record $17.5 million fine by the Federal Communications Commission. The fine was related to 2 specific 911 outages, occurring last summer, affecting customers for at least three hours.[http://transition.fcc.gov/Daily_Releases/Daily_Business/2015/db0717/DOC-334433A1.pdf]

This past year the FCC has flexed its enforcement muscle with carriers pertaining to 911 service outages, including a previous record fine of $16 million to CenturyLink, $1.4 Million to Intrado, and $3.4 Million to Verizon in connection with a multi-state outage in April 2014 where a database error in a Colorado datacenter hosted by Intrado prevented calls from properly routing to 911 centers.

With nearly $40 million being collected,the common question being asked by many is, “What actually defines an outage, and exactly where does all of this money go after it’s been collected?”

Follow the Money

Where the money goes, is easily answered, as Title 47 CFR specifically addresses the issue. The Code of Federal Regulations (Title 47 §32.7300)[https://www.law.cornell.edu/cfr/text/47/32.7300] mandates that all collected penalties and fines paid on account for FCC violations of statutes will be deposited in an Other Income and Expense account. This is the same account that money from the sale of land or a building would go, and is part of the general operating income and expense of the FCC.

So while there would be a financial impact on the overall profit and loss statement, monies collected for a specific violation are not applied to specific remediation activities for any particular violation, at least not directly. Those would all be budget line items previously decided and allocated.

What’s considered an outage?

Title 47 also defines what constitutes an outage under §4.5.[https://www.law.cornell.edu/cfr/text/47/4.5]Specifically, for 911 facilities, an outage is considered to exist whenever one of the following conditions exists:

  1. There is a loss of communications to PSAP(s) potentially affecting at least 900,000 user-minutes and: The failure is neither at the PSAP(s) nor on the premises of the PSAP(s); no reroute for all end users was available; and the outage lasts 30 minutes or more; OR
  2. There is a loss of 911 call processing capabilities in one or more E-911 tandems/selective routers for at least 30 minutes duration; OR
  3. One or more [landline] end-office or [cellular] Mobile Switching Center (MSC) switches or host/remote clusters is isolated from 911 service for at least 30 minutes and potentially affects at least 900,000 user-minutes; OR
  4. There is a loss of ANI/ALI (associated name and location information) and/or a failure of location determination equipment, including Phase II equipment, for at least 30 minutes and potentially affecting at least 900,000 user-minutes (provided that the ANI/ALI or location determination equipment was then currently deployed and in use, and the failure is neither at the PSAP(s) or on the premises of the PSAP(s)).

It Depends . . .  – Martha Buyer, Atty.

What I have come to learn over the past several years, is to pay attention to not only the legislative text of a regulation or law, but more importantly, the definitions and assumptions that the law makes. These areas are where the real ingredients to the recipe lie, and where legal consultation can be invaluable.

Follow me on Twitter @Fletch911

Read my other AVAYA CONNECTED Blogs

Mark J. Fletcher, ENP is the Chief Architect for Worldwide Public Safety Solutions at Avaya. As a seasoned professional with nearly 30 years of service, he provides the strategic roadmap and direction of Next Generation Emergency Services in both the Enterprise and Government portfolios at Avaya. In 2014, Fletcher was made a member of the NENA Institute Board in the US, and co-chair of the EENA NG112 Committee in the EU, where he provides insight to State and Federal legislators globally driving forward both innovation and compliance.

Back to Basics Series – NG911

Back to Basics Series - NG911
CLICK HERE For the PODCAST VERION

While many of the blogs and articles that I write are intended for the technical IT administrator, or public safety first responders and dispatchers, I’ve decided to break that pattern in an attempt to provide some grounding around an important topic that will affect the lives of nearly 300,000,000 people each and every year. I am talking about what is commonly known as public safety emergency services, and the E911 emergency network that exists in the US.

There is been quite a bit of hype recently formulated around what is been called Next Generation 911 networks or NG 911. But what exactly are these new entities? How do they actually help over what we have today? And most importantly, how they affect the the general citizen?

These are all great questions to ask, and while many in the public safety business may have relevant answers for each of those questions, in most cases the general public doesn’t have access to these experts to make an inquiry. Without validation of the basic facts, our imagination is left to run wild, myths and opinions, and all the cool stuff we see on TV, ends up being transformed into factoids that get quoted over and over, until they actually carry a level of credibility.

 What exactly is NG911?

In a nutshell, NG 911 is an evolution of the current emergency services network from its existing analog-based, 1970s era technology, to one that uses modern IP networking to convey information about location and a particular incident between the emergency call originator, and the 911 call taker or public safety answering point (PSAP).

Think of it this way, 15 to 20 years ago we relied heavily on the US mail. The speed of business was radically changing, and specialized service companies such as UPS and FedEx evolved with overnight package and letter delivery.

In the last decade, we have increased our communications urgency, and provided email as a near real time solution. But today, even that is being challenged as instant communications have taken precedence in the form of peer to peer messaging and communications forms such as Facebook and Twitter, to mention just a few.

How does NG911 improve 

 

what we have today?

In the late 60s, and early 70s, the rotary dial telephone was still common in homes and businesses. And while that technology will still work today on most networks, you would be hard-pressed to actually find a device for sale. Communications channels that are commonly used today simply will not work over the legacy 911 environment. As a primary example, text to 911 has taken more than a decade to roll out in the US, and even now is only available in about 5% of the 6800 PSAP’s in the US, according to the Federal Communications Commission. even with those PSAPs that will accept text messaging to 911, do so through a technology kludge on the backend that is challenged with the ability to deliver location with the text message. Now to be clear, we’re not talking about the accuracy of that location, it is a little known fact that NO LOCATION information is delivered to the 911 center with a text message today.

In addition to providing an intelligent link between the call originator, and the 911 call taker, NG 911 will provide the ability to send multimedia between the two endpoints in the form of pictures, video, or any other “additional data” that may be available on the device requesting assistance, or ultimately any associated sensor such as a blood pressure monitor or sugar monitoring mechanism for diabetics. This of course, brings me directly to my last point:

 How does NG911 affect me?

This is in fact the most easiest question of all, and one that is limited only by one’s imagination.

In addition to environmental sensor information, basic health information can be provided to emergency responders, and even conferenced with healthcare providers that can review the information while in route. Low blood sugar levels can alert healthcare providers of a pending situation that can proactively reach out to a patient under managed care and possibly remind them to take their medication if they forgotten. Once contact is made, and the dire situation is discovered, emergency services can be brought into a conference call establishing a response if needed.

A spouse with dementia may wander outside of a specific geo-fenced area, and their wearable device generates a notification to their spouse as well as healthcare providers. If additional assistance is needed, once again public safety can be involved, and explicit location tracking can be employed and delivered directly to responding units so the individual is intercepted as quickly as possible.

It’s all about “Contextual Priority”, that Kevin Kennedy described in his recent blog. Kevin gives a great example about context, and how the interpretation of that context changes the picture, again and again. Speaking of the “judgment of context”, Kevin says:

“When we have context, we can make a judgment about the information. For example, if you hear that John shot Sally, your first response may be that his action was wrong. But then you learn John shot Sally because she pointed a gun at him, so your opinion changes because you think it was self-defense. Next, you discovered John is a US soldier and Sally a terrorist. Now you think: That’s war! It’s totally justified . . . Until you find out Sally was six years old. Puts yet another spin on it, doesn’t it?”

While some with “Big Brother Syndrome” will look at NG911 is our downfall into a mire of social control, clearly the health and safety benefits outweigh the concerns.

Follow me on Twitter @Fletch911

Read my other AVAYA CONNECTED Blogs

Mark J. Fletcher, ENP is the Chief Architect for Worldwide Public Safety Solutions at Avaya. As a seasoned professional with nearly 30 years of service, he provides the strategic roadmap and direction of Next Generation Emergency Services in both the Enterprise and Government portfolios at Avaya. In 2014, Fletcher was made a member of the NENA Institute Board in the US, and co-chair of the EENA NG112 Committee in the EU, where he provides insight to State and Federal legislators globally driving forward both innovation and compliance.

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