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Calling for help or assistance in an emergency is one of the core capabilities in almost any communications platform. When a good day turns into a bad day, information about the emergency is critical. But that is not what it has always been about. When the first 911 network was implemented in Haleyville Alabama in 1968, the primary purpose was ease of access. Up until then, local seven digit numbers were used in each municipality to reach police, fire and ambulance services. Not only did you need to know where you were, you needed to know the local telephone number of the agency you needed.
Initially, 911 systems only routed callers to local police agencies, eliminating the need to know and dial specific local access numbers. Caller ID had not yet been introduced, therefore Public safety agencies still needed to ascertain the location of the incident, as well as the nature of the call. In the mid-80s caller ID services, among others, were introduced into the new digital central offices being deployed. This information provided public safety agencies with their first taste of “data” being delivered with emergency calls. A short time later, that caller ID information known as ANI (Automatic Number Identification) was used to retrieve billing address information, which then provided public safety with a dispatch-able address.
While public safety technology decided to pick this point and form a beachhead, the digital age and technological evolution continued to move forward driven by the emergence of the “technology bubble”. Computers became a part of our everyday life, and the Internet provided Global connectivity and interaction at levels never thought possible. Technology allowed communications to become ingrained in the social fabric of our lives, expanding audio and voice into email and instant messages, and ultimately video communications as broadband networks and handheld devices capable of delivering Omni channel experiences became ubiquitous.
Once citizens began using these new multimodal forms of communications in their day-to-day lives, commercial businesses realized the value of reaching those customers through similar channels, and commercial social media became a powerful marketing channel. Obviously, with this new form of communications available to reach the masses, public safety began to jump on the bandwagon, albeit quite slowly at first. Because public safety had put a stake in the ground so early in the evolution of the technology, they found themselves locked into legacy environments all designed prior to the emergence of common best practices that are in place today. Because of this, the emergence of newer technologies has been difficult, as seen by the slow adoption of text to 911 services, which is deployed in less than 10% of the 6800 or so 911 centers that exist in the US today. In fact, although a very small number, there are still some 911 centers that do not receive location information, or Enhanced 911 service.
While we talk about improving 911 solutions for specific commercial environments like Kari’s Law requiring direct access to 911 in hotels, and the iLoc8 utility providing cellular device location accuracy and multimedia, these concepts are valid at a much higher level. Direct access to emergency services is important in any environment, including schools, businesses, or any other facility where the public may use the telephone device to summon emergency services. It is also our corporate responsibility, something that Avaya takes great pride in, to educate not only our younger generation, but government regulators that define legislation and requirements surrounding access to public safety communications. Knowledge is power, and education raises awareness. Just 681 days after Kari Hunt was murdered at a hotel in Marshall Texas, another stabbing took place. But this time, when 911 was dialed, the call went through and help arrived in time to save their life.
Public safety communications don’t have to be complex. Public safety solutions don’t have to be expensive, in the enterprise, or in 911 centers. Public safety solutions need to be resilient, reliable, and redundant. They need to take advantage of the way we communicate today, and utilize the technologies that are commonplace. We have moved to a mobile environment of connected broadband devices, and just like the massive commercial customer contact centers that we build around the world, public safety needs to embrace the same technologies for life safety solutions, and stop wasting money on prolonging legacy architectures that are inefficient, and a drain on the industry.
In the past three decades we have moved from an environment where fax machines barely existed, to where full multimedia broadband devices can fit in our pocket. Shouldn’t we be able to move public safety in to this same environment within the next decade?
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, where he provides insight to State and Federal legislators globally driving forward both innovation and compliance.