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That’s not very long, but it is the rule for the estimated 400,000 customers served by Verizon and Frontier Communications in portions of Westchester, Putnam, Dutchess, Ulster and Sullivan counties that experienced a disruption in their 911 emergency telephone service recently on November 12, 2015. In this particular case, “Mom” is the Federal Communications Commission Pubic Safety and Homeland Security Bureau led by Rear Admiral David Simpson. According to rules specified under Chapter 1, Part 4 (DISRUPTIONS TO COMMUNICATIONS) of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Title 47 – available online in electronic format.
In §4.5 – Definitions of outage, special offices and facilities, and 911 special facilities – it states under paragraph (e):
An outage that potentially affects a 911 special facility occurs whenever:
(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 end-office or 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)).
The next logical question to ask is, “What constitutes a ‘user minute’?” This is why I profess time and time again, one of the most critical parts of any law or regulation is the definitions section. Definitions dictate how, and where, laws apply. They also dictate to whom laws apply; arguably the most important factor. As expected, the Title 47 CFR covers this in great detail in §4.7 (Definitions of metrics used to determine the general outage-reporting threshold criteria). For basic calculations, it is safe to simply take the number of telephone numbers assigned in an area and then multiply them by the number of minutes the outage lasted. For those interested in the nitty-gritty details of the metrics, they are as follows:
(a) Administrative numbers are defined as the telephone numbers used by communications providers to perform internal administrative or operational functions necessary to maintain reasonable quality of service standards.
(b) Assigned numbers are defined as the telephone numbers working in the Public Switched Telephone Network under an agreement such as a contract or tariff at the request of specific end users or customers for their use. This excludes numbers that are not yet working but have a service order pending.
(c) Assigned telephone number minutes are defined as the mathematical result of multiplying the duration of an outage, expressed in minutes, by the sum of the number of assigned numbers (defined in paragraph (b) of this section) potentially affected by the outage and the number of administrative numbers (defined in paragraph (a) of this section) potentially affected by the outage. “Assigned telephone number minutes” can alternatively be calculated as the mathematical result of multiplying the duration of an outage, expressed in minutes, by the number of working telephone numbers potentially affected by the outage, where working telephone numbers are defined as the telephone numbers, including DID numbers, working immediately prior to the outage.
(d) DS3 minutes are defined as the mathematical result of multiplying the duration of an outage, expressed in minutes, by the number of previously operating DS3 circuits that were affected by the outage.
(e) User minutes are defined as:
(1) Assigned telephone number minutes (as defined in paragraph (c) of this section), for telephony, including non-mobile interconnected VoIP telephony, and for those paging networks in which each individual user is assigned a telephone number;
(2) The mathematical result of multiplying the duration of an outage, expressed in minutes, by the number of end users potentially affected by the outage, for all other forms of communications. For wireless service providers and interconnected VoIP service providers to mobile users, the number of potentially affected users should be determined by multiplying the simultaneous call capacity of the affected equipment by a concentration ratio of 8.
(f) Working telephone numbers are defined to be the sum of all telephone numbers that can originate, or terminate telecommunications. This includes, for example, all working telephone numbers on the customer’s side of a PBX, or Centrex, or similar arrangement
After all is said and done, and no matter how you slice the data, a critical infrastructure that is often touted as resilient, reliable, and redundant has once again succumbed to a failure where a backup system did not ‘kick in’ ensuring what is known as 5 – Nines reliability, or 99.999% uptime. This particular outage reportedly was 4 hours and 15 minutes long, or 225 minutes. If this turns out to be the ONLY outage for the year, then the level of service for this area is only about 3 ½ – Nines (99.951), and not the 5 nines the telcos so proudly promote. So the question remains, “Do you consider that acceptable for a life safety system, such as E911?” I certainly don’t, and it’s likely the FCC will not either, depending on the root cause analysis of the failure, which may not be known for months, if at all.
In case you were wondering, the number of ‘9s’ is calculated using the formula (525,600 – Outage) / 525,600 where 525,600 is the number of minutes a year, and the Outage is the number of minutes the outage lasted.
The Patch reported that, in addition to the mandated FCC reporting of this issue, the New York State Department of Public Service would be heading up their own investigation of the disruption. NY DPS Chief Executive Officer Audrey Zibelman was quoted saying, “The public relies on 911 service as a lifeline to ensure they get fast and immediate assistance should any kind of life-threatening or other safety emergency occurs,” and that “[t]he DPS investigation will seek to determine the root cause of the outage and other underlying facts in an effort to understand how this occurred and help prevent future outages.”
When the facts are in, will the FCC take any punitive action?
They certainly have in other cases. In April of 2015, the Enforcement Bureau reached a record-setting $16 million settlement with CenturyLink and a $1.4 million settlement with Intrado Communications related to the companies’ failures to meet their emergency call obligations during a 911 outage. That event, which took place a year earlier in April of 2014, reportedly prevented more than 11 million people in seven states from being able to reach emergency call centers for over six hours. According to the FCC the outage was entirely preventable and fines had already been issued to Verizon in the amount of $3.4 million for its part of responsibility during the outage. The fines were based on each company’s role in handling the calls, and the number of calls they were directly responsible for.
It’s safe to say that the FCC Enforcement Bureau has been quite active this past year, cracking down on everything from Slamming, to Network Outages, to Overcharging customers on services they did not order. Similar to most other enforcement Bureau’s, they don’t always get the credit they deserve, and the public questions what happens to the millions of dollars in fines they collect. I wondered the same, and it turns out the FCC is very transparent on this matter.
If you’re interested in the details on where the money goes, see my Blog and Podcast on APCO’s PS Connect for the details that I uncovered with just a little research this past year.
Mark J. Fletcher, ENP is the Chief Architect for Worldwide Public Safety Solutions at Avaya. As a seasoned professional with over 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. Fletcher is appointed to serve on the NENA Institute Board, he also sits on the FCC’s Task Force for Optimized PSAP Architecture and the Disabilities Advisory Committee where he is Co-Chair of the Technical Sub-committee on Multimedia Communications Systems for the Deaf, Deaf-Blind and Hard of Hearing, and he been the driving force behind Kari’s Law in many States, mandating direct access to 9-1-1 from MLTS Telephone systems in businesses and hotels.