Solution? Or Knee-Jerk Reaction?


Emergency services in India have evolved over the years. But instead of consolidating access numbers, the decision was made to implement different numbers for everything. At the 9-1-1 Goes to Washington event in March of 2014, FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai  referred to this problem during his address to the Public Safety community.

“We in the United States often take our 911 system for granted. But my recent trip to India reminded me how fortunate we are. In India, there isn’t a single number that people can call for help. There’s one number to reach the police, another for the fire department, and yet another if you need an ambulance. There are even different numbers for senior citizens, women, and children to use. I learned that many Indian households have a long list of numbers stuck on their walls and refrigerator doors to remind them which number to call for which emergency. All of this leads to needless confusion and delayed response times.”

FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai

In an effort to solve this problem of confusion, a recent initiative has been initiated by India’s Women & Child Development Minister, Maneka Gandhi. After much discussion about how to solve the issues, the idea of ‘pressing and holding the 9 button’ on cell phones was given the go ahead in a recent meeting of representatives from the various service providers as well as mobile phone manufacturers. Apps were discussed, but dismissed, based on the same reasons they have not been effective elsewhere in the world.

[I]t does raise a few concerns . . .

For an App to be useful, it has to be used, the device must have it installed, and it has to be current and active. Unfortunately, we do not have the luxury of  this level of planning, before we have an emergency. Additionally, pressing ‘9’ on an older analog cellular phone could effectively be implemented at the carrier level, and not exclude these devices, which are prominent in many parts of the India suburban areas.

While I have to commend the essential simplicity of this action, it does raise a few concerns that may not have been completely vetted, and may actually have some unintended negative impact. Unfortunately, the source article did not contain enough information detailing how long the ‘long press’ needed to be to activate the function.  This leads to several questions, including:

  • How exactly long is a long press?
  • Can it be canceled?
  • What will multiple rapid presses do?
  • Pocket Dialing is a huge problem. How many misdial events will this potentially generate having a negative impact on public safety resources that are already running paper thin on staff and budget?

Without a study being done on the misdial call load on PSAPs alone (something that can be tracked measured) it appears this solution may be a ‘knee-jerk’ reaction to a problem, and has the possibility of making the situation worse by impacting public safety.

“Any Device, Any Time, Any Where . . .

Another point to consider is the potential confusion that this may cause to citizens. Clearly, 911, 112, and 999 are well-known emergency access numbers globally. They all have been promoting the concept of  “Anywhere, Anytime, and on Any device” for more than a decade.

While this addresses mobile phones, it is likely the ‘long press’ of 9 on telephone devices that are NOT cell phones could be difficult, if not impossible to reproduce or replicate. This would then eliminate the universality of access to emergency services we currently enjoy today.

The IETF states that the numbers for emergency services globally should be 911, and 112.

After 2 years of fighting the policy battle in the US, we are just beginning to win the “No 9 Needed” battle with MLTS PBX systems. This initiative, know best under the name ‘Kari’s Law’,  requires MLTS Systems to recognize just the digits 911, 112 and 999 as emergency numbers; effectively eliminating the “9” normally needed to get an outside line. The popular tagline for Kari’s law is “No 9 Needed”, but now we need to modify this message to be “Except in India where you just press 9”? Hank Hunt may have a comment or 2 on that.

The IETF states that the numbers for emergency services globally should be 911, and 112. In the UK, 999 has been locally engrained, and although attempts and suggestions have been made over the years to change it, history will live on, and the best that we will see is support for 911 and 112 in the local PSTN, and 999 will continue to live on in perpetuity.

Clearly the problem will continue, but it is good that people are looking to solve the issues. I would highly recommend to the Ministers of India take into consideration the expertise contained in organizations like NENA, EENA, and APCO International are consulted before potentially life-changing decisions like this are made under a great emotional influence, and without completely vetting the technical and social impact of the decision.

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 is an active participant in EENA where he provides insight to State and Federal legislators globally driving forward best practices in both innovation and compliance.

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