Employee safety is the primary goal of every employer. To accomplish that goal, as well as be compliant with new Federal legislation that recently went into effect (i.e. Kari’s Law and the pending RAY BAUM’S Act §506), commercial enterprises have been scrambling to implement and deliver compliant services to their workforce. With the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of workers have been forced to suddenly shelter in place, or self-quarantine, and have found themselves operating in a remote environment, with little forethought or planning, especially for 911 calling from those devices.
IT administrators have had to scramble just to establish to set up basic connectivity, let alone advanced functionality as the pandemic has flushed many employees from their high-rise offices to their residences. This creates the dilemma of trying to maintain some sense of business flow while at the same time practicing the ever-important social distancing required to combat the spread of this virus.
While most businesses have had some form of remote working capability for workers for some time, often the solution may not have included actual telephony. Additionally, the bandwidth engineering estimates never considered voice and the mass amounts of simultaneous workers. Another issue is the system has never been really been put under a load test of this magnitude and demand as it has now.
For some employees, telephony is secondary. Their need is to just collaborate with each other. For this group, they can utilize teleconferencing applications such as Zoom, Teams, WebEx, the Avaya Spaces solution (available free for 90 days), along with scores of others providing a virtual team or online meeting room. Most of these are fine internally, but fall short with basic telephony and calls to and from customers in the outside world.
Even while the push has clearly been to move to multimedia sessions, the phone is still an important part for some environments and verticals. For those, employees continue to require some form of remote solution from their PBX telephone system, and often a Contact Center. Many customers deliver this through an IP softphone or integration into the desktop such as the Avaya IX Workplace for Ocrana®, or in some cases, a physical IP telephone device, like the Avaya J179 SIP Phone connected back into the corporate environment though a Session Border Controller.
And this is where the problem begins. A Recipe for Disaster.
Remember, even though it is at your home, your phone is connected to your corporate PBX telephone system on a virtual ‘extension cord’ that is miles long. The actual PSTN telephone lines are in the PBX at the address of where work is located, or worse, someplace in the cloud. But the number on your telephone is associated with the address of your office at work. These three ingredients can easily lead to disaster if you dial 911 from the work provided IP telephone in your home office, and the proper accommodations have not been put in place to deliver the proper address.
One of the great misnomers that exist out there, is that your telephone system can actually transmit the location of the person making a phone call to 911. Sorry – FALSE – IT CAN’T.
How does that work then? The current 911 network is fairly simplistic in how it works. Calls get routed to the local 911 center based on Caller ID (called Automatic Number Identification) and the install or billing address. See the problem?
What about answering your 911 calls yourself? Many THINK this is a good idea, but it’s actually NOT PERMITTED unless you are a Public Safety Answer Point. Are you? Find out for your self:
Through the magic of the Internet, we’re able remotely place a physical telephone miles or even states away from where the telephone company (and the 911 center for that matter) believes it’s located. This is where most people will just say, “I’ll just not use that phone for 911. I know better.”
While there may be a thread of truth in that, what about your family members? What about your mother or father that don’t really understand technology? What about your child, or the babysitter? Or what about anyone else who happens to be in your home where your ‘special phone’ is the closest phone when they need 911?
Don’t worry, all is not lost. As quickly as technology can break something as simple as dialing 911, there’s more technology that we can layer on top to correct the situation we’ve created. Today brand new NG911 technology exists in the network that will allow you to, provide the location of your device, let an administrator provision the location, or even have the device discover where you are using common forensic discovery tools. In any case, where you are can likely be determined in some form or another. This Youtube Video highlights the Location Discovery issue.
But, that is only half the problem.
Once the location is known, the call routing issue can be solved using a carrier based 911 solution known as a VoIP Positioning Center or VPC. The job of the VPC is similar to that of a long distance telephone company. Just like AT&T, Sprint, and MCI can route to your calls anywhere in the country, the 911 VPC has the same ability on a specialized 911 network.
The PBX simply routes all remote user calls to the VPC, with the location information, and the VPC takes care of getting the call to the right PSAP, and delivering location information. When a device registers as a phone, the location was discovered, and the routing entry is created for the VPC database.
In order to deal with the immediacy of the Coronavirus Pandemic, and the masses amounts of people headed home to work, Avaya has worked with our Select Partner, 911 Secure, LLC to provide a basic level of 911 service that can be deployed immediately with minimal expense. The service is called SecureNOW™ and until May 26th, they are offering this temporary static VPC routing service for remote users for only $0.25 per user per month. Location changes can be made, but are updated manually.
In the following video, I along with Brian Anderson, Director of Avaya Public Safety Solutions review the entire landscape and technology.
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© 2020, All Rights Reserved, Mark J. Fletcher, ENP
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Best to use landlines for 911 — they provide the location information physically associated with the landline automatically — no VoIP software bugs involved 🙂
While that logic may hold some merit, I’ll argue that the database holding that information could be wrong. VoIP technology introduces uncertainty due to the fact that users can often relocate devices without administrative intervention. This breaks the antiquated model of 911 where a PHONE NUMBER equals a LOCATION. The technology behind the phone is not relevant. Years ago, 911 was unable to route 911 in the entire Pacific Northwest. The root cause was a database counter that overflowed, a design flaw that was missed by the software engineers. Anything can fail. With digital technology, the failure can be more easily detected, with legacy analog, false positives can cause a fault to go undetected. I appreciate our comments though, and hopefully I shed some additional light on the topic for you.