Emergency Services and the Remote Worker

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.

To a child or family member 911 is 911 on any phone.

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.

This is a scaled down solution of the Frost & Sullivan 2019 Best Practice Leadership Award winning SENTRY™ solution.

NO HARDWARE OR SOFTWARE IS REQUIRED ON PREM.

The SecureNOW™ Temporary Remote User 911 Service By: 911 Secure, LLC

A simple 911 call routing change is made in the PBX for Remote Users, redirecting them to a special 10-digit PSTN access number of the VPC service, and the routing database will terminate the call at any one of the ~6500 911 PSAPs in the US that corresponds to the home address of the user.

In the following video, I along with Brian Anderson, Director of Avaya Public Safety Solutions review the entire landscape and technology.

Follow me on Twitter @Fletch911
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Fixing 911 Overload

Every year, NENA – The National Emergency Number Association – estimates that there are over 240 million calls into 911 call centers (known as Public Safety Answer Points or PSAPs). A common problem among all PSAPs continues to be non-emergency calls arriving into the center on Their specialized 911 trunks that exist specifically for emergency calls. The quantity of these trunks is typically limited in each center and and the amount has been carefully engineered to handle the normal volume of 911 calls from the community served by that agency along with a few spares and diverse CO routing where available. The problem is that when they become flooded with non-emergency traffic, legitimate emergency calls could be blocked.

This design also makes the PSAP more susceptible to SWATTING and DDoS attacks by practically anyone and from anywhere. In some areas, emergency calls into a center that is busy may overflow to an adjacent PSAP. While this seems like a logical idea from a backup perspective, let’s examine the bigger picture here.

Not only does this expand the attack face from a SWATTING and DDoS perspective, it is actually quite useless unless there is a Mutual Aid and MOU agreement in place with the other agency. Without the proper authority and the radio comms infrastructure, as well as access to the CAD, there really isn’t much that those agencies can do other than answer the call and write down the information. They then need to figure out a way to get that incident to the agency that can provide service. Typically, if there is no access to the radio network of the adjacent community, or no visibility to the computer-aided dispatch or CAD system, there is little they can actually do with the information they have. Also, remember that if the call has overflowed to them in the first place, they might not even have a way of reaching the original agency using conventional methods, Where is the problem?

The Core Problem: Dedicated 911 Trunks

The existing 911 network in the US is dependent on specialized CAMA trunks. Queries for location use the Automatic Number Identification (ANI) received with the call to determine the location of the caller, and a direct peer-to-peer relationship exists between the PSAP and the local exchange carrier 911 Central Office using these single-purpose trunks.

Since these trunks are limited in number, when a non-emergency call arrives on an emergency trunk, that line becomes tied up for the duration of that call, even if the resource that handles the call is a non-emergency resource. This creates a traffic engineering problem, because now the number of trunks reserved to handle emergency calls are taking the additional non-emergency traffic, something that totally Skews the Erlang calculations used to engineer the number of circuits.

311 to the rescue?

Many believe, and cities like NYC and Philadelphia have implemented, a localized 311 non-emergency service designed to offload non-emergency calls from 911 Call centers and call takers. The call handling technology used to deliver a 311 service is similar to that in the 911 center. This allows the 311 facility itself to become a natural choice for a disaster recovery location or if a facility is needed to house a temporary relief workforce for the 911 center due to capacity or physical damage.

The fact that a 311 center exists though, does not itself provide a solution to the problem, a little more is required. The root cause of the overload issue noted earlier is that people dial 911 when they should have dialed 311. In other words, their call is arriving on the wrong network, and that wrong network has limited resources from a trunking perspective.

Are rubber bands the fix?

While fixes for critical emergency communications from the public should never use duct tape and rubber bands, “elasticity” does bring significant value. Looking back on legacy trunking, of nearly any kind, there is the limitation of a physical circuit on a pair of copper wires. If I need one, I order one. If I need 10, then I order 10. If I need 10, but I only can get 8, then I am short by 2, and there is not much I can do about it. SIP trunking, on the other hand, is delivered over a data facility. The actual bandwidth on that facility can often be dynamic and Is commonly referred to as “a pipe.”

When thinking about the characteristics of data, often it equates very nicely to water. If I need to deliver more water, I need to get a bigger pipe; if I need to deliver more data, the same concept applies. That being said, an inherent benefit of a “data pipe” is that often the delivery medium is the same regardless of the capacity or size. Now a request to the carrier can turn-up or turn-down service capacities through software or configuration. Because of this, the size of the pipe becomes elastic and flexible to my current trends and needs.

Re-engineering with new capabilities

With this new elasticity capability in our network, let’s re-engineer things a little bit to take advantage of its capabilities.

Modern NG-911 Network on Dynamic Trunks

With all of these circuits moved to intelligent SIP trunking, I now have flexibility and sizing capabilities that allow me to be more dynamic with emergency and non-emergency call center call routing. The initial overall pipe capacity reflects best guess estimations for ALL TRAFFIC, and a new control layer of communication between my premise and the carrier networks exists to communicate any changes Required in the specific trunk route sizing required.

Sending these real-time statistics and state changes to the carrier allows real-time elasticity of IP trunking size to realize the most efficient use of resources. Calls to 911 are automatically flagged as such and routed to the 911 CPE where call takers answer. Similarly, calls to 311 are automatically flagged as such and routed to the 311 CPE, where call-takers also answer those calls. By doing this, the number of simultaneous calls to each type of service is controlled by the CPE.

Should a 911 call end up being a non-emergency situation, and the call gets transferred to the 311 center for assistance, a signal is sent to the carrier to add additional bandwidth to the inbound 911 trunk group to compensate for the non-emergency call.

How bandwidth is calculated and allocated is something that now becomes totally under the control of the receiving agency. For example, let’s go back to our disaster recovery scenario. A significant natural event is impacting the local area. An anticipated  20% increase of 911 call taker staff will require 15 additional call-taker seats. In the 311 Center, 15 seats get flagged as auxiliary 911 positions and get staffed by 911 personnel. An increase in carrier bandwidth allows for the additional call volume expected.

This scenario is just another example of why the nation needs to move to NG 911 quickly. The Legacy 911 network in the US uses analog CAMA trunks that are special-purpose and fixed in their capacity. Increases must be pre-engineered and may take weeks or months to implement or sit idly unused, causing unnecessary charges to stack up to municipalities. The technology to accomplish this architecture already exists in nearly every commercial market in existence today. We should heed the lessons learned over many years and provide the same level of innovation to our most essential call centers, ones that save lives.

Mark J. Fletcher, ENP
Chief Architect – Public Safety Solutions – AVAYA

Follow me on Twitter @Fletch911
Listen to my Podcasts

State of Emergency?

9-1-1. It is likely the most well recognized ‘brand’ in the world. It is the three digits every man, woman and child know by heart recognized around the world. 

To provide a dispatchable location to emergency responders today’s Enterprise telephone system administrators have relied on the Automatic Number Identification / Automatic Location Information (ANI/ALI) database for years. This database provided 911 dispatchers a cross-reference, or reverse lookup of telephone numbers to critical dispatch location addresses. Another function of this core component was to work in conjunction with the Selective Router Database (SRDB) used to route calls in the PSTN to the right agency. This allowed number portability, among other things

However, it appears CenturyLink has provided their Washington State Enterprise accounts with notice that they plan to discontinue their critical PS-ALI services effective May 8, 2019. After this date, enterprise customers must establish a replacement service of their own through a 3rd party provider.

They specifically state in their customer notice:

It is the responsibility of the customer to update the PS/ALI database (via a third-party vendor) with the individual station address information.

A copy of the new Tarifs regarding this change can be found online here.

Time for a change?

This is troubling, as the short window of remediation is going to require MLTS system operators to make a snap judgment on a technology they may not fully understand, and the predatory sales tactics of some providers may hook an Enterprise into a long-term contract for services with a minimal roadmap to the future of NG911.

For our valued Avaya customers, WE CAN HELP. Don’t get caught up in the alphabet soup of acronyms you barely understand. We have our customer’s best interests at heart, and there are many ways to address this problem. Our team of industry experts is standing by ready to help you assess your current position, and guide new solutions that solve the p[roblem today, and well into the future. Kari’s Law is federally mandated starting February 16, next year, and the Ray Baum’s Act Section 506, is following close behind requiring dispatchable addresses.

The Avaya SENTRY™ solution was designed and built to provide full NG911 functionality, even over today’s legacy networks, complete compliance with all laws (active now and in the future), and deliver critical pre-arrival instructions to 1st responders with the actionable information they need to do their jobs. We are here for you to help you decide what’s right for YOUR business.

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