E911 is a critical life safety solution for businesses everywhere. It connects businesses and employees around the country to emergency services, which is particularly important in our era of Mobility, VoIP, SIP Trunking, Unified Communications and Remote Working. In other words, we have the technology to call from almost anywhere from scores of different platforms, on multiple different private and public networks, and we need emergency services to have the information of how to locate us almost anywhere.
What Exactly is e911?
For those who don’t know much about e911, the “e” in e911 stands for “enhanced.” The idea behind e911 is to communicate enhanced location information to emergency responders. For more insight into the topic, I spoke with Jason Forehand, the Vice President of Software Services at RedSky, a leading e911 vendor. You can listen to our entire conversation here. Forehand explained the definition with the following example. If you call 911 from your personal home phone, emergency services will be able to locate you easily in your single family home. If you’re calling from an office or larger building, however, first responders may be able to find your general address, but they need more specific location information to find you within the larger space. E911 can give enhanced information like what floor you’re on, or which room you’re currently in, and other types of response location information that can prove crucial in an emergency situation. This is really important for large buildings with multiple floors, and some states already have laws about businesses providing e911 coverage.
Know Your State’s e911 Legislation
At this point 18 states already have e911 regulations that essentially mandate e911 for businesses over a certain number of employees. Understanding your state’s legislation regarding e911 services is important, because it’s the corporate entity’s responsibility to configure the emergency response locations for all their multi-line telephone systems, or MLPS. NENA, the National Emergency Number Association, ensures that this isn’t cost prohibitive for a business, and they also determine best practices for e911 services.
The laws vary state-by-state, but as a general rule, buildings over 7,000 square feet or buildings with multiple floors need to be broken up into different emergency response locations. It is up to the individual business to program this information into their phone or UC system. And it’s not only businesses that are having to modernize their 911 systems, so do local municipalities.
Challenges Facing Your Municipality with Next Gen 911
A quick segue into the world of municipal 911 systems. Municipalities are facing many challenges when trying to modernize their 911 systems, and you may have heard about some of them in the news. According to Forehand, many municipalities are dealing with legacy systems that were installed in the 1970’s and they are struggling to modernize them to deal with the complexities of modern, mobile telecommunications. Public Service Answering Points, or PSAPs, need to be updated to utilize SIP. If dispatch centers used SIP, it would open their ability to use all types of media. Forehand gave the example of a dispatch center using video screening, and additional data points like discerning between fire, police, or medical assistance in the future. Probably the biggest issue facing a municipality’s transition to next gen 911 is funding.
Next Gen 911 can be an afterthought to the public. (check out this great segment from John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight to find out just how much of an afterthought) We assume that the service will be there when we need it, so we don’t think about it at all. Updating technology and replacing antiquated systems requires a lot of funding, but it’s difficult to get the public to support the project with their tax dollars. Bureaucracy can be a problem as well. But back to e911 and businesses…..
Remote Workers, Mobility, and the Future of e911
The teleworking movement is growing fast, and remote workers are a common part of the workforce. According to Forehand, it’s a good rule of thumb to have a company provide e911 services for home workers if they have a company hard phone installed in the home office. In an emergency situation, if someone needs to dial 911 and grabs the work phone, you want their ERL, or emergency response location, to be relayed with efficiency and accuracy. This is especially important if you have children at home.
Even though e911 vendors have been dealing with VoIP for a long time, there is currently a mad rush in the business world towards SIP and Cloud-based UC (UCaaS) both of which are growing at 20% compound annual growth. ”Suddenly there is a lot more complexity in the ways that business people can make a phone call,” Forehand says, “The industry has anticipated this and has been diligent in focusing on solutions for UC, SIP and remote working, so for businesses this shouldn’t be a concern. Our goal being that we want to keep e911 simple and reliable,” Forehand said.
Mobility also proves a challenge with 911. Most of us use incredibly accurate apps on our smartphones to determine our locations. So accurate that we can get step by step directions to our nearest coffee shop. However, once we dial 911, that accuracy becomes diffused by several factors including the coverage of your mobile provider. Generally speaking, cellular accuracy isn’t up to snuff. Because of this, e911 vendors are developing mobile apps that can give ERL without specific user input.
RedSky, for example, has created an app where a user can store their most common locations in their user profile, and the app can be used across all UC platforms. The app seamlessly updates location without specific user input and can offer other additional enhanced location information.
With business communications evolving so quickly, e911 has never been more important for protecting employees. To learn more, take a listen to my entire interview with Jason below.