Just when I thought the 911 landscape couldn’t get any more complicated (such as new regulations for MLTS, UC platforms like Microsoft Teams and Zoom that introduce more mobility in the enterprise), we’ve run headlong into COVID-19.
For most of Q2, many of the organizations we were talking to were hyper-focused on the sudden need to support an almost entirely remote workforce. Now, with stay-at-home orders being lifted and some employees transitioning back to the office while others remain at home, it’s a good time to revisit some practical tips for managing E911. I’ll say up front that these are listed in no particular order of importance, except the first:
1. Consult with an attorney
While everything that follows can be considered generally agreed upon approaches to E911, I’m not an attorney and Bandwidth does not provide legal advice.
E911 regulations are extremely complex and each enterprise has to evaluate Kari’s Law, RAY BAUM’s Act, and any applicable state regulations relative to their particular enterprise. Ideally, this will be a conversation between IT, a legal representative, and the enterprise HR team. Whether you’re a service provider or an enterprise, you can enable these conversations with some background materials, such as Bandwidth’s Guide to E911 New Regulations.
2. Consider the needs of both the caller and the call taker
There are times when, for medical reasons, callers can’t speak and times when, for safety reasons, it’s not in their best interest to speak. More commonly, there are times when the caller is in distress and can’t respond quickly or coherently when asked for their location.
Organizations who mistakenly assume that callers always know where they are and will be able to verbalize this information during a 911 call are opening themselves up to risk and delayed emergency response times.
We also need to think about the demands on the busy 911 call taker whose first concern will be determining the location of the emergency. Background noise, anxious callers, or callers who may not speak English as a first language can slow what might seem like a clear and straightforward communication of information.
This is why provisioning a precise location for the caller is so important. The 911 call taker will always need to verify the location information they’ve been provided with, but first responders can be dispatched much faster when they are armed with an accurate, precise, and complete address.
3. Map and test user endpoints
I wrote a few months ago about the importance of testing 911 on a regular basis and Bandwidth’s useful “933” location verification feature. Not only does it help to ensure accurate location for users, it limits live 911 calling to the PSAP, which can disrupt and distract from their normal operations.
4. Eliminate a prefix when calling 911
Kari’s Law, which came into effect on February 16 of this year, has two essential requirements for the enterprise. The first is to provide direct dialing to 911 and the second is to support internal notifications (see tip #5). Direct dialing means eliminating all requirements to dial a digit or prefix such as a “9” or an “8” to get a trunk access line.
5. Determine an appropriate notification recipient
The second requirement of Kari’s Law is to notify designated personnel within the enterprise that a 911 call has been placed. This is most often a security team, a front desk attendant, and/or a facilities manager who can guide and assist first responders as they arrive on scene. Bandwidth has an optional notification feature in the form of phone call, email, text message, and HTTP API.
6. Do not intercept 911 calls
Sometimes a well-intentioned enterprise will reroute their 911 calls through their security desk for initial response in the hopes it will reduce false alarms and misdials.
This is not recommended for a few reasons. First, Kari’s Law requires direct dialing to 911. Second, this method of 911 call handling can slow emergency response times. Finally, if the security team makes a 911 call on behalf of a user, public safety will not be provided with the user’s provisioned location information.
Colleges and universities that are officially-recognized as a secondary PSAP are usually exempt from this practice. Outside of that specific use case, we always advise an enterprise to route 911 calls directly to public safety while notifying the appropriate security team or alternate contact.
7. Prepare for NG911
Next Generation 911 (NG911) is a public safety-led initiative to upgrade our nation’s 911 infrastructure to an IP-based architecture. NG911 is being deployed across the country at a state or, sometimes, regional level. Once the transition is complete, NG911 will enable PSAPs to receive additional data formats such as text, images, and video.
Bandwidth designs our emergency solutions to be forward-compatible with NG911. As a Bandwidth customer, there are no required additional steps to take right now other than be aware of these future capabilities and consider the information you may have within your organization that may one day be of value to public safety during a 911 call.
911 calls that originate from within schools, hospitals, and other large campuses today require special approaches and attention. Thomas Ginter and I are doing a webinar with Campus Safety Magazine on July 23. Email your questions in advance of the event, and we’ll be sure to respond to them during the presentation or Q&A.