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Hurricane Sandy Tests E911 Hosted Solutions


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November 13, 2012

Hurricane Sandy Tests E911 Hosted Solutions

By Susan J. Campbell, TMCnet Contributing Editor

Millions across the United States were glued to their televisions as news coverage of Hurricane Sandy dominated every network and news cable channel. Social media networks were abuzz with information regarding outages, needed supplies and updates on conditions. For every business affected by the storm in the form of power outages and limited communications, the lessons regarding business continuity are clear. Yet perhaps the greatest lesson was the performance of emergency communications systems.

A recent Avaya (News - Alert) blog highlights the value of business continuity and importance of E911 hosted solutions in the provision of consistent communications, regardless of weather or area conditions. Those on the phones in emergency call centers were handling the literally millions of calls coming in as desperate citizens sought information and help. With several landlines out of service and wireless networks strained under the pressure, SMS text messages appeared to be making it through the mess.

In such situations, when a voice call is attempted, a failure to connect means the end of that instance. For data packets, used in E911 hosted solutions, retries occur if a connection is not initially made. And, when the call means the difference between life and death, the quality of the call is not nearly as important as the completion of the call. The fact that SMS text messages were being completed even when other communications were a challenge during Hurricane Sandy suggests that Next Generate 911 focus on the possibilities of texting in E911 hosted solutions.

One of the benefits surrounding Next Generation 911 is the ability to text a 911 call, attaching videos or photos when applicable. Text messaging relies on different technology than traditional 911 calls, which introduces challenges in getting a text from a device in the field to a specific 911 agent. And, the potential delay in these messages has raised concerns among Public Safety Officials who believe such an approach could put people at an increased risk.

Trials on the possibilities of texting are taking place throughout the country, although some experts wonder if the ability to text to 911 is truly needed. One thing learned by those who endured Sandy, however, is that people will first call 911 before they try any other method. As a result, making 911 available regardless of the device used to make the call is essential.

In the past, Public Safety Officials were concerned that once available, texting to 911 would quickly become overused, a dangerous trend for technology considered less reliable than the typical voice call. Other concerns expressed include the potential to overload already strained workers, limiting efficiency and productivity. Hurricane Sandy, hitting the city that never sleeps, was the perfect test of current availability when it comes to 911, and alternatives used when the voice call fails to complete.

With E911 hosted solutions, the network supporting the call is often housed outside of the geographic area, while the failover data center is most certainly in another location. Therefore, those calls placed over the network can be supported, regardless of the disaster. This truth doesn’t necessarily help with the overload on agents when calls are completed, but it does ease the stress for those trying to help the affected.


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Edited by Rich Steeves

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