The public 9-1-1 system in the United States has fallen far behind the technology that’s used by many private organizations, and enterprises especially are taking the lead in developing enhanced 911 emergency response systems that use location-based technology to pinpoint the whereabouts of distressed callers, an official with a prominent provider of business communications software, systems and services told TMCnet this week in an interview.
According to Guy Clinch, senior solutions manager of contact center solutions at Basking Ridge, N.J.-based Avaya (News - Alert), in today’s enterprise organizations, it’s highly unlikely that callers are located in the same place as the company’s communication system connects to the public telephone network. Therefore, Avaya works with companies such as Chicago-based RedSky Technologies, a provider of E911 solutions, to make sure that 9-1-1 calls feed exact caller location information to dispatchers, helping save critical emergency response time that can protect lives and property.
“One of the many things that Avaya and RedSky (News - Alert) do collaboratively is provide tools that first, ensure that a 9-1-1 emergency call can reach the right government public safety organization who has jurisdiction over the actual location of the emergency and provide information that can be used to promptly locate the person who is experiencing the emergency,” Clinch told TMCnet in an interview, printed in full below. “We also work together to provide other tools that include applications such as onsite emergency notification systems that provide in-house responsible personnel with highly relevant and actionable information.”
Throughout this National Preparedness Month of September, we’ve heard from the CDC about making emergency plans and assembling supply kits, from FEMA about developing provisions for pets and from the White House about timely responses to natural disasters and pandemics.
Yet for company decision-makers, knowing that employees are safe and that emergency responders would be able to reach their offices during day-to-day routines at work is absolutely critical, and probably is top-of-mind compared to more exotic natural disasters that may require supply kits at home.
We talked to Clinch, who blogs for Avaya, about “Response & Recovery,” a company initiative that covers anything a company might do with communications in planning for and recovering from emergencies.
Though according to Clinch, many companies take it for granted, communications is the most critical aspect of emergency response whether it’s figuring out what’s going on, making right decisions, executing on actions, keeping everyone informed and then putting everything back together after an emergency.
We talked to Clinch generally about the level of preparedness among organizations as he sees it, and about E911 in particular – including the critical role that RedSky has played for a number of years as the first E911 solutions company to take advantage of Avaya Application Programming Interfaces that allow the RedSky applications to automatically access information in the Avaya communications server products and automatically extract information.
Our exchange follows.
TMCnet: It’s startling that experts say about one-quarter of businesses that close following emergencies such as on-premise accidents do not reopen. I know you focus on government organizations, but could you help us understand the level of preparedness of businesses more generally for such emergencies?
Guy Clinch (pictured left): Actually my responsibilities for Avaya include being part of a large team of experts who work with customers in all industries to help to prepare them to deal with various types of disruptive events. Communications are at the heart of responding to emergencies. This is true whether we are talking about a localized event such as a health emergency with a single employee or visitors to a facility or more wide ranging events from weather emergencies, to network outages, to manmade and natural disasters.
Communications are the critical tool that let us know that there is a problem, help us decide what to do about it, underpin a successful execution of a response, and are at the core of how we return to civility.
Too often organizations take communications for granted. They don’t know how important it is to plan for the extraordinary. Day-to-day communications are just there, often like the air around us, but that doesn’t mean in a situation of duress that day-to-day will cut it. It is crucially important that organizations think through in advance what might happen, how people will communicate as the situation unfolds, what contingencies are in place when things don’t work out as planned and to be continually reassessing whether their assumptions are correct.
We can’t know the unknowable, but we can look at history, we can look at successes and more importantly we can use failures of the past as we build a set of adaptable tools that be applied to many diverse types of situations.
TMCnet: What are the key emergency and disaster recovery issues facing government entities? How do Avaya and RedSky address these needs?
GC: The key issues for government organizations are the key issues for any organization. Some parts of the government need to meet higher standards during emergencies because we all rely upon the government in emergencies.
Today one of the most important issues facing organizations is the fact that one aspect of the chain that links organization and government during emergencies, the public 9-1-1 system in North America, has fallen far behind the technology that is used by many commercial organizations. Although it has served North America well for over 40 years, as a society we have failed to invest in the system in order that the system may keep up with the rapid evolutions occurring in communications technologies.
Where enterprise style organizations have rapidly adopted technologies including IP Telephony that free them from a hardwired location specific connection to the Public Switched Telephone Network, the 9-1-1 system is very much tied to geography. A critical piece of information in the process of the government providing help in an emergency is the location of the caller. The assumption of the 9-1-1 system is that when someone dials 9-1-1, they will be relatively close in geography to where their call enters the PSTN from the private network of the enterprise organization.
Today, in enterprise organizations, it is highly unlikely that where the enterprise’s communication system connects to the PSTN, is going to be where the caller is physically located. An enterprise communications system may be part of a vast private network that connects to the PSTN only occasionally where multiple connections are aggregated. The 9-1-1 system, on the other hand, assumes that there will be local connections anywhere there are employees. This is seldom ever true for large organizations. The one exception is for 9-1-1 calls. Businesses who understand this challenge end up spending money on hardware, software and network access that is often used for no other purpose than awaiting a 9-1-1 call that hopefully will never have to be made.
One of the many things that Avaya and RedSky do collaboratively is provide tools that first, ensure that a 9-1-1 emergency call can reach the right government public safety organization that has jurisdiction over the actual location of the emergency and provide information that can be used to promptly locate the person who is experiencing the emergency. We also work together to provide other tools that include applications such as onsite emergency notification systems that provide in-house responsible personnel with highly relevant and actionable information.
A big part of success in emergencies is accurate and actionable information. Success is also about time: driving time out of the process of providing help. The quicker you can get the information, the faster you can make decisions and the sooner help will arrive.
TMCnet: I see you’re a member of NENA. Talk to us about how enhanced 911 solutions fit into the larger picture of emergency preparedness for organizations.
GC: Enhanced 9-1-1 systems by definition mean that when someone dials 9-1-1 public safety organizations have access to accurate information about the location of the caller. The less time that a 9-1-1 call taker in the Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) has to spend obtaining and verifying information about the location of an emergency, the sooner the trucks will roll and the sooner help will arrive for the victims. In the legacy 9-1-1 system, when a call arrives at the PSAP, the ten-digit telephone number representing the caller is used in the PSAP as a search key to query the Automatic Location Information database. The ALI database is maintained on behalf of the government by various third parties. The underlying assumption is that the ALI records accurately identify the location of any caller.
When it comes to enterprise organizations, the ALI databases - there are many maintained on behalf of the government by various third parties, contain only the information that the private organization has provided. Unlike the public network, where the telecommunications service provider is responsible to provide the information, the private organizations that own and operate enterprise communications system are responsible. Based on risk tolerance and other considerations, the private organization decides what and how much of their private information is made available to the government. Enterprise enhanced 9-1-1 systems aid in the collection of the data and often automate the update process. They work in conjunction with services including Private Switch/ALI (PS/ALI) often offered by the telecommunications service provider.
The update process is very important in today’s dynamic environments. Back in the day every phone was hard wired. If someone moved, typically, a work order would be issued and a physical move of wiring and programming changes occurred. If a phone moved, someone would know it. Today, modern protocols and connectivity options no longer require such intervention. People within enterprise organizations are constantly on the move. The challenge is tracking those moves so that the ALI database can be constantly updated. In certain environments this can be a significant amount of work if attempted manually. Enterprise Enhanced 9-1-1 systems are a significant tool in keeping up with this challenge.
TMCnet: Avaya partners with RedSky on some of its “response and recovery” initiatives. Can you talk to us about what RedSky brings to the table as an E911 solutions provider?
GC: Avaya and RedSky have been great partners for quite a number of years. RedSky was the first E911 solutions company to take advantage of Avaya Application Programming Interfaces that allow the RedSky applications to automatically access information in the Avaya communications server products and automatically extract information. For instance, RedSky’s E911 Manager is able to automatically extract location information from the Avaya Communication Manager station information database, combine that with other information taken from the organizations communications networks and automatically update the Automatic Location Information database used by public safety officials to determine the location of someone who has dialed 9-1-1 from an extension on an Avaya system. The information collected is also used for a number of real-time management tools and notification options within the enterprise.
It is a major drawback of the legacy public 9-1-1 system that it is very much tied to geography. RedSky’s E911 Anywhere Enterprise, is another collaboration that takes the functionality of E911 Manager a step further. It makes it possible to minimize the legacy need for a connection to the Public Switch Telephone Network at each physical location. The solution automatically routes calls to the proper PSAP along with detailed location information not normally available through the legacy processes. This speeds communication, improves accuracy and helps organizations control cost and complexity while doing a better job at responding to emergencies.
Other ways that the partnership between Avaya and RedSky benefits customers are advanced features that include automatic onsite emergency notification as a 9-1-1 call is made. RedSky leverages features of Avaya products to deliver accurate and actionable real-time information to responsible parties within the enterprise who can act as a first line of defense and aid official responders. Few things substitute in the improving the speed and agility of reacting to emergencies as an informed set of eyes and ears greeting the fire trucks as they roll up to the front door.
TMCnet: Finally, talk to us about Avaya’s specific E911 solution and what advantages it has over location-based services that lack “more than trunk termination” features.
GC: Avaya has multiple layers of redundant features that help customers manage emergencies and 9-1-1 calls within their organization. This is especially important as we see the rapid deployment of IP Telephony within enterprise-style organizations. In geographically distributed organizations, where employees may be located in multiple locations and multiple governmental jurisdictions (even across continents and countries), it is critically important that the 9-1-1 call be routed to the right public safety agency the first time and that the information provided be accurate.
In additional to capabilities directly related to the 9-1-1 call, Avaya Communication Manager includes over 30 features specifically designed to help organizations respond to emergencies. These features, which are included in the base price of the system, provide for actions that include automatic emergency notification, conferencing and collaboration tools, connectivity to external alerting devices and many more functions that provide tools organizations can use to increase their responsiveness to emergency situations. For more information on what Avaya has to offer, please visit the Response and Recovery microsite on Avaya.com: http://www.avaya.com/usa/solution/response-and-recovery.
Michael Dinan is a contributing editor for TMCnet, covering news in the IP communications, call center and customer relationship management industries. To read more of Michael's articles, please visit his columnist page.
Edited by Michael Dinan