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Three Years after Va. Tech Tragedy, E911 Gains Foothold in Universities


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February 02, 2010

Three Years after Va. Tech Tragedy, E911 Gains Foothold in Universities

By Michael Dinan, TMCnet Editor

It’s been nearly three years since a senior English major at Virginia Tech sent shockwaves and fear through the nation when he shot and killed 32 people on campus before killing himself – a tragic, horrific event that’s been called the deadliest peacetime shooting incident by a single gunman in U.S. history.

Among the many outcomes of the tragedy was a second-look by universities at their own emergency notification systems. Like many enterprises, hospitals and schools, university campuses often are spread out across different buildings and locations, making it impossible – without the help of increasingly popular technologies known as “enhanced 911” – for dispatchers who answer 9-1-1 calls to pinpoint the whereabouts of distressed callers.
That’s because universities often rely on IP voice, non-DID communications, and a single phone number that feeds into a larger group of extensions within an organization can often send just one street address to Public Safety Answer Points, or “PSAPs.” In the event of a 9-1-1 emergency, responders arriving at this address may well be at the wrong building. E911 addresses the problem by using location-based technology to help determine the specific whereabouts of 9-1-1 callers and speed response time.
One of the schools that took note following the April 2007 tragedy at Virginia Tech was The George Washington University, which includes two Washington, D.C.-based campuses, as well as one in Loudoun, Va.
Recently, in a Webinar hosted by E911 solutions provider RedSky Technologies, the head of voice communications at GW, C. Hope Singleton, described the wake-up call and cultural shift in emergency communications that the university underwent.
“We’ve always known we needed to do more, because of course, before E911 we were not sending any location information out the PSAP, but then the Virginia Tech shooting made it a more urgent and timely manner,” Singleton said during the Webinar, titled “E911 Webinar for Educational Institutions: Universities, Colleges, and Large School Districts.”
GW needed to upgrade for many reasons, primarily safety. The state of Virginia also was in the process of developing legislation (in effect since July 1, 2009) – as more and more states are –that required all PBXs or multi-line telephone systems installed after July 1 to provide automatic number and location information to a local PSAP for all 911 calls, unless alternate methods have been approved. The Old Dominion State’s E911 law ranks among the more comprehensive measures yet passed, as it targets both residential and business MLTS.
The university’s needs are significant. It has more than 17,000 data connections, 15,000 voice connections, 5,000 video connections, and 400 production servers. GW also has more than 4.6 million calls placed to and from the university each month, and more than 13.2 million e-mails are sent – and 6.8 million received – each month.
After vetting several companies involved in E911, GW settled on Chicago-based RedSky (News - Alert), which works closely with Avaya (News - Alert), a leading provider of communications.
Though GW still has some tweaking to do for its system – it’s now fully compliant with state law and, more importantly, far safer than it was.
“All of our calls are placed to the (local) PSAP and they get the automatic station location information,” she said.
During the Webinar, Singleton details the progress that GW has made in the area of E911 and discusses lessons learned during the process. A regional director of sales for RedSky, Alicea Grau, also talks about options for large-campus universities and schools at other levels.
The full Webinar is available for free here.

Michael Dinan is a group managing editor for TMCnet, overseeing TMCnet's Web editorial team and covering news in the IP communications, CRM and VoIP industries. He also oversees production of e-Newsletters in the areas of 4G wireless technology and smart products. To read more of Michael's articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Michael Dinan

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