Accessing emergency services by dialing 9-1-1 is a critical component of public safety and emergency preparedness. But reports about consumers being unable to access life-saving emergency services using Voice over Internet Protocol services are emerging, reflecting a major gap in the public safety sector.
As such, the Federal Communications Commission has imposed certain Enhanced 911, or E911 obligations on providers of “interconnected” VoIP services to help close that gap. Interconnected VoIP services include those that use the Public Switched Telephone Network, including wireless networks, to originate and terminate calls. E911 systems automatically give emergency service personnel a 911 caller’s call back number and, in most cases, location information.
In May 2005, the FCC (News - Alert) enacted rules that require providers of interconnected VoIP services, which let a user receive calls from and make calls to the traditional telephone network, to supply 911 emergency calling capabilities to customers as a mandatory feature of the service by November of that year. The FCC rules mandate that interconnected VoIP providers must:
* Deliver all 911 calls to the local emergency call center;
* Deliver the customer’s call back number and location information where the emergency call center is capable of receiving it.
*Inform customers of the capabilities and limitations of their VoIP 911 service.
Taking things a step further, the FCC and the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners formed the Joint Federal/State VoIP Enhanced 911 Enforcement Task Force to propel compliance with and enforcement of the FCC’s VoIP 911 rules.
The task force’s mission is to develop educational materials to ensure consumers understand their rights and the requirements of the FCC’s VoIP 911 Order, develop appropriate compliance and enforcement strategies, compile data and share best practices. The task force includes staff from the FCC and State Public Utility Commissions, which will work with the National Emergency Number Association, the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials and state and local 911 authorities.
Yet officials from an Everett, Wash.-based provider of E911 hosted solutions said that adding VoIP only further complicates the issue of attempting to tie an accurate geographical location to a 9-1-1 call.
“The problem that IP telephony presents for E911 continues to push the urgency of the need for a total E911 solution, whether it be for VoIP or for traditional PBX’s (News - Alert),” Karina Yandell, manager of corporate development, for 911 ETC told TMCnet. “The current lack of accurate location information for outgoing 9-1-1 calls made from K-12 schools, universities, small businesses that are multi-level or have warehouse space, and large multi-site enterprises is a problem that has existed for years, and should be alarming to the general public.”
Recently, Yandell spoke with a small business owner who had an employee dial 9-1-1 because he experienced chest pains from his cubicle. The employee didn’t alert his co-workers over fear of creating a scene. By the time emergency responders arrived, the employee couldn’t meet them out front as he planned. To complicate matters, the receptionist didn’t know where to send emergency responders because the only location information tied to the 911 call was the building address.
“This lack of accurate information has resulted in tragedy in the past, and is honestly a disaster waiting to happen,” Yandell said. “The same level of E911 protection we have from our own homes simply does not exist for our children in their schools, or in our own workplaces.”
But technology has kept pace. E911 solutions, whether for traditional PBX, VoIP, or a hybrid situation from companies like 911 ETC, are easily accessible and affordable for schools, hospitals, enterprises and SMBs.
And despite the challenges VoIP poses to 9-1-1 calls, there is an upside.
“The positive side to VoIP complicating the issue is that it is finally sounding the alarm to the problem that has existed all along whenever a multi-line telephone system is in place, Yandell said. “Many states now have legislation in place holding the MLTS owners responsible, and several more are poised to follow suit. Cities, schools, hotels, hospitals, small businesses and large corporations are all finally fully realizing the extent of the existing problem and taking measures to implement a solution that provides the protection their employees, children, patients and guests deserve.”
Amy Tierney is a Web editor for TMCnet, covering business communications Her areas of focus include conferencing, SIP, Fax over IP, unified communications and telepresence. Amy also writes about education and healthcare technology, overseeing production of e-Newsletters on those topics as well as communications solutions and UC. To read more of Amy's articles, please visit her columnist page.
Edited by Amy Tierney