command center (Gorodenkoff/Shutterstock.com)

INDUSTRY INSIGHT

It’s time we bring enterprise 911 service into the 21st century

What’s more important than conveying the most accurate and complete information to emergency responders so the right resources get to the right place as quickly as possible? Unfortunately, underlying legacy communications network architectures don’t always deliver precise location data for 911 calls made from the workplace or allow for the transmission of critical situational data that can mean the difference between life and death. 

How is this possible when we can order a pizza and have it delivered to our blanket on the beach or collaborate via live video with remote colleagues and simultaneously edit a document in real time?  It's because, while mobile apps and enterprise communications have moved forward at lightning speed, 911 technology has remained stagnant for over 20 years.

Yet change is coming, as communications networks and systems that provision

911 service are being rebuilt to support advanced capabilities “in-band.”  Meantime, enterprises can leverage solutions available today that provide these same capabilities “out-of-band,” or “over-the-top” of the legacy infrastructure -- enabling better 911 support at a lower price point than enterprises currently pay for the less-robust service.

The challenges enterprises face with respect to 911 cost and capability boil down to a few key circumstances. The 911 system was built for a fixed infrastructure, before the ubiquitous adoption of mobility, and 911 call centers still rely on systems deployed a generation ago, which inhibits information processing speed and options.

Here’s what this means for enterprises:

  • Because phone numbers and locations directly correlate, enterprises pay for 911 service for every landline phone port, driving a significant expenditure.
  • 911 operators receive location data from landline calls, but not to the precision of a floor or a room within a building. Operators depend on the caller to provide additional context, but circumstances may not allow it, leaving operators to guess about the situation.
  • As employees move about a building or campus, their mobile phones offer limited value in an emergency. When indoors, phones cannot access and transmit GPS data. When outdoors, the 911 network cannot extract GPS data. Because GPS relies on triangulated data from nearby cell towers, location may be off by hundreds of yards.

Addressing these shortcomings requires a re-intersection of enterprise communications and 911 technology. Today's IP-based enterprise communications networks offer support for IP devices (landline or mobile) and can bifurcate the emergency call from the phone number, while also sharing a wealth of situational awareness data, including location, contextual emergency codes, environmental information and more. The next-generation 911 (NG911) network will deliver technology re-intersection by handling this wealth of input. But bringing the network online takes time. We cannot afford to wait.

Fortunately, next-generation storage repositories in the cloud bridge the gap. These innovative solutions can accept input from a variety of sources at virtually any interval. They can receive onboard location and other available data from the operating systems and apps of employees’ smartphones. They can also get building floor plans and other information from an intelligent enterprise communications network.  Because any IP device can transmit codes that convey critical data, the possibilities are limitless.

That means when 911 operators receive an emergency call, they can access these external databases “out-of-band” in real-time to obtain the freshest, most relevant content.  In this manner, enterprises and 911 personnel work together to make optimal command and control decisions based on true situational awareness -- without the need for additional voice input from the caller.

Enterprises can protect themselves and their employees, and potentially significantly reduce their operating expenses for 911 service, by upgrading to a communications network solution that:

  • Offers flexible configuration and programming options to gather robust, multimedia, multimodal situational awareness data and secure it with strong access control and resiliency.
  • Manages data intelligently enough to eliminate the need for 911 service to be tied to every landline phone port. By aggregating 911 service to fewer ports and taking advantage of situational awareness data, enterprises can realize dramatic cost savings.
  • Supports the open protocols and application programming interfaces necessary to integrate with external, cloud-based repositories “over-the-top” to share that data.
  • Accounts for NG911 network development standards, allowing for a seamless switch to “in-band” communication with the NG911 network when it comes online, thereby future-proofing the enterprise’s investment.

NG911 isn’t something that can be bought and plugged into an existing public safety network.  Simply adding new technology to old infrastructure doesn’t magically make it a next-generation solution. With right solution, however, there’s no reason why enterprises can’t immediately benefit from 21st century 911 service – even before NG911 is fully deployed. 

About the Author

Chris Meilhammer is the chief operating officer at Tyto Athene.

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