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Enterprise 911 services need proper call routing, user tracking

Mobile workers and government rules could force enterprises to enhance their 911 services. In particular, call routing and employee-location management are key issues.

Picture this: An employee is working at a remote site, sitting in a conference room, and suddenly has symptoms of a heart attack. Another employee calls 911. But instead of the call going to the nearest 911 dispatcher, the call is routed thousands of miles away to the wrong operator, chewing up precious seconds before the error is discovered and EMTs are dispatched.

Sound far-fetched? This type of scenario has, in fact, occurred. So, if 911 services and call management are not high on your list of priorities, they should be -- and quickly.

Managing 911 call routing and end-user location tracking is becoming more difficult. Workers, for instance, are shifting from fixed desktop phones to mobile phones and softphones, and from offices to open workspaces and telework.

Additionally, many states have enacted or are considering legislation requiring IP-PBX operators, including private organizations, to provide detailed location information to 911 call centers, also known as public safety answering points, or PSAPs.

Relatedly, after an incident in Texas where a child in a hotel room was unable to dial 911 because she needed to dial 9 first, many states have adopted or are considering Kari's Law, which allows callers to reach a 911 operator without dialing an outside line access code.

Location management, call routing are key in 911 services

Solving the 911 challenge requires IT organizations to adopt policies and platforms that track user locations in real time; map locations to street addresses, offices, floors and cubicles; route 911 calls to the proper PSAP; and provide location information that supports Enhanced 911 (E911) rules established by the Federal Communications Commission. Unfortunately, many organizations are still encumbered by manual processes and lack 911 management capabilities that support softphone users. 

A successful 911 services strategy addresses two distinct components: location management and call routing.

For location management, most organizations start with capabilities provided by their unified communications platform vendor. These capabilities are usually very basic and require manual management of known location databases, mapping of phone numbers to emergency response locations and typically won't support multivendor environments. Some platforms may require a specific type of wireless LAN access point to track voice over Wi-Fi users. 

Many organizations lack 911 management capabilities that support softphone users.

Addressing these complexities usually requires investing in dedicated E911 location-tracking platforms, such as RedSky and West Corp. Typically, these platforms conduct frequent network scans, register and update locations for logins from softphone users, and maintain location databases in near-real time.

For call routing, 911 calls need to go to the proper PSAP. In this case, enterprises can normally take three approaches: Invest in local lines and route 911 calls to the local PSAP; leverage SIP trunking service providers to route 911 calls to the proper PSAP; or buy a third-party service that manages PSAP call routing. 

Typically, SIP trunking providers only support the passing of street address information. So, providing more detailed data -- such as office floor or number -- will require investing in third-party, call-routing services.

Next-Generation 911 services on the horizon

Justifying an E911 investment is usually based on offsetting risk of misrouted calls or providing wrong location information to PSAPs. Often, there isn't a choice, since local regulations require investments in E911 management capabilities to ensure compliance. 

In some cases, organizations can justify the cost of using a third-party, call-routing service by eliminating local lines for outbound 911 calls. Additionally, many 911 management vendors offer features such as sending notifications to security desks, supporting three-way calling to loop security personnel into 911 calls and protecting against misdialed 911 calls. Some vendors even maintain their own call centers that answer calls even when no location information is available.

In the future, efforts such as the National Emergency Number Association's initiative around Next-Generation 911 (NG911) should simplify the process of managing location information by enabling endpoints to maintain and transmit their location during a 911 call. This kind of capability could also support texting. 

IT leaders should stay abreast of NG911, as well as local regulatory changes to ensure they can route calls to the proper answering point with data necessary to enable first responders to easily locate the caller.

Next Steps

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