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The recent coronavirus global pandemic has led to organizations rapidly instituting telework programs or, in some cases, mandating it. With an increasing number of employees now working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, how can IT leaders ensure teleworkers making a call to 911 reach the right public safety answering point and that first responders are dispatched to the right location?
Unfortunately, in recent years, far too many emergency responders have been sent to the wrong location after receiving a 911 call. At a minimum, these errors can delay the arrival of critical care and, in the worst-case scenario, lead to loss of life. With the rapidly increasing remote workforce, IT leaders must ensure that remote workers using company-provided calling platforms are able to reach the correct local 911 answering point and that the 911 operator receives accurate caller location information.
Organizations usually adopt one of three approaches to support telework:
- Provisioning home equipment, including desktop phones and routers, that enable remote workers to connect to phone systems hosted in the enterprise data center. Typically, this involves use of a VPN to secure connectivity between the home worker's residence and the enterprise network.
- Using softphones, either with built-in Secure Sockets Layer (SSL)/Transport Layer Security (TLS) encryption or with the use of a software VPN, to connect the teleworker to the enterprise phone system, which is hosted in the enterprise data center.
- Utilizing cloud-based telephony or unified communications as a service (UCaaS) offerings via desktop phones or softphones -- typically using SSL/TLS to connect the home worker to the cloud provider's network.
Addressing Kari's Law phone system challenges
No matter the deployment model, the enterprise must ensure users' locations are accurately mapped to their phone numbers and 911 calls are routed to the proper Enhanced 911 (E911) public safety answering point (PSAP) with the correct user location information. To comply with the recently enacted Kari's Law, for phone systems deployed after Feb. 16, 2020, organizations must make sure individuals can directly dial 911 without having to first dial a prefix, such as an 8 or 9, to reach an outside line. Phone systems also must notify appropriate security personnel when a 911 call is placed.
Meeting the challenge of complying with Kari's Law can be problematic, especially when using VPNs. Most phone system vendors -- whether on premises or cloud -- support dynamic address location management, at least for a softphone that enables the client to detect if it has changed location. Systems need to automatically update the location management database if the system recognizes the new location or prompts users to confirm or enter their locations. Some vendors will even validate the address entered to eliminate the chance that a user mistyped the address.
As workers change locations, this information is not always uploaded to the appropriate PSAP databases in real time, meaning there may be a gap where workers' phone numbers are associated with their primary office locations, not their home locations.
Understanding providers' 911 capabilities
To overcome these issues, enterprises must understand the capabilities of their phone system vendors. Some have native capabilities -- or capabilities delivered via partners -- to detect changes even when using a VPN and ensure accurate 911 call routing and location sharing. In other cases, enterprises may obtain equivalent services from third-party 911 location management and call routing service providers, such as Intrado, RedSky and others, or from their Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) trunking providers that provide real-time location management and accurate 911 call routing.
For those using public switched telephone network connectivity provided by UCaaS providers, call location management and 911 call routing are handled by the cloud provider. It is important to understand the capabilities of the provider to be able to quickly recognize location changes so calls are routed to the correct PSAP with accurate caller location information. Those using their own SIP trunking services via bring your own carrier connectivity to their UCaaS provider should look at 911 call routing and location management capabilities available from their SIP trunking providers or consider the use of a third-party 911 location management and call routing provider.
Alternatively, some organizations are relying only on cellphones for remote workers. In this case, call location tracking and PSAP routing are handled by the mobile carrier.
If you are moving rapidly into the world of telework, make sure that your planning includes ensuring that your employees can reach the correct PSAP and the PSAP operator has access to accurate caller location information. Failure to ensure proper 911 call handling puts your employees and your organization at risk.