E911? Yeah, there's an App for that . . . .

ask, you have to stop and think about the full impact of these apps.

When we are confronted with emergent situation, we have been trained, repeatedly, to pick up the phone and dial 911 in an emergency for help or assistance. We know that on the other end of the line will be a trained public safety representative that will be able to assess our immediate needs, quickly determine and verify our location, and dispatch the appropriate help. Now I'll admit, at times there are a few chinks in the armor but for the most part the system, and those that operate it, work flawlessly and save countless of lives each and every year.

On one hand, you don't want to rock the boat, and change a good habit (calling 911) that seems to have become embedded in our culture. On the other hand, the simple fact is, every day we are making less and less "calls" and the "telephone" is only one of a myriad of devices that we use to communicate with each other.

The amount of cellular originated E911 calls is staggering. Some cities estimate the ratio of cellular to land line calls being as high as being 70%. According to a recent CTIA report in 2010 there were 296,000 calls per day to 911, or just over 108 million for the year. Looking specifically at cellular device deployments, a Nielsen report from earlier this year, 40% of cellular phones deployed today are smart phones.


That means that nearly 120,000 people each and every day are calling 911 from a device that is capable of sending intelligent data in addition to standard voice and caller ID to the PSAP.

In the past I've seen applications that were primarily designed to replace 911, and for the most part these applications have not been embraced by public safety. Usually, Public Safety takes the position that in order for the 911 call taker to do their job in the best possible way, that call needs to come into the 911 center on 911 trunks, and the only way to do that on today's network is by dialing 911. Any other system, needs to be uniform nationally, which is the whole purpose behind 911. It's a universal number that works verywhere the same way.

Recently though, there is been a new breed of applications making their way into the market. The difference with these new applications is that their goal is not to replace calling 911; their goal is to enhance the data that a 911 call taker has access to. This is done through a parallel communication path, that is not part of the primary 911 call path. Basically, if the data is there as allowed by the user, and public safety is able to access it, then it's available. If not, you have those same level of functionality that you get with any other call to 911 today.

If you apply this thinking to Enterprise users and their PBX, this is a little slice of technology that public safety can use, that does not burden the enterprise with additional costs for maintaining that data in the PS-ALI database.

Historically, enterprise users have had to pay additional the LEC additional tarriffs, to have their data stored, or to even pass station or zone level caller ID to 911 call takers to provide explicit location data within a campus or a building, even though this capability already exists and is commonly used for non-E911 calls, as I noted in my Podcast last week regarding a new filing by the Administrative Law Judge that is presiding over the California Public Utilities Commission initiatives on E911 in that state.


Using services like Smart911, ShareWith911 and others that are sure to be cropping up, carriers will be selling a service that you can get elsewhere for free. The interesting part is this has been tried in the past, without success mind you. But the lack of success was not due to a technology that didn't work. The lack of success was due to the lack of adoption by public safety officials.

There was a day, not too long ago, when access to the Internet and e-mail were viewed as specialty type items not meant for the common man. Yet today, if we don't have access to these for even minutes, the results are catastrophic as we find ourselves alone and unconnected in a fast-moving, hyper connected world.

In addition to this, there is the natural turnover of the people in charge. I feel that I'm a person that is "tuned in" to today's technology, yet in October this year, I'll be 50 - geez that's a scary thought!

New ideas, new technologies, or just a change in the way we do things may be more palatable to those in the driver seat with control of the budget. A year ago, I wouldn't even think about writing a Blog on this topic. But here in the fall of 2011, it's not only relevant, if necessary to move public safety communications into the next generation.


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