What you never knew about IoT – and were afraid to ask

What you never knew about IoT – and were afraid to ask

Every year the IT industry has to come up with a new acronym for some new technology that technology writers expound upon. Clearly, the undisputed winner for 2016, has to be nothing other than, “IoT – the Internet of Things.”


AN AUDIO VERSION OF THIS BLOG IS AVAILABLE ON SoundCloud Here:

Forbes, an obvious reputable resource, defines IoT as, “connecting any device with an on and off switch to the Internet (and/or to each other)”, TechTarget basically agrees with Forbes, but puts their own spin by adding in animals or people as long as they have, “unique identifiers and the ability to transfer data over a network.” So, this means that my pet Bengal, Diego, could be an IoT device if he was on the net and by definition, I myself are an Internet of Thing device. That’s a scary thought.

Of course, for the real truth, we need to go to Wikipedia. Here we’ll find an answer that is somewhat in the middle, and in my opinion, correct. The great Wiki says the Internet of Things is, “the network of physical devices, vehicles, buildings and other items—embedded with electronics, software, sensors, actuators, and network connectivity that enable these objects to collect and exchange data.”

Taking a step back from all of this, looking at commonality in the definitions we find the following criteria making up IoT:

  • Physical electronic device (potentially connected to an animal)
  • Connected to the network (ideally the Internet is assumed)
  • Communicates with neighboring devices (contributing and consuming information)

Assuming that basic premise is true and correct, what exactly does this mean for the enterprise IT professional? First and foremost, it means that anything and everything is going to be on the network. Initially this will create a massive drive towards IPv6, as a MAC address signifies the unique identifiers required in the basic networking communications architecture. One potential detour around the massive migration to IPv6 devices, would be to use a networking technology such as the Avaya Shortest Path Bridging fabric architecture to isolate islands of IPv4 devices, and segregate them from the public wide area network with an IPv6 to IPv4 Gateway device.

This is nothing new to IT professionals, and the construct has been used with public IP addresses versus private IP addresses in the past. Just think of how many consumer grade routers have been sold that handout 192.168.1.X addresses in our homes. Part of the job of the router is to segregate those IP addresses effectively hiding them from the WAN.

CONNECTIVITY

So we now know the devices are going to exist, and they’re going to show up on our networks. In fact, based on a recent report by research firm International Data Corporation (IDC), the spending on IoT in the U.S. alone is slated to grow at a 16.1% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) through 2019 reaching an estimated $357 billion, according to a recent article.

MANAGEMENT

With these devices now present on our network, they need to be managed. We need to understand where they are, what they are, what data they’re consuming, and what data they’re creating. Imagine, if every light switch in your facility suddenly became an Ethernet connected temperature sensor, the microbursts of data that 1000 devices may produce, could potentially cause traffic contention for critical data required to run your business. So, while it would be very convenient to know ambient temperatures in each individual room, as well as the status of the ambient lighting, possibly combined with measurements of the lumens in the room, that information can’t conflict with the credit card transactions or other sensitive information required to keep the doors open and customers happy.

We already see this today, with video networks. They have replaced the coaxial based camera network with IP Cat6 cabling, but it remains a completely separate infrastructure with home runs back to the video head-end. Why not put the cameras on the network? “It won’t handle the multicast traffic from the cameras, and the overall network would suffer,” is the most common answer. With the right network topology and architecture, this is no longer true, Avaya Fabric solved this issue years ago, as proven at InterOp.

SECURITY

With potentially tens of thousands of devices now present on your network, security remains as a number one concern, but that concern is exacerbated by the sheer number of additional “touch points” to your networking infrastructure. For example, take the breach that retail giant Target experienced when their HVAC system was compromised. This gave hackers a convenient on-ramp to the network, where they proceeded to gain access to information that was assumed to be secure. While several failures in security can be attributed to this, the primary cause was the Layer 1 physical access entry point that was compromised.

Security is driving new fundamental functions that were considered a “nice to have” at one point in time. In order to manage this perfect storm of device influx into the network, as well as the number of BYOD devices appearing every day, network connectivity, especially wireless connectivity, cannot be taken for granted. Even the smallest enterprise will need to consider Identity Engine functionality within their network to manage devices that show up, both expected and unexpectedly, and be able to detect and mitigate any rogue device presence that is perceived as a potential threat. For example, even though Target was compromised through the HVAC system, shouldn’t the network have noticed the thermostats talking to the secure customer information databases? That abnormal traffic flow should have been detected, and the questionable device should have been moved into a Virtual Service ID where it was isolated from other areas on the network. This would’ve allowed human intervention and approval or denial of the communications.

ANALYTICS

An area that needs to be improved upon within the enterprise corporate network is the analytics applied to the network performance. Once again, functions that were considered a “nice-to-have” at one point in time, are now critical to day-to-day operations. The sheer number of devices, the amount of big data that’s being produced, and information from the identity management system all need to be examined, historically catalogued, and then referenced during future operations. If a device or process falls out of the normal scope, where a device starts generating traffic flows that are in excess of what they are expected to be generating, various thresholds are exceeded, the device or process is isolated, and human intervention is applied either stopping the device, or verifying its purpose and  creating a new rule that allows the anticipated behavior.

CONCLUSION

I don’t believe there’s a single industry that is not affected by this new trend. Smartphones have become so ubiquitous; their level of connectivity has become persistent. As we roam around going about our daily business, we are constantly connecting, disconnecting, and reconnecting to various networks and hotspots. We often don’t pay attention to our online status, and honeypot phishing is at an all-time high. Like it or not, the devices we carry are part of the Internet of Things. Not only do the networks need to protect themselves from the multitude of devices touching them, consumers also need to be conscious of what their devices are touching!

“HEY! Get that network out of your mouth! You have no idea where it’s been!”

Follow me on Twitter @Fletch911
Read my other AVAYA CONNECTED Blogs

Mark J. Fletcher, ENP is the Chief Architect for Worldwide Public Safety Solutions at Avaya. As a seasoned professional with nearly 30 years of service, he directs the strategic roadmap for Next Generation Emergency Services in both the Enterprise and Government portfolios at Avaya. In 2014, Fletcher was made a member of the NENA Institute Board in the US, in 2014 – 2015 he served as co-chair of the EENA NG112 Committee in the European Union, providing valuable insight to State and Federal legislators globally driving forward both innovation and compliance.

999 – The history of the ‘Hooter’

999 – The history of the ‘Hooter’

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While the digits 9-1-1 win the popularity contest for the most popular emergency service globally, the very first emergency number ever to be put into circulation was ‘across the pond’ in London on June 30, 1937, by British Telecom.

As is typically the case it, the need for the service was inspired by a disaster involving to tragic loss of several lives. In November of 1935, five women died during a fire on Wimpole Street. As the story goes, neighbors who saw the fire, tried desparately to report it by dialing zero and asking the operator for the fire services. This method for summoning the fire department had been the long standard practice since 1927. Unfortunately, on this particular occasion, the telephone operator switchboard had been particularly jammed with non-emergency calls; therefore the emergency callers were unable to get through to report the emergency.

General-post-office-logoThe General Post Office, who at the time ran the telephone network in London, decided that a new, easy to remember three-digit number was needed, allowing citizens to reach emergency services quickly. Ensuring calls received the appropriate level of priority by BT operators; an alert signal would be triggered indicating the emergency call. Using the latest technology available in the late 1930’s, a flashing light accompanied by an audio device -dubbed as a “Hooter”.

I’ll give you all a moment to recover from your snickering – All done? Great, then let’s continue with today’s history lesson.

The trigger for the lights and their accompanying Hooter was the number 9-9-9. If you are a tech history geek like myself and are interested in the full story behind choosing 999 as the number, Gary Holland from the BBC wrote an interesting article on this very topic telling the entire story.

Logo_112_20100929Currently, across the European Union member states, 112 is recognized as the official emergency number, and along with 911 are recommended by the IETF as the preferred primary emergency numbers. Despite 112 being in place, in most places, the historical and legacy numbers continue to operate. According to EENA the European Emergency Number Association, technology is not always the primary concern. The most troubling hindrance is the lack of knowledge by citizens. Even though 112 has been the EU-wide emergency number for some time, according to recent surveys, only single-digit percentage growths have been seen over the past several years with three out of four European citizens still not aware that they can dial 112 all over Europe.

PBX or MLTS administrators, when addressing their emergency call dialing, should examine their user base and understand the need to support additional emergency numbers. 911 and 9-911 are distinct entries in your emergency dialing tables, but if you find that you have a large employee base that includes folks from Europe, it would be wise or to provision 112 and 9-112 or 999 and 9-999 as valid dialing patterns in the PBX as well. Just make sure that you translate anything that is not 911 to the digits 911 as today’s landline carrier networks are likely not provisioned to recognize emergency numbers beyond 911.

Oddly enough, this isn’t the case on most cellular networks today. In fact, not only does my iPhone understand 911 is an emergency number, others such as 112, 999, 000, 114 and 118, and likely several others, are treated the same. Dialing any of these will put the device into “emergency mode”, invoking functionality or disabling others as defined by the carrier profile. The phone never actually ‘dials’ anything, it merely indicates to the network that the user is making an emergency call. This mechanism is how multiple numbers are all supported and translated to the proper emergency service in the country where you are located.

In turn, the network then connects me as if I had dialed 911, or the appropriate local emergency number, directly.

DISCLAIMER: 
PLEASE TAKE MY WORD ON THIS, AND TRUST ME THAT THIS WORKS.
DO NOT TRY TO TEST THIS YOURSELF. YOU’LL SIMPLY TIE UP EMERGENCY LINES WITH NON-EMERGENCY TRAFFIC, PUTTING LIVES AT RISK. THE 9-1-1 OPERATOR WILL NOT SEE ANYTHING DIFFERENT THAN IF YOU DIAL 9-1-1, THE NORMAL EMERGENCY NUMBER, OR EVEN KNOW THAT YOU HAVE DIALED ANYTHING DIFFERENTLY.

As we move forward with new communication technologies and modalities, SIP will be the primary protocol used for transport. Based on this, phone numbers will become less and less relevant, and an endpoint or destination name will replace it. My identity, and how to reach me will shift from 908-848-2602 to something more like my email address FletcherM@Avaya.com. Which is another reason why routing emergency calls based on telephone numbers is an archaic construct that does not fit the next generation 911 model, and we must STOP relying on phone numbers as a location cross-reference.

While the people that manage those databases have the financial incentive to keep customers locked into this irrelevant technology, maintaining phone number to location correlation, there’s far too much automation, complexity, and expense associated with that to remain as the right way forward.

Emergency services need to be able to migrate to simply “SOS” as an emergency destination address, and location information needs to be conveyed in the PIDF-LO location object in the SIP header. If the financial model has to change for some providers, then so be it; these folks must learn to adapt, or cease their operations. We are talking about life safety services, and profits need to be put on the back burner. While there is nothing wrong with cost recovery of sensible technology, 9-1-1 is not a license to steal.

Does 911 Work in Government Buildings?

Does 911 Work in Government Buildings?

On February 22nd, 2012, President Obama signed H.R. 3630, also known as the Middle-Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012  into  law. In this Act, under Section 6504 -REQUIREMENTS FOR MULTILINE TELEPHONE SYSTEMS- it  states explicitly that “[T]he Administrator of General Services, in conjunction with the Office, shall issue a report to Congress identifying the 911 capabilities of the multiline telephone system in use by all federal agencies in all federal buildings and properties.” The GSA, in addition to being the purchasing arm of the US Government, is the agency responsible for constructing, managing, and preserving government buildings by leasing and managing commercial real estate. According to their website, http://gsa.gov, the agency also promotes management best practices and efficient government operations through the development of government-wide policies, and their mission is “[T]o deliver the best value in real estate, acquisition, and technology services to government and the American people.” In total, they are responsible for nearly 10,000 federally owned or leased buildings, all of which would have been covered by the aforementioned GSA report that was required by Congress. It only seems logical that the US Government, a large Enterprise in itself, would have the same concerns that commercial businesses have with proper 911 access from Federal Buildings.

The Dog Ate my Homework

As of Saturday, June 18, 2016, that report remains 1308 days (three years and seven months) past due. The Act also required that no later than 90 days after the date of enactment, a notice is issued seeking comment from MLTS manufacturers on the feasibility of including within all systems manufactured mechanisms to provide sufficiently precise indications of a 911 callers location.

MLTS manufacturers have long since responded with features and functionality to address emergency calling from these types of systems systems, and most, if not all, contain the basic capabilities to deal with the situation, requiring add-on functionality for only the more complex environments. There still remains, however, a lack of awareness and in many cases these features are not properly configured or  implemented. This simple lack of awareness leaves many government employees at risk. History has proven time and time again that this problem knows no boundaries  affecting schools, businesses, hotels, and any other facility where a multi-line telephone system is used. While admittedly, surveying all 9,600 properties reportedly under the control of GSA, the mandate ordered in this Law was not to remediate the problem; the mandate was to produce a report on the scope and expanse on the problem.

What You Don’t Know MAY Hurt You

It is only with the information from this report that the facts become well understood, and assessments of the risk can be made. If nothing else, awareness of the problem will be raised.  Despite the current situation, has every new facility opened or upgraded in the past three years had this situation addressed? Likely not. The problem is well known, and documented, and to ignore it at this point is simply foolish and borderline egregious.

Case in point, the Federal Communications Commission headquarters building in Washington, DC itself was noncompliant and unable to dial 911 directly, as reported by FCC Commissioner Michael O’Reilly in his June 2, 2014, blog. Commissioner O’Reilly reported, “Our employees and any visitors must dial 9-911 to reach help in an emergency.  I asked that the agency look into options for fixing this problem.  Since then, we have learned how simple reprogramming our telephone system would be.” A short time later, Chairman Tom Wheeler ordered the system to be reprogrammed, and FCC staff are now able to dial 911 directly.

This glaring lack of compliance for basic emergency calling could have been noted on a report issued by the GSA on multiline telephone system capabilities for emergency calling, had they produced one. But unfortunately, they did not, and as of this point that report is more than a year and a half overdue. How many other buildings suffer this same ailment? Likely many if history in the Enterprise space is any indicator.

fcc-commissioner-ajit-pai-cropOn March 11, 2015, FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai sent a letter to acting GSA Administrator Denise Turner Roth asking about the status of this report directly requested by Congress, and as part of the Law enacted with HR 3630. At the time the letter was sent, the report was 843 days overdue, yet to this date, there has been nothing but silence from the GSA. One has to wonder, if we need to wait for another tragedy to occur, and an innocent life lost before we recognize this simple problem and address it? The other burning questions are; Why is the GSA withholding this information? Have they done any work at all in the past 3 1/2 years? Are they worried that they are so out of compliance that a considerable expense would be required to correct the issue?

Is is Broken? Then FIX IT!

If the GSA is responsible for facilities and the technology, I am sure this also includes maintenance coverage for ‘break-fix’ matters that come up from time to time. I will offer the point of view that if my phone system will not dial 911 effectively and report the proper information to local emergency services personnel, then that system is broken, and should be fixed. We can no longer ignore this critical life safety issue. Additionally, how bold do you have to be to ignore a formal request by an FCC Commissioner? Obviously, brave enough to also overlook a mandated order by the U.S. Congress, as designated by Federal law.

One also has to wonder, where is the US GAO in all of this? This independent, nonpartisan agency works for Congress and is often called the “congressional watchdog,” part of their job is to investigate how the federal government spends taxpayer dollars. If MLTS systems were purchased, and not able to dial 911, I would imagine that could be argued as a point of dispute, between the US Government and the supplier. At least for any system purchased and installed after Congress passed the bill and it became law.

Who’s shoulders does this fall on? According to their web page, the head of GAO, the Comptroller General of the United States, is appointed to a 15-year term by the President from a slate of candidates Congress proposes. Gene L. Dodaro became the eighth Comptroller General of the United States and head of the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) on December 22, 2010, when he was confirmed by the United States Senate. He was nominated by President Obama in September of 2010 from a list of candidates selected by a bipartisan, bicameral congressional commission. He had been serving as Acting Comptroller General since March of 2008.

Who Let the Dog Out? No One

If the GAO is the “Congressional watchdog”, shouldn’t they look into this issue? I believe so. Transparency, openly ignoring authority, and failure to perform tasks that are legally obligated seems to be something that would be right in their wheelhouse.

Follow me on Twitter @Fletch911
Read my other AVAYA CONNECTED Blogs

Mark J. Fletcher, ENP is the Chief Architect for Worldwide Public Safety Solutions at Avaya. As a seasoned professional with nearly 30 years of service, he directs the strategic roadmap for Next Generation Emergency Services in both the Enterprise and Government portfolios at Avaya. In 2014, Fletcher was made a member of the NENA Institute Board in the US, in 2014 – 2015 he served as co-chair of the EENA NG112 Committee in the European Union, providing valuable insight to State and Federal legislators globally driving forward both innovation and compliance.

 

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Memorial Day, celebrated each year on the last Monday of May, is to remember and honor those who have died while serving their country in the armed services. They gave the ultimate sacrifice for our country and our freedom.

THANK YOU. . .

 

Why cellular 911 has location problems

Why cellular 911 has location problems

For those of you who read my regular Blog here, I am happy (and proud) to announce that Network World has graciously given me a regular Blog on the Network World site.

I will not be duplicating content from this blog. The Network World content will be all original. Also I will not be posting the NWW content here, but will provide a brief synopsis of the NWW content a day or so after it is published, this week I bring you:

Why cellular 911 has location problems

Most calls to emergency 911 come from wireless callers, yet the system for locating those callers can’t handle them.
Enjoy!

 

Follow me on Twitter @Fletch911
Read my other AVAYA CONNECTED Blogs

Mark J. Fletcher, ENP is the Chief Architect for Worldwide Public Safety Solutions at Avaya. As a seasoned professional with nearly 30 years of service, he directs the strategic roadmap for Next Generation Emergency Services in both the Enterprise and Government portfolios at Avaya. In 2014, Fletcher was made a member of the NENA Institute Board in the US, in 2014 – 2015 he served as co-chair of the EENA NG112 Committee in the European Union, providing valuable insight to State and Federal legislators globally driving forward both innovation and compliance.

 

America’s 9-1-1 System: John Oliver Got It Right (Mostly)

America’s 9-1-1 System: John Oliver Got It Right (Mostly)
Note: TV Image courtesy HBO’s “Last week Tonight with John Oliver”

An AUDIO VERSION of this podcast is available on SoundCloud

9-1-1 Access still remains the most crucial step to emergency response

For those who may have missed HBO’s “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” on this past Sunday night, there was a humorous but important segment featuring America’s 9-1-1 system. I had gotten a heads up on this earlier in the week, and was anxious, albeit fully expecting this to be the average story, poorly researched and full of inaccurate assumptions around 911.

Fortunately, I could not have been more wrong. I sat back, watching the segment go on for nearly 15 minutes – each second being more amazing than the last – sprinkled with just the right amount of humor to make the important points stand out. I have to commend Mr. Oliver, and his staff, who had obviously did a great deal of homework on the topic. The level of detail, as well as the subtle references, proved that quite a bit of preparation went into this piece, and they had talked to the right people in the industry. While John formulated a ton of pertinent points, accurately describing the sad state of America’s overall 9-1-1 infrastructure, he focused on cellular location accuracy and challenges leading to how we got there. But in addition to this problem, a few other critical points were missed – starting with ‘access.’

For any current 911, or Next Generation 911 system, to function properly – access into the system is first required. Only then can any end-to-end functionality and benefit for citizens be expected.

Universal access to 911 means being able to reach emergency services from any device, at anytime and from anywhere. It means that 911 works both with and without an access code in Multi-Line Telephone Systems (MLTS), as I have covered in Kari’s Law many times. Currently there are House and Senate Bills working their way through the legislative process, and in these, we make the point that about access to 911, followed immediately by on-site notification that establishes situational awareness – bringing the building aware of the fact that a particular station dialed 911, and most importantly, the location of where that particular device is in the building.

We are not asking for internal folks to answer those calls – they are likely not trained to do so – we want them to be aware they happened. Doors may need to be unlocked, elevators may need to be held, and life-saving assistance might be rendered while waiting for public safety to arrive. When they do, that pre-arrival coordination can speed response considerably. Despite the fact that many building operators feel that answering their own 911 calls, is the right thing to do, this is generally not a good practice to follow. When you dial 911 or you dial another established emergency code in the building, the call needs to reach the proper public safety answer point (PSAP) and not intercepted by someone who is not trained to respond properly.

Less than half of the States have current legislation covering this, and only a small few have any penalty for non-compliance. This may radically change if the House of Representatives takes an important next step in ensuring access that will lead to increased public safety by voting on H.R. 4167, also known as “The Kari’s Law Act of 2015.” This Bill sat in committee for only a day before a unanimous vote and 24 Republican and Democratic sponsors brought this to the House floor for a full vote. As most of my readers already know, Kari’s Law was named for “Kari Hunt who was murdered in 2013 by her estranged husband in a Marshall motel room while her 9-year-old daughter tried unsuccessfully to dial 911…because the girl did not know that the motel phone system required dialing an extra 9 to reach an outside line.” After much work in Texas, Governor Greg Abbott enacted Kari’s Law as the first Bill he signed. A similar bill is expected to be signed by Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam sometime in the next month.

Federally, Kari’s Law in the bi-partisan H.R. 4167 Bill, with a companion S.2553 in the U.S. Senate, will accomplish the following:

  • Amend the Communications Act of 1934 to require phone vendors and individual buildings to ensure people could connect directly with emergency services without having to press ‘1’ or ‘9’ first.
  • Require outgoing ‘911’ calls connect directly to emergency services without local interference.
  • Ensure that on-site personnel are notified that a ‘911’ call was made.

Why does this matter? It matters because countless Americans will finally have protection, confidence and necessary peace of mind that when a 9-1-1 call is made in times when it is needed most, there will be a first responder who will have the necessary information to reach the victim without the many issues raised by you, Mr. Oliver. It will mean that America’s network of phones, an invention created by Alexander Graham Bell in March 1876, who’s first call was actually an emergency call, when he called out to Watson after spilling acid on himself, will finally serve the interests of all Americans nationwide.

So what can Americans do? Call your Congressman NOW at (202) 225-3121 to express your support for H.R. 4167. Support for this initiative has never been so important.

In closing, here’s my personal challenge to you, Mr. Oliver:

Ask your IT telecom folks at HBO if 911 can be dialed from the phone on YOUR desk. If it can’t, I’ll stop by and show you how to fix that for free. Why? Because you made me laugh (not an easy thing to do), and to prove that it’s simple and just the right thing to do.

Follow me on Twitter @Fletch911
Read my other AVAYA CONNECTED Blogs

Mark J. Fletcher, ENP is the Chief Architect for Worldwide Public Safety Solutions at Avaya. As a seasoned professional with nearly 30 years of service, he directs the strategic roadmap for Next Generation Emergency Services in both the Enterprise and Government portfolios at Avaya. In 2014, Fletcher was made a member of the NENA Institute Board in the US, in 2014 – 2015 he served as co-chair of the EENA NG112 Committee in the European Union, providing valuable insight to State and Federal legislators globally driving forward both innovation and compliance.

REALLY? Don’t call 911??

REALLY?    Don’t call 911??

At the earliest age, we are taught three life-saving digits. 9-1-1.

We are taught this is the emergency number by our teachers, our parents, and our grandparents. 9-1-1 is plastered on the side of every police car, fire truck, an ambulance that we see. We are taught that 9-1-1 will bring help no matter where we are, or what we need. But recently, a disturbing trend has been emerging that changes the core message of 9-1-1 from “Anytime, Anyplace, and Any device”, to one that states “UNLESS . . . a particular situation exists, then dial some other number.”

We expect large companies with large facilities to have internal security departments. Some may even have a company nurse or medical facility. And yet others, due to the nature of their business, may even have a firefighting team on hand that can instantly respond to an urgent event. While we expect these companies to have some mechanism in place to summon the services, we still expect that 9-1-1 still works as advertised and is not intercepted. Unfortunately, that is not always true.

In November 2015, Business Insider published an article in their tech section claiming that they had come in the possession of an internal Amazon document that tells workers “Do Not Call 9-1-1 !” in the event of a medical emergency, according to a company policy document obtained by the Huffington Post.

Last year, the United States Postal Service changed its no 9-1-1 policy after being criticized after the death of Samuel Macasieb, who was found unconscious inside of a facility in Oakland California. USPS policy stated that employees needed to contact the United States postal police for emergencies, who would then assess the situation and contact emergency services if required. But in this case, an ambulance took 53 minutes to arrive, and Mr. Macasieb never regained consciousness.

While it’s easy to blame companies for improper emergency services policies, we expect our public safety agencies to know better than to circumvent the 9-1-1 networks. Although it is not steeped in current technology, and capable of multimedia communications commonly used by devices today, the network does provide resiliency, redundancy, and a known level of reliability designed to ensure that calls are delivered. The network provides for PSAP inter-flow functionality, PSAP overflow functionality, and PSAP rerouting functionality during peak periods and congestion. These are all attributes that are not normally available on telephone lines offered through the public switched telephone network.

Why then, would a 9-1-1 PSAP advise the public NOT TO CALL 9-1-1 from their cellular telephones?

While it might seem difficult to believe, that is exactly what citizens in El Dorado County and Oakland California have been instructed to do. In both areas, a local 10-digit number is published for citizens to call to reach public safety officials directly. Why? For whatever reason, the Wireless network is purposely provisioned to send cellular calls from the cell sectors in these areas to the California Highway Patrol. There, the calls are triaged based on the location of the caller, and then transferred back to the appropriate agency for emergency dispatch; obviously adding response time to the call, and delaying first responders.

Why take the long way around the block for emergency calls? Several reasons likely contribute to the logic used here. They may be financial in nature as centers want to maintain their call volumes at levels that warrant the funding they receive; they may be geopolitical or based on data that was relevant at some point in time, but may have now changed. When cellular phones first became popular,  usage was primarily by citizens in vehicles, where routing to CHP likely made the most sense. Today, cellular penetration has exceeded 100% in the US, and many have ‘cut the cord’ in their homes, dropping wireline services altogether. With this phenomenon, new data needs to be collected and evaluated. For example, a 2007 report from CalOES, the Governor’s Office Of Emergency Services identified that 42.4% of the 11.6 million wireless 9-1-1 calls that occurred in California, failed to connect properly. It was these horrific statistics that kicked off the RED Project (Routing on Empirical Data), which consisted of several phases to remediate the issue across the state by readjusting the cellular sector routing. The RED project would utilize special satellite imagery that was coupled with the origination location of 9-1-1 wireless callers. Based on this data, the routing of each cellular tower sector was adjusted to route correctly to the local PSAP agency. After just six years, wireless 9-1-1 location accuracy was improved dramatically, wherein 2013 only 0.9% of cellular 9-1-1 calls needed to be rerouted, despite the volume of calls increasing to nearly 16.4 million a year.

Despite this improvement in location accuracy and routing, several communities still refused to take this additional call volume, even though wireline calls are decreasing in numbers. Some communities actually go out of their way to tell local citizens to reach them on local numbers on administrative phone lines. Unfortunately, these calls do not transit special Selective Routers in the carrier network, and therefore, the pANI record that provides the lookup key for the location information isn’t provided so that the caller can be located as they would if the call was delivered on a 9-1-1 trunk.DontCall911-Pic01

Residents are just blindly doing what they are told by authorities, and likely have no idea they have circumvented the entire 9-1-1 system that was designed to locate them and provide access to pubic safety. As an example, http://SafeOakland.com advises residents to program a 10-digit number into their cell phones to ensure emergency calls get to them.

This raises some burning questions:

  • Have Public Safety officials lost all trust in the 9-1-1 network?
  • Are they , refusing to implement technology that is openly available to them?
  • How can we possibly expect to set an example for citizens to follow suit in their local MLTS businesses?

Even more disturbing is the mass hysteria market that has been created where companies are targeting the fear in people by selling Apps that actually circumvent the 9-1-1 network and deliver the call to where THEY feel it should go, not where Public Safety has decided the call should go, be it right or wrong.

Should we expect the public to pay for Apps like this?

Personally, I take issue with a company trying to charge me $20 a year for an App to route my 9-1-1 calls when I am already paying a monthly 9-1-1 service fee for that same service, and a bit less I might add. Tech Insider reported that the Bluelight App wants to offer an annual plan for, “$20 a year, Oakland residents will be able to press a single button in an app that dials 9-1-1 and provides an Oakland dispatcher with their location all at once. It takes about 10 seconds (minus the time it takes to open the app).”

How does this App dial 911 differently than the user? How does the app get the data to the PSAP? These important piees are conveniently not mentioned in the article. And there lies the rub.

While the smart device has all of the information you could possibly want from GPS and WiFi BSSIDs and even carrier cellular towers it can see, there is no way to get that information to the PSAP. An intelligent connection capable of passing data simply doesn’t exist in that environment. Inevitably this makes the application a bit of a brick in my book. Of course, you could staff a call center, intercept the 9-1-1 call and then manually capture all of the data and verbally provide it to police, but then you are intercepting all 9-1-1 calls, taking responsibility for the proper call handling and procedures, plus adding time between the caller and they help they need.

I have been looking at NG9-1-1 ‘solutions’ for a decade. While great ideas have emerged, much work has been done, and NG9-1-1 networks have been stood up and tested, there has yet to be a full implementation of NG9-1-1 where the origination point generated a SIP-based emergency call, with PIDF-LO, routed intelligently through an IP network, and delivered to the PSAP on an IP infrastructure with additional data embedded in the INVITE message, or behind a URL enclosed in the header.

It comes as no great surprise that enterprise businesses make poor public safety-related decisions, like the United States Postal Service policy. At the end of the day, it may actually be administrators compensating for the lack of functionality in the local public safety networks that is being denied to them based on a fear and misunderstanding of current technology capabilities. While none of us likes to be overregulated, there comes a point where legislative guidelines are there to protect our well-being. The speed limit on my street is 25 mph. Not because there was a tragic death, not because there is any statistical history that dictates it. It is that way because children are playing in the area. While most people know, and respect that fact, the speed limit is there to promulgate it and create an enforcement mechanism should someone decide they know better. It all goes back to the old saying, “Laws exist for when ethics fail.”

Is it time we have some ‘laws’ that cover what NG9-1-1 actually is? And what it actually does? Without a consistent adhered to reference architecture, NG9-1-1 will remain just a fantasy of the future.

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Mark J. Fletcher, ENP is the Chief Architect for Worldwide Public Safety Solutions at Avaya. As a seasoned professional with nearly 30 years of service, he directs the strategic roadmap for Next Generation Emergency Services in both the Enterprise and Government portfolios at Avaya. In 2014, Fletcher was made a member of the NENA Institute Board in the US, in 2014 – 2015 he served as co-chair of the EENA NG112 Committee in the European Union, providing valuable insight to State and Federal legislators globally driving forward both innovation and compliance.