FIXED: Cellular E911 Location

FIXED: Cellular E911 Location

The two biggest issues with cellular emergency services:
Text to 911 and Cellular Location Accuracy

But the question is, how can this be so in today’s ultra-modern broadband connected world?

The answer, it turns out, is simple. The Emergency services network no matter where you are located is, for the most part, an analog-based legacy infrastructure with only the ability to convey VOICE calls and no data services. Because of this simple fact, we have pigeonholed ourselves into a quagmire of isolation from the modern communications capabilities that have become commonplace and inherent in the devices nearly all of us seem to be carrying.

How do we extract ourselves from this destitute pit of captivity? The answer is quite simple. We need a rope, and it just so happens that Google has decided to provide that lifeline, with of course a brand-new acronym; AML for Advanced Mobile Location.

Currently, on the network side AML is  only deployed in Estonia and in the United Kingdon however, the functionality (which has been code-named ‘Thunderbird’) is actually embedded in every current  Android device with operating systems from Gingerbread forward. To discuss the history of Thunderbird, and how it came to be, I sat down for a Podcast with European Emergency Number Association Executive Director, and colleague of many years, Gary Machado.

Listen to the Podcast here:


Fletch:
The big story in the news is location and emergencies in cellular phones, and you guys have really come up with something that’s pretty interesting over in Europe. Tell us about AML?


Gary:
Thank you, Fletch. Yes, we came up with AML, which stands for Advanced Mobile Location, a few years ago. Actually, the idea is not ours. The Advanced Mobile Location was created in the UK in 2014 by a guy named John Medland, who works for BT 999/112 emergency services.

He basically lost faith in the EU’s ability to regulate of the sector and to contribute to the improvement of caller location in Europe, so he decided to start talking with the handset manufacturers and the mobile operators here in Europe, what in the US you call I think carriers, and he came up with a simple idea: how can we find an easy way to retrieve the location data that is in the phone that we all use everyday to order pizza, to order Uber, et cetera, and how can we take this data and deliver it to the PSAPs as easily as possible?

That’s how the project started. John led the whole project in the UK. It started slowly in 2014 with AGC, the handset manufacturer, and one mobile operator named EE, and since then, AML has been very successful. We have about 85% of locations that are below 50 meters, within 50 meters, and AML has been extended to other handset manufacturers, namely Alcatel, Sony Mobile, Samsung devices, and extended also to other mobile operators in the UK.


Fletch:
I think the big thing was when Google jumped onboard. Google saw what John had proposed doing, and basically in a nutshell, the way I explain it to people is, when the carrier, when the mobile operator looks from the network towards the handset, it’s one view, but when the handset looks out towards the world, they can see much more. It’s like looking through a peephole on a hotel room door the wrong way, right?

From the carrier side, you get a very myopic view of where that device is, but the device can take advantage of cellular, it can take advantage of GPS, it can take advantage of WiFi signals that [can be seen], not necessarily connected to, but just seen, and then all of that information together [delivers] a much more accurate resolution. One number that I saw published was 4,000 times more accurate?


Gary:
Yes. Fletch, I want to say I love the way you describe it, which is exactly correct. What happens, we actually happened to meet Google at the right time, were starting to look into the project, they were wondering on how to get this information delivered to the PSAPs, and so we actually bridged between BT in the UK, Google and ourselves and we started to have about a conference call per week, basically, and we started to progress, let’s say, the Google way, which is very fast. Yes, as you said, Google wanted to benefit from the use of their Google fused location provider and have this accurate location information we use everyday installed on all Android devices in the world. That was what they were trying to achieve. Since they saw the success of the project in the UK, which was running on Android devices already, on Android-based smartphone manufacturers, they decided to work with us and

Since they saw the success of the project in the UK, which was running on Android devices already, on Android-based smartphone manufacturers, they decided to work with us and BT to, let’s say, upgrade all the devices in the world with this accurate location. Now, where are we right now? All Android devices in the world back to Gingerbread have been upgraded with Advanced Mobile Location, so it’s in every Android phone in the world, besides a few phones that haven’t been updated because they haven’t been charged or connected to the WiFi and didn’t get the update, of course, but otherwise it’s already

Now, where are we right now? All Android devices in the world back to Gingerbread have been upgraded with Advanced Mobile Location, so it’s in every Android phone in the world, besides a few phones that haven’t been updated because they haven’t been charged or connected to the WiFi and didn’t get the update, of course, but otherwise it’s already in your phone. If you have an Android phone, AML is there. You just have to check your phone, look for the Google Play Services, and if you have a version of Google Play Services which is something like 9.0+, then you have AML in your phone. AML

You just have to check your phone, look for the Google Play Services, and if you have a version of Google Play Services which is something like 9.0+, then you have AML in your phone. AML is deployed in two countries in Europe. It is fully deployed in the UK and Estonia.

That means that everyday, UK and Estonian emergency services receive extremely accurate location information, again, 85% at below 50 meters using GPS or WiFi location, and yes, when we look at the figure, it’s about 3,000 to 4,000 times more accurate than what we get in Europe currently, which is only the primarily cell ID.


Fletch:
Before everyone runs out and turns on AML and expects this incredible accuracy to be there, there is the other side of this, and that’s the 911 center, the emergency center, the PSAP has to be able to, or the network I should say, has to be able to receive this data. One of the pieces of AML is a destination for this information to be sent, so that’s got to be in place, too. Now that’s the carrier responsibility.


Gary:
Yes. I would say the beauty of this project is its simplicity. When you dial an emergency number, 112, 911, it will trigger AML in your phone if you’re in a country where the service has been activated; in other words, where PSAPs are able to receive the information. Once you dial this number, it triggers the AML for 20 seconds, collects the location information and sends it over to the PSAPs over a mobile network.

Now there are two ways of doing that. The first way is using SMS. There are two kinds of SMSs that are used. I will not get into the specificity of those, but these two SMSs are working. One of these two can be implemented in any country. Either the message can be sent to an SMS endpoint, which is what both BT, our organization, EENA, and Google recommends, because it works in most cases, SMS, and it’s actually extremely reliable. So it can be sent to an SMS endpoint or it can be sent over HTTPS to the emergency services. Emergency services are free to choose.

In Europe, we work at the country level. [Governments] are free to choose whether they want SMS or if they want HTTPS. For now, in Europe, we have SMS installations, but other countries are deploying an HTTPS endpoint to be able to receive the AML data.


Fletch:
I’m going to assume that when you bring your handset online and you get your configuration from the carrier that this AML destination would be part of that provisioning.


Gary:
Yes. Actually, it’s managed by Google. Google defines the emergency numbers that should activate the service in a country. If a country has several emergency numbers, those numbers will trigger the AML service, which will turn on for 20 seconds and collect the location data, and then send it over to this endpoint selected by a country or a region or a county. Basically, what’s to be done by the PSAPs, the authorities and/or the mobile operator or carrier in the US, it’s very simple. Google needs to know the endpoint to be able to deliver that message. They need to be provided by an endpoint. The carrier needs to, for instance, in case of an SMS, allow it to be free of charge, and that’s what we have in most countries in Europe already with SMS for the deaf and hard of hearing, and/or they need to provide for an HTTPS endpoint to be set up, which often in the US I believe has been at the carriers rather than in the PSAPs. In Europe, we have a different setup for these things.


Fletch:
The very first thing people are going to complain about it is, “Hey, wait a second, Gary, if this thing gets turned on, Google’s going to start tracking my location. It’s bad enough that they know every website I go to and they’re putting cookies all over my phone, now they’re going to be tracking my specific locations and what I’m doing. I’ve already got the NSA in the US doing that. I don’t need Google on top of that doing the same thing.” Is there going to be pushback?


Gary:
As you can guess, we get it over here in Europe even more than in North America. People are very, very concerned about it here. I can say I have myself a certain interest for these issues. I actually help some of the privacy activist organizations here in Brussels on my private time, let’s say, and I never switch on my location on my own, for instance, but in case of emergency service, I want to have my location turned on. The beauty of this project and working with Google for more than a year, they have been extremely cautious with that. The location just turns on for the time of triggering the AML and turns off after 20 seconds. Google does not store that location. Google doesn’t want to see that location. That location is retrieved and is sent over to the PSAPs in an SMS or HTTPS, and that’s it. Google doesn’t want to see that location. I think, honestly, no one is [inaudible 00:11:05]. Google has plenty of locations everyday. I don’t think they are looking for more of that project. That’s not what they are looking for.

The location just turns on for the time of triggering the AML and turns off after 20 seconds. Google does not store that location. Google doesn’t want to see that location. That location is retrieved and is sent over to the PSAPs in an SMS or HTTPS, and that’s it. Google doesn’t want to see that location. I think, honestly, no one is [inaudible 00:11:05]. Google has plenty of locations everyday. I don’t think they are looking for more of that project. That’s not what they are looking for.


Fletch:
So they never even get the data to be able to store it. It goes directly into the public safety networks.


Gary:
Exactly.


Fletch:
Let’s face it, if you’re having an emergency, your location is something that you probably want to share. 


Gary:
Yes, exactly. That’s the case, and I’m sure it’s the same in the US, but in Europe, we have the proper legislation for that, that in case of emergency call, caller location is authorized. Yes, that’s one of the very few times where you actually need and you want your location to be used.


Fletch:
I’ve got to tell you, when I first saw this back in 2014 over in Europe, I was a little hesitant. I was a little hesitant because it was operating system-specific. At that time it was carrier-specific and even handset-specific, and [I thought], interesting idea, but it’s going to be the adoption that really makes this happen, and although it’s taken a couple of years, it is actually a great idea. It’s very simple in its form, it’s very basic. It doesn’t require a big uplift in the network. It doesn’t require huge upgrades in the PSAPs. It’s just a simple activation of information that’s already there, and it’s information that most devices already have anyway. Again, like you said before, if I want to order a pizza or if I want to order an Uber, they know exactly where I am with incredible accuracy, so it’s just activating that function that’s already there and creating the mechanism to transport that over to the PSAP, the people that actually need to use that. Really kind of a brilliant idea and John, John’s a great guy and I’ve known John for many years over at BT. It really took a lot of stamina just to keep pounding his foot down and saying, “This will work,” and getting Google in there is a big deal. Obviously the big question, what about iOS and Apple and Microsoft? What’s happening with those guys? Have they mentioned anything about this?

It’s very simple in its form, it’s very basic. It doesn’t require a big uplift in the network. It doesn’t require huge upgrades in the PSAPs. It’s just a simple activation of information that’s already there, and it’s information that most devices already have anyway. Again, like you said before, if I want to order a pizza or if I want to order an Uber, they know exactly where I am with incredible accuracy, so it’s just activating that function that’s already there and creating the mechanism to transport that over to the PSAP, the people that actually need to use that. Really kind of a brilliant idea and John, John’s a great guy and I’ve known John for many years over at BT. It really took a lot of stamina just to keep pounding his foot down and saying, “This will work,” and getting Google in there is a big deal. Obviously the big question, what about iOS and Apple and Microsoft? What’s happening with those guys? Have they mentioned anything about this?

Really kind of a brilliant idea and John is a great guy.  I’ve known him for many years over at BT. It really took a lot of pounding his foot down and saying, “This will work,” and getting Google in there is a big deal. Obviously the big question, what about iOS and Apple and Microsoft? What’s happening with those guys? Have they mentioned anything about this?


Gary:
First, I want to join you here in saying I really admire what John has done. He’s taken this idea, he’s been fighting for it. He’s been going step by step. He’s very cautious. He wanted to validate every step of the project. We owe John a lot, as all in the public safety community, I believe. I also want to thank the guys at Google, of course, and also congrats to the Estonians. The Estonians implemented AML in less than six months with Google and they are one of the countries that are fully enabled right now. About Apple and Microsoft, we are in contact with Microsoft, trying to get some information, some progress on this. At this stage, we do not see a lot, but we are hopeful that it will progress. We are also trying to get in touch with Apple. We’ve informed Apple via many emails, conference calls and so on. We haven’t seen a lot back from Apple, though we actually discovered just by Googling one day that Apple has published a patent on the location topic, which seems to be rather an idea pretty similar to what we’ve just talked about during this podcast. Very interesting. Very interesting. We’re hopeful that Apple will join the project. We also started to see the first articles, one article in Estonia last week, clearly explain that they believe that Apple will start joining the

We haven’t seen a lot back from Apple, though we actually discovered just by Googling one day that Apple has published a patent on the location topic, which seems to be rather an idea pretty similar to what we’ve just talked about during this podcast. Very interesting. Very interesting. We’re hopeful that Apple will join the project. We also started to see the first articles, one article in Estonia last week, clearly explain that they believe that Apple will start joining the project, because people will think of Google’s Android phone as the safe phones. That was an opinion written in an Estonian article, which is in English.


Fletch:
I have to agree with that. If somebody’s going to make a telephone purchase and this one has got safety features that this one does not, that’s going to become a decision. If I’m going to buy a phone for my daughter who’s going off to college now, I’m going to make sure she’s got a phone that’s going to provide her with as much safety as possible. That’s going to bring the financial model into play and it’s not going to be long before somebody over in Cupertino says, “Hey, wait a second, sales are going down. We need to turn this on,” and Microsoft’s going to do the same.


Gary:
Let’s hope so. Apple Keynote is coming out soon, so, let’s wait.


Fletch:
Listen, Gary, it’s always a pleasure to talk to you. It’s been a while since we’ve chatted. I really appreciate you taking the time to talk about this. Tremendous progress on this. Congratulations to everybody over at EENA who drove this, and of course to John Medland over at BT, who had the brainchild and the fortitude to get this program moving.


Gary:
Thanks, Fletch. Bye-bye.

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.”


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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.