This content is part of the Conference Coverage: Everything Enterprise Connect 2024: News, trends and insights

Enhanced 911 transitions to Next Generation 911

Next Generation 911 has improved calling features compared to Enhanced 911, especially when locating callers. But businesses face some compliance problems.

This year's Enterprise Connect conference once again featured a panel discussion on 911 communications and technology. The session on 911 requirements was arguably the only topic at Enterprise Connect that had life-or-death implications. Get 911 wrong, and you put health and safety in danger. Without proper 911 administration, anyone who needs assistance may not reach the right emergency services call center, and first responders may not locate callers quickly.

The panel discussion had some key takeaways and action items for anyone responsible for emergency services calling management.

Editor's note: This article provides no legal guidance. We recommend those responsible for 911 location and call routing management consult with appropriate legal counsel to determine their organization's risk and potential liability.

Next Generation 911 is ramping up

For the first time in the history of this session, we stopped talking about Enhanced 911 (E911), which enabled 911 call centers or public safety answering points to identify a caller's location and phone number. The location could be as simple as the caller's building address, or it might include additional dispatchable location information, such as floor, wing or cubicle.

For the last several years, various civic and government organizations, including the National Emergency Number Association (NENA), have led the development of Next Generation 911 (NG911), which enables callers to share more information with first responders. This could include floor plans, information on elevators and building access points, sensor data, video and more.

While not every emergency call center can support NG911, deployments are increasing. Several unified communications and third-party vendors are introducing NG911 services, offering the potential for faster and more accurate responses to emergency scenarios.

NG911 provides more accurate location information by enabling phones to learn their location from devices such as location management servers, network devices and even GPS devices. Phones then transmit their location at the time of a call, which eliminates E911's database approach that often contains errors or is slow to update.

Panelists agreed that NG911 is not just emerging. Rather, NG911 is here today, and telecom managers must take an active approach to implement it in their environments.

Local authorities can help with compliance

Metrigy found that just 62.7% of the 440 organizations participating in its workplace collaboration study in 2023 believed they were compliant with the two federal laws governing 911 in the U.S. The two laws are the following:

  • Kari's Law, which requires direct dial to 911 (no prefix), contemporaneous notification of appropriate central location and a valid callback number.
  • RAY BAUM's Act, which requires transmission of dispatchable location information to the emergency call center.

In these situations, the issue of compliance is clouded in uncertainty, especially for older multiline phone systems that predate the laws, remote employees and fixed-mobile services that transform mobile phones into an extension on the enterprise phone system.

The conference panelists provided the following advice for organizations to become compliant with 911 requirements:

  • Seek legal guidance.
  • Communicate 911 calling limitations with employees and other in-building personnel, such as contractors.
  • Engage with local authorities to understand what they need to accurately respond to an emergency. Telecom managers need to communicate regularly with first responders and test their 911 configurations.
Recapping Enterprise Connect 2024

Mobile phones pose problems

An interesting point of discussion was the shift to a mobile phone-first world. A few years ago, NENA estimated that, in many areas, 80% of 911 calls originated from mobile devices.

However, in most cases, if employees call 911 from their personal or company-provided mobile phones, that call won't support Kari's Law standards, including central notification, or RAY BAUM's Act requirements for dispatchable location. First responders would arrive at a building and not know how to locate the 911 caller, and on-site personnel wouldn't know about the call. In addition, companies that rely solely on mobile phones must ensure they don't have dead spots that inhibit employees from making 911 calls in an emergency.

Some vendor services enable companies to geofence their offices. In these cases, when a person inside a building calls 911, the 911 operator can see more detailed location information, and front desk security personnel receives a notification. In addition, emerging standards enable 911 call centers to identify the altitude of the caller within a few meters, enabling first responders to go to the caller's floor.

Track emerging trends

911 isn't sexy. It doesn't get the attention of AI. And investing in 911 is an employee safety and risk avoidance move, not one that generates revenue.

But 911 is the only topic in the telecom world with life-or-death implications. Those responsible for telecom management must get it right. Telecom managers must stay abreast of emerging trends and technologies that help first responders locate callers and have the information they need to deal with an emergency quickly and effectively.

Irwin Lazar is president and principal analyst at Metrigy, where he leads coverage on the digital workplace. His research focus includes unified communications, VoIP, video conferencing and team collaboration.

Dig Deeper on VoIP and IP telephony