The E-911 Opportunity

Rich Tehrani : Communications and Technology Blog - Tehrani.com
Rich Tehrani
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The E-911 Opportunity

Reprinted from the January 2006 issue of Internet Telephony Magazine.

In our company’s insider parlance, an opportunity is often a euphemism for a “problem.” This makes for some interesting turns of phrase when things go wrong and my colleagues approach me with, for example, a three-alarm opportunity. And yet sometimes an opportunity is just that: a chance to do some good, and maybe make some money while you’re at it. I recently spent some time with companies in Colorado, the heartland of this country’s 911 technology. A great deal of the United States’ 911 development comes from Colorado, a state better known for skiing than helping to complete emergency calls to the nation's response centers.

Intrado is one of the leaders in this space and their business is booming. On their map for the future is providing next-generation 911 services to PSAP and helping enterprise customers route 911 calls. One of the challenges with business VoIP is that an employee using a VoIP phone on a VPN could be identified as calling from where the corporation has its IP PBX and not the address where the employee actually is located.

Level 3 is a carrier’s carrier. This provider not only helps other service providers by providing an underlying network, they also provide bulletproof 911 service so long as the number is one that Level 3 provides.

For those service providers concerned about the expense of the above two solutions or want 9-1-1 coverage for any number from any provider, there are yet other solutions worth exploring. For example a company called Telefinity
Dash911 is bringing 9-1-1 service to the realm of the smallest VoIP providers as inexpensively as possible. Gregory Giagnocavo is the company's founder and he has a number of successful startups under his belt.

Greg saw an opportunity when he realized VoIP service providers (VSP) who wish to connect to a Tier 1 E911 provider such as Level 3, TCS, or Intrado would have lots of hard work and a great deal of expense - both upfront and ongoing - to deal with in order to get implemented. They need engineers and telecom experts to interconnect properly. In addition they will have to pay up to $9,000 per month or more in monthly recurring expenses.

Dash911 allows interconnectivity to the Intrado network at a fraction of the cost. Starting at $395/month you pay according to your needs at $1.45 per telephone number per month. This includes 24x7 access to Dash911’s information and update call center and a fair measure of handholding for starters. This call center accepts change of address phone calls for a VSP’s subscribers, which meets the FCC mandates requiring a VSP to provide a way for a subscriber to update his address by telephone, over the Web. Gregory says Dash911 decided to go with Intrado as a 9-1-1 calling services provider because he believes they are marketplace leaders and provide the maximum flexibility in services and coverage.

Talking to Gregory reminds me of what I love about this business. I get to see entrepreneurs come up with novel ideas that just make so much sense you just know they are onto something. Whether Dash911 will become the next Wall Streetdarling is unclear at the moment but certainly the ideas and services the company is rolling out seem to be perfect for the time being.

Getting back to how the system works. Dash911 can set up a Web page for you with your logo, corporate colors and URL to allow your customers to register and/or change their address, also referred to as Registered Location for 9-1-1 service. The branded Web page can be set up within a few days, requiring very little effort on your part. If you prefer, the company also provides a SOAP API so you can seamlessly integrate their system with your own website and applications.

Dash911 will soon be offering directory assistance, a tried and true, albeit boring service that many customers want and will pay for. And Q2 will see the implementation of v911 TTY/TDD service for the hearing impaired - an often over-looked but absolutely critical segment of the market.

Another unique application is the new opt-in SmartLink911 service that is coming soon. Using this solution, whenever one of your customers dials 911 the call is actually recorded by Dash911. As part of this service your customer can program up to five emergency contacts in advance so that when 9-1-1 is dialed, these five contacts are immediately notified via e-mail, SMS or phone.

The people that are notified have the option of listening to the 911 call. Imagine how crucial such a service can be to someone with elderly parents. If your parent calls 911 and goes to the hospital today you may not find out for 24 hours or more that this call took place. If a parent is out, they might want to know why the babysitter called 9-1-1 and what was said. There are many scenarios in which this service can be useful.

Another useful feature is the “saved address” database. The Dash911 service allows your subscribers to save up to seven pre-validated addresses for 911 service. Why would you want to do this? If you travel frequently, your ‘frequently used addresses’ can be pre-saved as pre-verified addresses, allowing you to quickly and easily update your address to your new location.

Why does it take so long to update an address into the national 9-1-1 database? Credit the 911 databases that are finicky and tough to deal with, and PSAPs with their own rules and standards. When entered the way you understand and normally refer to it, your address, called the civic or postal address, may not be exactly in the format required by the PSAP’s Master Street Address Guide, or MSAG, database. This guide contains street name, direction information such as north or south and suffix details such as avenue or road (there are 32 different suffixes!)

Another service Dash911 provides is checking addresses as they are entered. If there isn't an exact match the system suggests a few options and the user decides which address is correct. Addresses entered that pass this system are expected to reduce error rates that VSPs must correct to less than five percent using this service, according to the company.

Now it probably makes sense to keep seven addresses that are “MSAG approved” on file. As you can imagine the company also keeps a record of voice and Web activity of all changes in case they are needed.

Our conversation then went into how the 9-1-1 system in our country needs a drastic overhaul operationally and regulatory. One obvious area needing improvement is that operators at some public safety answering points, otherwise known as PSAPs or 9-1-1 call centers, can receive extra pertinent information via a 80-character field while other PSAPs can only receive a 30-character field. However, due to variations in what PSAPs can receive and use, this field is rarely populated with extra and critical life-saving information.

The extra information that could be made available along with an emergency call could reduce confusion in an emergency, decrease response times and easily save lives. For example what if someone who is mute calls 911, how do they respond to requests from emergency workers if a door is locked? What if a wheelchair-bound person is upstairs when a fire breaks out - how would anyone know? What about a guard dog? Will it attack? Do emergency workers shoot the dog? Or, is it a harmless canine whose bark is louder than its bite? For these and many more situations, it would be much more helpful and possibly critically important to emergency responders if they had this information when the 9-1-1 call comes in. Our national 9-1-1 system needs major enhancements and uniformity; there are too many disparate systems being used across the USA. 

Other concepts and ideas we discussed were how there doesn’t seem to be a single way to immediately communicate with all the more than 7,000 PSAPs in the country. As previously mentioned the 9-1-1 and PSAP system is highly fragmented and standards, equipment, procedures, policies and methodologies vary widely. For something so critically important, surely we as a nation can come up with a better and more efficient system.



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