Enhanced 9-1-1 and Phone System Compliance

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Emergency situations are always stressful and urgent. Today, at least, we have the good fortune of living at a time when our means of responding and communicating to emergencies is greatly enhanced by technology. Thanks to activism and proactive regulations, our technology is becoming more and more well-suited to emergency communication. And business phone systems have not been strangers to this progress. The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) actually has a road map in place for progress in emergency phone system compliance.

Short History of Emergency Dialing

The idea of having a single common phone number for emergencies in the US can actually be traced back to 1957 when the National Association of Fire Chiefs first introduced the idea. A decade later, a federal commission recommended the idea to President Lyndon Johnson. The following year, the number 9-1-1 was selected. It was easy to remember and matched special number conventions already in place in some areas like 4-1-1 for directory assistance and 6-1-1 for service problems. By 1972, Canada adopted the same number, making emergency dialing consistent across North America as the FCC planned a nationwide roll-out across the US.

Enhanced 9-1-1

That same decade, the city of Chicago deployed an advanced system that relayed location information from the source of emergency calls to direct first responders. Two decades later, in 1999, US President Bill Clinton signed the Wireless Communications and Public Safety Act into law. Not only did this legislation upgrade the designation of 9-1-1 from a regulation to a law, it also mandated nationwide phone system compliance with enhanced 9-1-1 (E911).

This was important because old-school telephone systems relied on physical switches to establish location. However, starting in the 1980s, telephony was being digitized to replace aging infrastructure while cutting costs and increasing flexibility. The 1990s saw the rise of commercially available Voice over IP (VoIP) telephony. This moved the point of contact between a caller and the public telephone network from the caller’s handset or PBX to the caller’s internet service provider. Thus, the need to create standards that ensured phone system compliance for emergency services to access the source location of emergency calls.

E911 on VoIP Phone Systems

In 2005, the FCC mandated that all VoIP phone systems comply with E911 regulations. That meant all VoIP phone system extensions needed to have a physical location associated with the telephone number. The immediate solution to this was to have the IP addresses associated with telephone numbers digitally registered to a physical location, so that voice data packets originating from a handset would be recognized as belonging to that location.

This system has one obvious shortcoming. Because VoIP phones have the flexibility to move, to remain safely accurate, the location would have to be re-registered with each movement and would be moot if the extension is accessed through mobile softphones.

Fortunately, VoIP service providers and the FCC have worked together to outline a roadmap for increasing location accuracy by gradually tightening up location data for phone system compliance. This is being accomplished via more sophisticated technologies and access to geopositioning services. By 2020, phone system compliance will require locational accuracy within 50 meters of a wireless 9-1-1 call. The current final benchmark on the phone system compliance roadmap is set in 2024 when phone systems, even those using VoLTE, must provide an exact dispatchable address.

Unified Communications – The Golden Standard for VoIP Phone Systems

While VoIP was marketed as the low-cost alternative to traditional phone systems when it was first introduced, not only has it risen to the challenge of remaining compliant with vital safety regulations, it has also matured into a more robust and more powerful method of communication. This is due, in large part, to the development of Unified Communications (UC). UC integrates VoIP voice service with the tools a business uses to collaborate and works to create a system that automates tedious tasks and keeps everyone and everything connected.

This enables employees to work together more efficiently and improves business productivity. In fact, productivity gains are a key motivation for modern businesses investing in UC, and 97% of those businesses report actually seeing the benefits of this. This statistic and more can be found in the Eastern Management Group report outlining their research into the effect of UC on workplace productivity. Download your copy here!

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