What you need to know about E911 compliance
We’ve been dialing 911 for emergencies since 1968. So 911 calling wouldn’t appear to be a hot topic among business and technology professionals today.
But it is. New legal changes are coming, and leaders must plan to be compliant for their offices and remote workers. Some employees will return to the office, while others will continue to work from home. It will be important to identify their location in cases of emergencies, no matter where they are or where they go.
The first step is education, says Mark Haas, a ConvergeOne solutions architect who counsels companies on these types of changes.
Businesses must be aware of a number of new E911 laws. Kari’s Law requires anyone installing, managing or operating multi-line telephone systems to configure the systems so a person can directly initiate a 911 call. For instance: No dialing “9” just to get an outside line anymore for an emergency call. It also works to notify people in the building and company that emergency responders are on the way, helping them get to the emergency faster.
Another law, RAY BAUM’S Act, requires dispatchable location information from all 911 calls to the PSAP (Public Safety Answering Point), whether that’s identifying a caller’s location based on the floor of the building, the room inside that floor or even zooming down to the cubicle from which the person is calling. Ray Baum was a lawyer who served on the board of directors of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC). By 2022, organizations must be responsible for every device whether it’s inside or outside the enterprise.
Until recently, the Federal Communications Commission had sidestepped the E911 issue and left regulation up to the states; as a result 23 states adopted legislation around 911—rules that vary greatly. Many of those regulations still exist, and companies must abide by both federal and state laws. Compliance is especially challenging for businesses that span various locations across the United States.
It’s important for organizations to understand each of these laws and how they apply to their businesses, and to also understand how to be in compliance with existing technology and any new technology upgrades.
Company leaders must define what “dispatchable location” means under the Ray Baum Act and under any relevant state regulations. Decide how your legal team wants to define that location: whether it’s the building location, the floor location, the cubicle location or more. Sit down with your legal advisor and understand what that definition will be.
Once you understand how you will adhere to the laws, then ConvergeOne can help you with the planning process. That could entail collecting floor plans, gathering data, mapping your network locations, and planning for how to handle remote and traveling workers.
This can be complicated if a company is spread out across the country. For instance, if there’s an emergency in an Arizona shipping office, that call would ordinarily be routed back through the corporate network to the headquarters, say, in Illinois. But that won’t work today, because it would route the call to the Illinoise local public safety answering point. New technology solutions will be key to ensure those calls are routed to the correct location.
From there, leaders must take an inventory of their existing phone service—whether it’s analog or cloud-based—and determine how they will provide dispatchable information to emergency responders and how they will provide it amid today’s increasingly mobile workforce.
“We take the mystery out of the technology,” says Haas, “and we make the complex simple.”
A multitude of applications can be combined to ensure each company finds a custom solution. For instance, ConvergeOne partner, RedSky Technologies, has a tool called 911 Manager that can discover all of the devices within an organization and then can integrate the location to the call servers via Avaya and Cisco systems. Another ConvergeOne partner, Cisco, also has a similar solution called Cisco Emergency Responder that works well in Cisco environments. Yet another solution works well with Microsoft Teams calling.
It’s also important to ensure that everyone on site at an office building is aware that an emergency call has been made. So if a person makes a 911 call on the third floor, then the building staff and appropriate team members will receive either a desktop alert, a text message or an email informing them of the emergency. They will know to ensure speedy access to the third floor, whether that’s unlocking the elevator or unlocking the secured front door, for instance.
So-called “soft phones” will be more important going forward, because not everyone will be headed back to the corporate office. Thanks to COVID lockdowns, some will continue to work from home, while others will work at home, at the office and from various other locations. It’s important to determine what soft phone tools will ensure that E911 is available in all of those circumstances.
New solutions, for instance, will automatically recalibrate your E911 location, whether you’re working in the office in downtown Chicago, if you’re at your kitchen table at home or if you’re staying in a Marriott hotel in Palm Beach, Florida. The more you use the application, the more intelligent it gets and remembers where you are located.
Perhaps the easiest way to be in compliance is to transfer old analog phone service over to the cloud. Rather than traditional analog phone systems with thousands of lines spanning an office and with those networked boxes stored inside the building, a cloud phone service essentially takes a company’s phone system and houses it inside the Internet cloud.
While cloud technology has been around for some time, the E911 laws have driven a large number of companies to adopt cloud-based phone services.
The cloud service offers benefits that go beyond E911. Because the phone boxes live somewhere else, users are not tied to a network. This is helpful for an increasingly mobile workforce.
Some cloud software solutions include desktop applications that enable people to make a phone call via an iPad, iPhone or computer, allowing for more advanced team collaboration. For instance, Cisco’s Webex app allows team members to see when another colleague is on a conference call, enables them to join meetings through the app as well, or simply send someone a real-time message via the application.
While the new E911 laws may appear daunting at first, organizations that receive the proper education and counsel can begin the planning process, implement the necessary upgrades to be prepared in case of emergency—and hopefully gain new efficiency for their teams as well.