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E911: Raising Awareness for a Critical Component of Emergency Communications

Author: Thomas Beck, Director of Marketing & Business Development, Teo

Copyright: 9-1-1 Magazine, Feature Content

Date: 2011-03-31
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Over the years, I’ve met with many safety officers and other managers who think a lot about emergency preparedness at our schools, corporations and government institutions. Without exception, these people understand that their employees are their biggest asset, and they care deeply about the safety of their staff. Yet most of these organizations are not using all the tools available to provide the highest level of safety in the event of an emergency. While their intent is right, many safety officers are simply not aware of technology solutions that exist today for multi-line telephone systems (MLTS) that can ensure the right help gets to the right people in an emergency situation.

9-1-1 came into existence in 1968 as America’s nationwide emergency telephone number. Today, Americans place approximately 250 million 9-1-1 calls each year. Overall, the 9-1-1 program is regarded as tremendously beneficial and has saved countless lives over the years.  However, the current 9-1-1 model – calls going directly to the Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP), which passes information along to local emergency responders – can be significantly less effective if the caller is located in a large institution, campus or high-rise building due to how most phone systems work.

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The vast majority of businesses, schools and other institutions typically use private branch exchange (PBX) systems to route calls from an individual extension through a central phone system. PBX systems effectively connect many telephone extensions together throughout an organization and also connect the entire phone system to the public telephone network. However, PBX systems usually provide the organization’s central switchboard number or – in some cases – the billing address to a PSAP operator, rather than providing the specific location of the caller. This can be problematic when first responders are sent to a site and are then required to spend precious time tracking down the exact building, floor and room or office where the emergency call originated.


Given these shortcomings of most phone systems today, institutions are increasingly looking toward alternative solutions that provide more precise information to ensure emergency responders get the right help to the right people quickly and effectively. Enhanced 911 (E911) solutions for MLTS effectively close the loophole created when a PBX attempts to interface with the PSAP database. Once such a solution is installed on a network, it continually monitors phone traffic for 911 calls. If a 911 call is detected, it will instantly send accurate location information to both the PSAP and designated on-site responders within the business or organization. In addition, effective E911 solutions can also provide access routes, maps, hazardous materials data and medical information about the caller, which is vital to optimize an emergency response effort, particularly in the following situations:

1. Hang ups: Many E911 solutions include a call-back extension feature, which gives dispatchers and need-to-know staff the information they need to quickly determine if a 911 hang up is simply a mistake, a prank or something requiring an emergency response.

2. Medical emergencies: Knowing where a 911 call is coming from—especially if the caller is unable to communicate—allows responders to travel the shortest distance to the emergency site. Some E911 solutions integrate essential information (such as maps and access routes) into call-in-progress notification systems to facilitate an efficient response.

3. Intruders: In the event of a 9-1-1 call reporting a crime in progress, E911 solutions can alert an organization’s staff to quickly set in motion the designated emergency response—including lockdown procedures. In turn, first responders can take action based on caller-location information.

4. Hazardous materials: A hazardous materials event, such as a chemical spill or gas leak, requires a highly specific response. Following a 911 call, E911 solutions can provide dispatchers with information essential to directing first responders to the emergency location and assisting need-to-know staff with any evacuation procedures.

5. Fires: E911 MLTS solutions can pinpoint a caller’s location automatically, removing the burden on a caller to remain on the line, while also delivering vital information to first responders.

Another real benefit of implementing an MLTS E911 solution is the reduction of liability for schools, corporations and government institutions.  Many states now require PBX owners to provide specific location identification for 9-1-1 emergency calls to help find callers in distress more quickly. When cases go to court involving inadequate location information provided by a PBX, the employer is generally found to be at fault for not providing proper emergency protection to staff members. Damages resulting from these cases commonly exceed one million dollars. MLTS E911 solutions offer a simple, cost effective way to decrease exposure to litigation and regulatory fines.

But despite the shortcomings of traditional PBX systems and the associated consequences for both organizations and emergency responders, many aren’t aware that technologies exist to remedy the problem. That said, technology vendors and advocates for emergency response management must do more to raise awareness for these critical advances in public safety.

Recently, Teo commissioned a study to better understand perceptions about emergency communications in our nation’s schools and higher education institutions. Not surprisingly, the vast majority of respondents (83 percent) identified safety as a top priority, and 65 percent felt they had a strong emergency communications plan in place. Yet the survey revealed that only 40 percent had an E911 solution installed on the network at their learning institution. When asked why they did not have a system in place to address E911, the respondents cited either lack of need or lack of awareness as the reason. These results show that many safety officers, technology directors and educators in the U.S. are simply not aware of the benefits of such a system and have a false sense of security about their emergency preparedness.

Evaluating most new enterprise technologies can be a daunting task. However, MLTS E911 solutions are generally easy to install, require little maintenance and provide immediate peace of mind. Most systems are also affordably priced and save organizations money by reducing monthly fees for registering multiple extensions with the PSAP service provider. I believe the biggest barrier to adoption is lack of awareness. Once safety managers understand the tangible benefits E911 solutions can provide in an emergency situation, they are quick to implement a system at their organization.


Thomas Beck is director of marketing and business development for Teo, an innovative telecommunications company that provides, among other solutions, the industry’s most cost-effective and efficient E911 Response Systems.  For more information, see Teo.


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