Organizations are steadily shifting to cloud-based Unified Communications-as-a-Service solutions to streamline their business communications infrastructure and achieve cost, operational and management efficiencies. However, those adopting UCaaS must take steps to ensure they don’t run afoul of state and federal regulations for Enhanced 911 emergency communications.
The E911 system is designed to improve emergency responses for wireless phone users by automatically providing the caller’s location to 911 dispatchers. It requires complex location management and call routing technologies to accurately track the caller’s location. Federal regulations require that emergency calls transmitted to public safety agencies must include “dispatchable location” information such as the caller’s street address as well as additional information such as room number, floor number, wing or desk location.
However, UCaaS often lacks the E911 functionality of on-premises systems. Many UCaaS systems require a variety of manual processes to handle location management on a per-phone basis — a nightmare for organizations that must support hundreds or thousands of phones along with increasing numbers of remote and mobile users who frequently change locations.
UCaaS providers are beginning to address this challenge with support for emerging Next Generation 911 (NG911) standards that deliver increased levels of automation, enabling dynamic location tracking capabilities. NG911 standards enable mobile phones, softphones and other endpoints to determine their own location, in real time, even as they are moved throughout the office or to the home in support of telework.
Manual Communications Processes Add Cost, Complexity
In a typical on-premises communications environment, an organization’s IT department maintains a database of phone locations throughout the organization. They typically also maintain expensive analog circuits into the public switched telephone network (PSTN) so the database information can be accessed by public safety answering points (PSAPs).
One of the main reasons for switching to cloud-based communications is to eliminate the costs of analog circuits. However, many organizations then find they must keep at least one dedicated circuit for routing 911 calls, eliminating some of the cost benefits they anticipated with UCaaS.
Dedicated E911 platforms can help address these issues by providing location-management and call-routing services. These platforms conduct regular network scans to register and update phone locations and maintain location databases. However, these platforms often require installing on-premises hardware that requires special controls, gateways and processes, which can add costs and complexity.
NG911 Simplicity Through Automation
NG911 simplifies the process by enabling phones to maintain and transmit their location during a 911 call. Phones gather this information from a variety of sources, including GPS, cellular triangulation and Wi-Fi access points. This location awareness eliminates the need to manually maintain and update location management databases.
NG911 also eliminates the need for dedicated circuits to connect with PSTN. Calls are connected to PSAPs with Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) trunking services. Because the SIP protocol is used for signaling and controlling multimedia applications, it has the added benefit of allowing users to send photos, videos and text messages to 911 operators — information that could be tremendously helpful to emergency responders.
NG911 also enables automated voice or text notifications to large groups of people who need to be alerted with accurate information during an emergency event. In the event of a school fire, for example, the system could generate alerts to teachers, staff members, parents or other registered emergency contacts.
UCaaS offers a multitude of business-enabling features, but there are some challenges related to E911 compliance. The emergence of NG911-compliant UCaaS platforms will help resolve many of those challenges.