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E911 compliance best practices for hybrid enterprises

Tricia McConnell Tricia McConnell
Tricia McConnell
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When it comes to taking care of your employees, you can never be too careful.

Thanks to new(ish) emergency regulations, Security and IT leaders are navigating the murky waters of communications compliance without much direction.

E911 compliance tactics for your hybrid employees

Use these tips & tricks to navigate E911 compliance at your organization and help improve emergency outcomes. The following tips are ranked in order of importance: 

1. Consult with an attorney

While everything that follows can be considered generally agreed-upon approaches to E911, I’m not an attorney and Bandwidth does not provide legal advice. 

E911 regulations are extremely complex and each enterprise has to evaluate Kari’s Law, RAY BAUM’s Act, and any applicable state regulations relative to their particular enterprise. Ideally, this will be a conversation between IT, a legal representative, and the enterprise HR team. Whether you’re a service provider or an enterprise, you can enable these conversations with some background materials, such as Bandwidth’s Guide to E911 New Regulations

2. Enable location self-provisioning for on-prem and cloud UC

Instead of relying on software to track each employee’s location down to the floor, room and desk number, businesses are giving employees the tools to update their own locations in UC software.

If you’re using legacy on-prem systems like Cisco and Avaya, you need third-party software to augment your current systems. Software like 9Line, 911 Inform, and 911Secure allow your employees to update location information as they move around, send notifications to important personnel, and share a callback number with public safety responders.

However, if you’re already in the communications cloud, it’s important to train your employees on the software’s dispatchable location capabilities. Different UCaaS solutions have different functionality, so make sure you learn about your unique system’s features and E911 requirements. 

3. Map and test user endpoints

I wrote a few months ago about the importance of testing 911 on a regular basis and Bandwidth’s useful “933” location verification feature. Not only does it help to ensure accurate location for users, it limits live 911 calling to the PSAP, which can disrupt and distract from their normal operations. 

4. Eliminate a prefix when calling 911

Kari’s Law, which came into effect on February 16 of this year, has two essential requirements for the enterprise. The first is to provide direct dialing to 911 and the second is to support internal notifications (see tip #5). Direct dialing means eliminating all requirements to dial a digit or prefix such as a “9” or an “8” to get a trunk access line. 

NOTE: 911 calls that originate from within schools, hospitals, and other large campuses require special approaches and attention. 

5. Determine an appropriate notification recipient 

The second requirement of Kari’s Law is to notify designated personnel within the enterprise that a 911 call has been placed. This is most often a security team, a front desk attendant, and/or a facilities manager who can guide and assist first responders as they arrive on the scene. 

For example, when an employee working in the office calls 911, that office’s designated personnel will be notified that someone dialed 911. Activating emergency alerts is especially important for remote workers, where upper-level management may not realize there’s an issue.

Bandwidth has an optional notification feature in the form of phone call, email, text message, and HTTP API. 

6. Do not intercept 911 calls

Sometimes a well-intentioned enterprise will reroute their 911 calls through their security desk for initial response in the hopes it will reduce false alarms and misdials.

This is not recommended for a few reasons. First, Kari’s Law requires direct dialing to 911. Second, this method of 911 call handling can slow emergency response times. Finally, if the security team makes a 911 call on behalf of a user, public safety will not be provided with the user’s provisioned location information. 

Colleges and universities that are officially recognized as a secondary PSAP are usually exempt from this practice. Outside of that specific use case, we always advise an enterprise to route 911 calls directly to public safety while notifying the appropriate security team or alternate contact. 

7. Consider the needs of both the caller and the call taker

For medical or safety reasons, there are times when callers can’t or won’t speak. More often, there are times when the caller is in distress and can’t respond quickly or coherently when asked for their location. 

Organizations who mistakenly assume that callers always know where they are and will be able to verbalize this information during a 911 call are opening themselves up to risk and delayed emergency response times. 

We also need to think about the demands on the busy 911 call taker whose first concern will be determining the location of the emergency. Background noise, anxious callers, or callers who may not speak English as a first language can slow what might seem like a clear and straightforward communication of information. 

This is why provisioning a precise location for the caller is so important. The 911 call taker will always need to verify the location information they’ve been provided with, but first responders can be dispatched much faster when they are armed with an accurate, precise, and complete address. 

8. Talk to your emergency responders and employees

Aside from meeting legal requirements, there are other steps you can take to improve the effectiveness of emergency calling. Ask yourself: 

  • Do you know what your first responders need from you? 
  • How is 911 call information relayed to incident response teams? 
  • Do your remote and in-office employees understand the potential limitations? 
  • Can employees without designated phone numbers place a successful 911 call? 
  • Do your E911 capabilities apply evenly to all employees and contractors at your company?
  • Can you successfully route 911 calls from remote employees to the proper ECC/PSAP? 

9. Prepare for NG911 

Next Generation 911 (NG911) is a public safety-led initiative to upgrade our nation’s 911 infrastructure to an IP-based architecture. NG911 is being deployed across the country at a state or, sometimes, regional level. Once the transition is complete, NG911 will enable PSAPs to receive additional data formats such as text, images, and video. 

Bandwidth designs our emergency solutions to be forward-compatible with NG911. As a Bandwidth customer, there are no required additional steps to take right now other than be aware of these future capabilities and consider the information you may have within your organization that may one day be of value to public safety during a 911 call. 

Maintaining E911 compliance in a hybrid environment isn’t easy

Bottom line: while we’re not lawyers, these best practices are a good foundation to build your 911 systems on. Consult with your legal counsel after you’ve considered this, and you’ll be on the road to compliance. 

To learn more about 911, check out the following resources or get in touch with an expert. 

Disclaimer: The information provided in this post does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice; instead, all information is for general informational purposes only.

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Want to learn more about 911?

Emergency services are critical to the safety and security of your employees, but with increased technological complexity and new regulations, it's easy to get overwhelmed. Bandwidth works hard to stay constantly up-to-date on the changing landscape. Use these resources to understand 911 compliance and what you need to be aware of.

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