> location identification for workplace 999 calls


When there is an emergency in the workplace one of the first reactions is to phone for help.

The call would be made by the person in distress, or by a person nearby, and would typically be made by calling 999 or an internal safety number such as 222 or 555.

999 calls would be routed to the public emergency services, while calls to other emergency numbers would be routed to internal safety desk staff who can then mobilise on-site assistance and, if necessary, alert the public emergency services.

In both cases the objective is to get appropriate assistance to the person in distress as quickly as possible.

Importance of providing reliable location information

An obvious pre-requisite for providing rapid assistance is that the public emergency services, or the internal safety desk, must be made aware of the precise location of the caller.

This may not be a problem if the caller can provide verbal confirmation of their location, but this could be a problem if the caller is:

  • unable to speak (eg due to smoke inhalation or physical danger); or
  • does not speak English, or has a strong dialect, or speech impairment; or is
  • unaware of their precise location, or is disoriented.

It is therefore a requirement of most emergency call handling systems that the person answering the call is automatically presented with the location of the caller.

This requirement is underpinned by Ofcom regulations which at present apply only to direct-line connections and not to multi-line workplace PBX phone systems.

Despite the fact the owners and operators of multi-line PBX workplace phone systems are not at present obliged by any specific regulations to deliver the correct location information with a 999 call, there is the need to consider the health & safety and corporate liability implications of delivering misleading location information to the emergency authorities.

Consequently, many organisations are keen to do the right thing and ensure that precise and accurate location information is delivered with 999 calls from their workplace PBX phone systems.

However, this is not a straightforward task with the latest generation of PBXs.

Problems presented by IP-PBX phone systems

Ironically, it is an advance in the technology used in workplace PBX phone systems has caused significant problems for 999 caller location identification. Before this technological advance it was relatively easy to design PBX networks to ensure that 999 location information was accurate.

The technological advance that has caused the problem is the development and widespread use of IP based PBXs. In particular, it is the inherent features of centralised control and extension mobility that have caused the problem.

These features are attractive because they contribute to a reduction in costs and enhance operational efficiency. However, they also cause significant problems for identifying the location of an emergency caller.

The reason that centralised control causes a problem is that in a multi-site network all external calls (including 999 calls) exit the PBX network at the location of the central PBX server. This is likely to be a different location from that of the caller.

This causes a problem because the public telephone network automatically attaches location information associated with the location of the PBX server rather than the location of the caller. This obviously has the potential to cause a delay in the emergency response.

With previous PBX technologies it was possible to design the PBX network so that 999 calls exited the network at the same location as the caller. This ensured that the correct location information was presented to the emergency services.

The reason that extension mobility causes a problem is that an extension user can connect to the PBX phone system with the same extension number from multiple locations and with multiple devices. It is therefore not possible to use a caller’s extension number to reference their location.

With previous PBX technologies each extension numbers was associated with a fixed location and did not move. It was therefore possible to use the extension number as a location reference in a database that identified precisely the location of the caller.

Solutions

The problems described above have been solved by companies that serve the North American market. These solutions have been developed in response to the strict legislation in the USA that requires accurate and reliable location information to de delivered with 911 calls from workplace PBX phone systems.

Some PBX vendors have developed integrated solutions that can identify a 911 caller’s location from their IP address or connected switch port. There are also some third-party gateway appliances that do a similar job, but with many added value benefits.

The market leaders in third-party 911 gateway appliances is ConneXon. Their Emergency Gateway appliance identifies precisely the location of an emergency caller on an IP-PBX network and is now available worldwide including the UK.

However, being able to identify a 999 caller’s precise location only solves half the problem.

Once the caller’s location has been identified it is then necessary to route the 999 call to the emergency services in such a way that the location information provided by the PBX (or gateway appliance) is displayed to the person answering the 999 call in the BT (or C&W) Emergency Call Centre.

The standard 999 routing service offered by BT (and others) is not suitable as it removes all location information that has been attached by the PBX (or a gateway appliance) and attaches location information associated with the location of the PBX server.

To solve this problem ConneXon have developed a UK Emergency Routing Service that connects to their Emergency Gateway.

The ConneXon Emergency Routing Service will also connect directly to PBXs so that PBXs that have an integrated enhanced 999 location identification capability also have the capability of routing 999 calls to the emergency services with accurate and reliable location information.

Click the appropriate links in this sentence for more information on the ConneXon Emergency Gateway and Emergency Routing Service.

Get in touch with us if you have a specific requirement or if you wish to discuss how your business could make better and more cost-effective use of its existing telecommunications and internet infrastructure and services.