Accidental Calls to 911

As a teacher of Cisco Voice classes, there is one question in particular that I hear time and again:

“How do I stop people from accidentally dialing 911?”

A number of students have reported that the number of erroneous calls to 911 has increased exponentially since their installation of VoIP. Consider this possible scenario:

  1. A user picks up their handset and dials “9,1” to make a long distance call
  2. The user then looks away from the phone to look up the rest of the number
  3. They turn back to the phone and continue to dial their long distance number
  4. But, they forget that they have already dialed “9,1” and they dial 1-919-555-1212

Actual number dialed: 9-1-1-9-1-9-5-5-5-1-2-1-2

The first three digits are significant in this case, as they are “911″. The 911 route pattern is marked as “Urgent Priority” in order for that call to get passed off to emergency services – even if there is a longer match route pattern.

The caller, not realizing the significance of disconnecting a call to the Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) without saying anything, hangs the phone up and pretends it never happened. After a hang-up call, the PSAP tries to call back and if they get no answer, they send the police out to investigate. Many cities and counties will now charge as much as $2000 or more per erroneous call to the PSAP.

There are many different solutions for preventing accidental calls to 911. No particular solution is the right way or the wrong way. The “correct” solution for your system is dependent on the rules of the county/city/state your phones are located in. In addition, your companies policies need to be considered along with what processes your users are familiar with.

The following list of possible options is not a complete list of solutions for accidental calls to 911. But it does identify some of the more popular methods to solving the issue.

Train users not to hang up the call: User education is one of the best ways to cut down on accidental 911 calls. Make sure your users know that if they do accidentally dial 911 they are to stay on the phone and let the PSAP operator know the call was an accident. This stops the system from calling the phone back, as well as sending the police to investigate.

Eliminate direct dialing of 911: Remove the 911 route pattern and only have a 9.911 route pattern. There are many issues with this method of stopping accidental calls to 911, least of which are legal issues. Every person in the country has been taught to dial 911 for an emergency. During an emergency situation most people do not think to dial 9911, only 911. It is very important that you check the rules and regulations of your local city, county or municipality that governs your local PSAP to determine if this is a possibility for your company. In a lot of local areas removing 911 is acceptable, as long as a large and significant notice is placed on each phone stating you must dial 9911 for emergencies.

Security office: Some local governing bodies say it is OK for 911 to not route direct to the PSAP, as long as there is a security office on campus that is manned 24 x 7 x 365. You could create a translation pattern for 911 that directs calls to the phone extension of your manned security office.

Change the outside line prefix to an 8: Many companies are implementing this solution because it is typically the simplest solution to  accidental 911 calls. The most significant issue with changing from a 9 to an 8 for an outside line is user education. As users become more comfortable with dialing an 8 instead of a 9, this relieves most of the accidental calls to 911. The change to 8 is simple if you are using MGCP on all of your gateways where the dial plan is centralized in the Communications Manager.

However, if you are using H.323 (or SRST (Servable Remote Site Telephony)) on the gateways, you have to change the route patterns to 8, as well as go to every H.323 gateway and change all the dial-peers to 8. This can be very time consuming and can be vulnerable to “fat finger” errors. Other places you may need to make changes are IP services (fast dials allow you to specify the access code), Unity restriction patterns, user speed dials, dial-from-outlook dialing rules, and fax machine speed dials.

Reroute 911 calls to Unity Auto-Attendant (AA): Route the 911 route pattern to the Unity Auto-Attendant. Record the opening greeting to say “press 9 now for emergencies or hang up and dial 9911”. Again, remember to check your local governing body for the rules and regulations; in most locations this is not a legal method of dialing 911.

Induce IDT (Inter-Digit Time Out):Remove urgent priority from 911 and 9.911 route patterns and add two additional route patterns 9.911!# and 911!#. Reduce the T302 timer to something less than the default of 15 seconds. Users would also be able to dial 911# to force the call with no IDT, which would induce IDT if no # is dialed after the digits giving the user time to realize they have made a mistake so they can hang up before connection.

Third party 911 services: An internet based 911 service provider can be hired to handle all your E911 needs. Or you can create a SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) trunk to the E911 service provider. Supply them with a list of extensions and extension locations in order that they can route the calls to the correct PSAP. They also have on-site appliances that can be installed for a more robust E911 service that would also track mobile users on your network.

Accidental dials with On-Hook dialing

Another method of dialing is when the users dial the number and then press the dial soft-key. This method can produce the same results as in the off-hook scenario above if the first 3 digits are 911.

In older versions of Cisco Communications Manager, prior to phone load 8.4, the phone would send the digits one at a time – even if you dialed them first and hit the dial soft-key. This would cause the 9.911 route pattern with urgent priority to be matched and the call to be sent even if there was a longer match route pattern.

If the phones are running 8.4.x or higher phone loads, the phones will use enbloc dialing when you hit the dial soft-key. In other words when you dial the whole number and press the dial soft-key, the phone sends all the digits in one packet or enbloc. This means the Communications Manager will look at the whole number to match the route pattern and bypass the 9.911 pattern with urgent priority.

WARNING: No matter what method you choose to reduce accidental dialing of 911, you must check with your local governing body of your PSAP and follow all guidelines to stay within the law.

Author: Paul Stryer

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