Recently, there have been stories hitting the news about the ability to call 911 from phones in hotels. Do you have to dial a 9 for an outside line first? Or can you just dial 911 straight away? These are questions that the public is asking hoteliers to answer.
The ability to access emergency services by dialing 911 is a vital component of public safety and emergency preparedness. The history of 911 and VoIP phones is confusing at best. As legislation has started changing, Enhanced 911 (E911) capabilities have become standard on smart, modern VoIP systems.
Currently, only 17 states currently have E911 legislation enacted. Most states still do not require VoIP vendors, or businesses using VoIP services, to provide E911 dialing capabilities.
The legal confusion and the intricacies of programming have made adoption of certain kinds of VoIP technology difficult and a bit unpopular for hospitality organizations intending to provide easy access to emergency services for their customers. While hotels can currently nominate a single trunk to provide 911 dialing services, the growing adoption and the need for hospitality organizations to have hosted telephony solutions or managed services has brought the E911 discussion back into focus.
The success of an E911 implementation relies on your hotel’s technology professionals understanding of how E911 works. We’ve written this post to help you assess your current risk and build a budget that prepares you for installation, maintenance, or upgrade costs.
E911’s History with Public Safety
VoIP is a much more flexible telephony option than land line phone service. But the confusion around 911 dialing has, for a few years, aggravated hoteliers and customers, often leading to trepidation about upgrading to more modern systems. Dispelling the trepidation is key to successful adoption of VoIP in hospitality based industries, which is important because modern telephony systems provide many new technologies and features that hoteliers and customers will love.
If you look at VoIP history, you’ll find that initially, dialing a 9 before the complete telephone number was required to get an outside line on large PBX systems. So in the past, you had to dial 9 to get outside. The technology required it. So at that time the only option callers had was to dial a 9+911.
And on older phone systems, or on phone systems that haven’t been programmed properly, this could still be the case; a fact that has created tragedies in situations when the standard convention directs the user to dial 911 in an emergency.
Modern IP phones have been upgraded to include dialing capabilities for 911 and 9+911.
But they have to be programmed appropriately to be able to do it—which requires a qualified technician.
Assessing your Risk
The liabilities exposed by E911 are multi-faceted. All enterprises must evaluate their footprint in states with legislation and assess their tolerance for risk related to applicable legal liabilities. Additionally, the impetus for E911 legislation continues to build, with additional states passing E911 statutes each year. Enterprises need to continue to comply with statutes in each state, because non–compliance in these states could provide proof of negligence (negligence per se) in an exigent situation. Even in those states without such statutes, failure to implement E911 technology appropriately or at all may be hard to justify with the technology so readily available with modern IP systems.
Explaining to your workforce or other stakeholders why E911 has not been implemented properly after a catastrophic event could cause irreparable damage to workplace morale, productivity, and public perception.
The risk assessment process has two basic parts: technical assessment and policy/procedures assessment. Methods used to assess are:
- Penetration Tests /Vulnerability Scans—tests your system security
- Security Policy Compliance—tests your organization’s compliance within its own security policy
- Legal Compliance—assess your compliance with your state’s E911 laws
- Best Practices Assessment—determines if your policies and technology are aligned with the best practices at comparable institutions
While internal security teams can perform a risk assessment, it’s often prudent to contract an independent party to conduct the evaluation. Outside auditors bring their breadth of knowledge and experience from working with other companies.
Building a Budget for E911
Building support inside your organization to implement an E911 initiative or even to get buy-in on a maintenance plan is an important task. There are multiple stakeholders within your organization that will be affected in some way by the E911 project, and it is important to explain everything to them, and identify how E911 will affect them.
These stakeholders typically include:
- Front Office
- Uniformed Services
- Food and Beverage
Fortunately, there are E911 solutions for every budget. The best place to start is often basic research. Consider the size of your business and the complexity of your phone network. Remember the following when starting to plan for an implementation, upgrade, or maintenance:
- Take your time and include your team. A budget is not the forecast you put together on the weekend. It must be the result of coordinated input and effort by you and your management team.
- Don’t try to budget to the last penny. Accurately predicting actual results is not the objective. It’s all about giving your company a direction to use as a jumping off point, and then later for course corrections—providing details on the financial points that matter most.
- Make the tradeoffs when necessary. You have a finite amount of resources available to you. The same can be said for VoIP providers. All communications solutions have their strengths, but vendors cannot provide every single tool that’s available in the whole market. Prepare your budget with the knowledge that you might not have access to the tool you want, but can use that budget to finance a tool that maybe you didn’t plan for. Most importantly, this discipline will keep you from overspending. But, it will also remind you to assess each vendor’s strengths as a whole—and not based on the one or two applications they cannot provide.
This approach ensures that you get the support you need, which is the key to the success of your project. Once you’ve budgeted, you can begin assessing vendors. We find that most hotels benefit most from highly redundant software solutions.
Next week we’ll be at the 2014 Hospitality Industry Technology Exposition and Conference (HITEC), most comprehensive showcase of hospitality technology in the world.
There we’ll be unveiling the second half of our post, which covers E911 programming and modern hospitality communications technologies.
If you’d like more information on becoming E911 capable, stop by booth 827 so that NEC Hospitality experts can answer your questions.