May 05 2021

E911: What Small Businesses Need to Know

A pair of recent laws have altered the compliance landscape around 911 implementations, but the changes could help save lives and speed up emergency responses.

When a phone call goes through to an emergency system, seconds really do count.

And with recent regulations targeting large multiline telephone system implementations, your company will have to keep Enhanced 911 (E911) implementations in mind when updating its communication systems for the next generation.

Compliance will create new challenges for businesses, but the solutions could save lives. The two laws play differing but related roles in implementation:

Kari’s Law: This regulation came about partly because of a tragedy involving a hotel room phone system. After Kari Hart Dunn was attacked by her estranged husband in a Texas hotel room, her daughter attempted to call 911 to reach help. The hotel required users to dial an additional “9” to get an outside line, which the daughter did not know — and tragically, the mother died in the attack. Signed into law in 2018, Kari’s Law solves this issue by requiring that newly implemented telephone systems dial directly out to 911 without a prefix for an outside line.

RAY BAUM’s Act: Named after a late politician and government affairs official for the National Association of Broadcasters, this is a broad update of regulations for communications systems, also signed into law in 2018. One of those rules applies specifically to E911 settings, requiring that location information be accessible when calling into a multiline system.

Federal Communications Commission regulations require that both of these rules be implemented for all new E911 systems, with these requirements for notification, at minimum:

  1. Evidence that a 911 call has been made
  2. Valid callback number
  3. Information about the caller’s location conveyed by a multiline telephone system

When upgrading a telephone system, businesses must keep both of these laws in mind. Kari’s Law is relatively easy to implement, requiring a process called dial tone configuration that’s often included with new telephone systems sold by Cisco and other vendors. The addition of location, however, can prove more challenging to implement.

E911 Implementation Considerations

Mark J. Fletcher, the vice president of public safety solutions with 911inform, notes that every building is different, meaning that any solution to comply with RAY BAUM’s Act will be customized to a given business.

“Looking at a floor plan, a map, having someone there to direct you, open doors, unlock doors, get access — that’s the important part of a 911 solution,” Fletcher says, “much further than ‘Hey, come here, I need you.’ I mean, that’s just the trigger.”

Fletcher recommends creating a compliance checklist to help your organization better set things up within each building, to understand how what you’re doing matches legal needs and to give internal staff an idea of what to do in a given incident.

WATCH: Learn more about communicating in the workplace of the future.

“You have to look at the environment and then apply the safety best practices against that,” he says. “You might end up changing your environment a little bit, or it certainly would change your thought process.”

The Role of Smartphones in E911

There are other considerations that aren’t necessarily under the purview of the recent E911 law changes but that you may want to account for internally, such as cellphones.

Mobile devices can be difficult to track inside buildings, but one way to help improve their implementation is by using a geofence, which can make it easier for emergency systems to tie a phone to a specific location.

By being proactive with your approach to 911 compliance, your organization can avoid fines and regulatory issues — and more importantly, it can help save lives by removing room for error in an emergency response.

This is one form of compliance you can feel good about getting right.

This article is part of BizTech's AgilITy blog series. Please join the discussion on Twitter by using the #SmallBizIT hashtag.

Agility_Logo_sized.jpg

Prostock-Studio/Getty Images