By Dylan Goforth
Phoenix Staff Writer
It’s been 18 months since Muskogee County’s Enhanced 911 system went live, but there are occasional hiccups that require attention.
Two recent issues have been brought to the attention of administrators, who’ve spent weeks seeking solutions.
Muskogee County E911 Supervisor Darryl Maggard said the issues affect users of voice over IP phones, or Internet Protocol phones. He said a store in Haskell called 911 earlier this month, but the call was routed incorrectly, costing precious minutes.
The culprit was the store’s Internet phone service. Most VOIP systems are programmed to send emergency calls to the correct E911 center. However, the Haskell call was routed to a national call center.
“That happens when the provider hasn’t programmed the location in when the phone system is set up,” Maggard said. “So what happens is the call doesn’t route to the right place.”
The national call center, whose operators are charged with directing calls to the proper E911 center, redirected the call to Muscogee County in Georgia.
“That could have been bad,” Maggard said. “And it’s a problem anyone with Voice Over IP service could have and not know about.”
Internet phone service is growing in popularity among businesses and homes, Maggard said, in part because it can be cheaper than traditional phone service.
He said customers with Voice Over IP service need to call their carrier and have them check to ensure an emergency call is routed correctly.
“Just to be safe, that’s what they should do,” he said. “Because there are minutes or seconds involved here that can be crucial and there’s nothing we can do about it if the calls aren’t routed to us.”
The second issue for the E911 Center recently was confusing, he said. A Muskogee woman reported that she and two other people had called 911 from cell phones during a medical emergency.
However, each cell phone used a different provider. Two of the phones rang but were never received by the E911 center. A third call was finally answered.
What happened, Maggard said, was that AT&T, from which the E911 center leases call routing, had unknowingly routed changeover service to a series of backup phones that sit unused.
“We have two sets of six phones,” Maggard said. “That way if one group of phones are full of calls, all the calls roll over to the second set. Or if a group is down, there’s another group to accept emergency calls.”
AT&T had routed the calls to a bank of “disaster phones;” hence, no answer.
“It’s the second time that’s happened,” Maggard said. “It happened in September, too. That time, we couldn’t figure out what was going on until we flooded the system with calls ourselves and figured it out.”
In response, Maggard said E911 administrators have made it part of their routine to flood the system each month to ensure that rollovers are working.
“It just kind of highlights the fact that even though the technology has improved to where we can start to narrow down where someone who’s dialing 911 on a cell phone is,” Maggard said. “Nothing beats a land line in that instance. That address is hard-wired in. I keep one at home for that reason.”
Maggard did stress that cell phone users do give out a location when dialing 911. Cell phone carriers, he said, come in two types — network-based and handset-based.
With a handset-based carrier, such as US Cellular or Sprint, the phone broadcasts a GPS signal to a satellite, giving dispatchers an idea of where the caller is. For instance, one call at the E911 center stated the software was 63 percent sure the call was being made from within nine meters of an address displayed on the screen.
With a network-based carrier, such as AT&T, or T-Mobile, call location is discovered by a triangulation procedure based on what sector of a cell phone tower receives the call, Maggard said. Those locations are somewhat less precise, he said. Call logs show a series of network-based calls showing a 90 percent probability that the caller was within 100 meters of the displayed address.
The Federal Communications Commission has requirements regarding location precision:
• Handset-based carriers must have a precision of 50 meters for 67 percent of calls, and 150 meters for 95 percent of calls.
• Network-based carriers must have a precision of 100 meters for 67 percent of calls, and 300 meters for 95 percent of calls.
Maggard said the FCC has also stated that these regulations would become more stringent starting in 2019.
Reach Dylan Goforth at (918) 684-2903 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Muskogee County E911 Administrator Darryl Maggard said customers of Voice Over IP phone service, otherwise known as Internet phone service, should call their provider and ask them to ensure that their home or business system is set to route emergency calls to the proper E911 center. Otherwise, customers run the risk of their 911 calls going to a national center, which could cost crucial seconds in an emergency, he said.