Public Safety Broadband

Telemarketing Calls Invade 9-1-1

Vector icons set call center avatars in a flat style

 

Call Taker:  9-1-1, what is the location of your emergency?

Caller: Hello! how are you?

The caller then breaks into a sales pitch for:

  • Dental Insurance
  • Priceline
  • Hilton Resorts
  • Marriott Resorts
  • Orlando Theme Parks
  • Cancun resorts
  • Travel Dollars

and many more….. The telemarketers did not understand that their Envoy Robo-Dialer had routed their call to 9-1-1. This specific issue began in South Florida in September and is still in the process of being resolved.

HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE?

If you work in a 9-1-1 Center you know the term pANI.

When a wireless caller dials 9-1-1, the system inserts a fake or “pseudo’ phone number (automatic number identifier or ANI) into the 9-1-1 call flow while the wireless callers real phone number is being identified. This pANI is sent, along with the audio, to the PSAP and presented on the call takers screen.

If you look at a cell tower, there are normally three sides or sectors and each sector has a group of these ‘fake’ or ‘pseudo’ numbers associated with it.

By design, you should not be able to directly dial these ‘fake’ phone numbers- Example below-

pani

What we now understand is that one of the major wireless carriers utilized phone numbers that can be dialed directly in their 9-1-1 configuration.

SO- A telemarketing company loaded a series of sequential phone numbers into their dialer, and the fake or pANI phone numbers were included. Because the wireless carrier had these numbers configured wrong, the robo caller dialed the number and directly connected their telemarketer to 9-1-1.

It took a lot of research and time to identify the root cause. Tremendous frustration on the part of 9-1-1 call takers who endured this issue for weeks.

Eventually the root cause was identified and the wireless carrier began making the appropriate configuration changes (requesting non-dialable numbers to be used as the pANI)  throughout their network.

Now- if we actually had Geospatial routing, the need for the pANI would go away…

 

GeoSpatial (location based) Routing- We Tried

When I took over this project in 2013, one feature that appealed to me was geospatial  routing. Instead of wireless 9-1-1 calls being routed to a PSAP based on the cell tower/sector database, it would now be routed to the correct PSAP based on the location of the caller. (You NG9-1-1 technical types out there- you know the acronyms and flow)

We have hundreds of cell towers and 18 PSAPs, so the idea of avoiding/reducing 9-1-1 transfers between PSAPs  made tremendous sense.

There were plans to create a geofence around our main courthouse and the airport. Both of these facilities are located within the City of West Palm Beach, yet – as County facilities- are staffed by the County Sheriffs Office. Placing a geofence around these properties and routing 9-1-1 calls from within the geofence directly to the Sheriffs Office makes sense and, as we were told, easy to do.

courthouse

logo-courthouse

Palm Beach County Courthouse West Palm Beach

Our GIS team attended training, reviewed the standards and went to work on preparing our data. A few months ago, after having the data professionally ‘vetted’, we felt that we were ready to move forward with location based- geospatial- routing.

Around this same time we were asked to look at the current routing of 9-1-1 calls FROM the Town of Palm Beach. Donald Trump has a ocean front home on the island (not far from  our offices).  The town is a 16 mile long, narrow, barrier island. There are only a few cell towers. As a result, a number of 9-1-1 calls that originate on the island are connected to cell tower sectors across the intracoastal waterway. They are routed first to a ‘mainland’ PSAP and then transferred back to the island.

The ideal scenario would be to route all 9-1-1 calls directly to the Town of Palm Beach PSAP. In this scenario, turning on geospatial routing made sense.

In our industry there is a lot of talk about implementing this feature. So- when we reached out to the wireless carriers to let them know we were ready- we were surprised at the response.

Today, wireless carriers in our area are not ready to transition away from the MSAG and cell sector routing. It appears to be a complex issue. A portion of the 9-1-1 fee is returned to the carriers for providing  9-1-1 services (including the MSAG), so moving away from this may take time.

I have been told that there are NG9-1-1 deployments out there that are doing geospatial routing. I do not mean holding the call and waiting for the ‘Phase 2’ data as the initial input..

If you are reading this and are truly doing geospatial, please comment below – I’d love to speak with your wireless provider. In the meantime there are options being discussed in certain working groups, led by the FCC.

 

State 9-1-1 Boards and NextGen

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One aspect of FirstNet that I truly respect is the fact that they are funded, organized and empowered regarding their mission. They have the potential to positively impact Public Safety on a national level.

Things are not as well defined with NextGen 9-1-1. At the state level, we currently have extremes regarding  9-1-1 Boards and their authority. While some states are up and running with NextGen, others are struggling with the initial planning. Two States (Wisconsin and Missouri) do not even have a state level 9-1-1 Board.

Laurie Flaherty and her team @ 911.GOV have done a great job collecting and interpreting data from states.

Depending on the specific details, Home Rule  can play a major role in the lack of centralized authority for 9-1-1.

There are initiatives today at the federal level regarding funding for Next Generation 9-1-1. We do not want the scenario of a state receiving funding for NextGen without a definitive plan. For those states that do not yet have a plan in place, one option is to engage the Department of Homeland Security Office of Emergency Communications.

This VIDEO may prove of interest. I participate as a subject matter expert (SME) for DHS and believe this program to be of tremendous value.

 

Critical Infrastructure

 

cr

 

There are 16 specific sectors in the U.S. that are considered critical infrastructure. 9-1-1 is  part of the Emergency Services sector, as defined by Homeland Security.

If you have a legacy PSAP (Public Safety Answering Point or 9-1-1 Center), you depend on the local telephone carrier to keep their central office equipment up and running during any event. The challenge then becomes the local connections- analog phone lines, T1, PRI, etc that connect your PSAP. These are typically single threaded, even if you have two connections from the same provider, they can end up on the same fiber or the same central office.

If you are planning to implement a Next Generation 9-1-1 system, you CAN have much more control over this situation.

Commercial business, especially large companies, understand the critical importance of ‘uptime’ to their business model. It is common practice to have a least two facilities that house their critical servers (data centers) and multiple  telecom providers. 

Consider putting a multi-telecom carrier requirement in your RFP. A primary and backup (or active/active model) for your NG9-1-1 Core Services equipment should be standard. Your NG9-1-1 PSAP could have have a circuit from your local Telco, maybe a wireless LTE connection (router card) to a different vendor and if you have an alternate provider (maybe your local cable company offers business broadband), include that in the mix.

Satellite  is also being used by the ARK-TEX Council of Governments.

Bottom line, you protect your PSAP operations by not tying yourself to single vendor.

The culture, for years in the 9-1-1 community, has been one of trusting the local telco to take care of everything outside of the building.  If we truly want to maintain as much uptime as possible and see our PSAPs as part of the nations Critical Infrastructure, then we need to step up and get involved in defining these requirements.

 

As they say, it’s not personal, it’s business.

 

 

 

 

 

Ransom Attacks

OrElse

 

There are three broad categories of hackers:

  1. Destructive (crash a website, destroy data)

  2. Social Justice (Edward Snowden, WikiLeaks)

  3. Those that want to make a Profit 

One of the popular tactics used by those in category 3  is to hack into a company database (such as Target) and steal credit card information. The hacker can then take these to a “Cyber Pawn Shop” where the list would be published for sale on the ‘Deep Web’

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These ‘Cyber Pawn Shops’ sites will sell credit cards in bulk, the price is normally reduced as they ‘age’ in time. Bottom line- it is better to to steal LOTS of credit card info, which is why a hack such as Target was possibly a large financial score.

Now we are seeing a dramatic increase in Ransom Attacks. The hacker goes into the computer system, takes control and encrypts operational data, demanding payment for a password.

On one level this approach makes better business sense:

  1. Eliminate the middleman (Cyber Pawn Shops)

  2. Hackers set their own price

In some of the recent attacks, systems were simply shut down. Earlier this year a hospital had its medical records encrypted- basically shutting down the hospital (Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center) until a ransom was paid. Hospitals, schools and cities are estimated to have paid hundreds of millions of dollars to date (source- CHRIS FRANCESCANI- NBC News).

Hackers are also targeting Police Departments nationwide.

A quote from the August 19, 2016 Wall Street Journal article by Robert McMillan:

“According to the U.S. Department of Justice, ransomware attacks have quadrupled this year from a year ago, averaging 4,000 a day. Typical ransomware payments range from $500 to $1,000, according to cyberrisk data firm Cyence Inc., but some hackers have demanded as much as $30,000.” Link

One aspect of this that is of great concern- in many cases these organizations have an IT department and security policy. They have purchased the typical ‘products’ such as firewalls, etc. So how can this be happening?

Today it is estimated that over 90% of the Ransom Hacks enter through a ‘phishing’ email, which an employee ‘clicks on’.

SO- based on the above, we can see two issues:

  1. The phishing email made it through the system

  2. Employees may not be properly trained regarding email security

If you’ve already transitioned to an IP based NG9-1-1 system you are safe- for the moment- as email is not directly connected.

But how about future hacking techniques or 9-1-1 text messages with hyperlinks? 

APCO Project 43, NENA and the FCC Task Force on Optimal PSAP Architecture (TFOPA) are all discussing the issue of security as we transition to IP. We should stay plugged into their ongoing recommendations…

 

 

 

A Shout Out to NextGen Tech Support!

tech-support

One of the greatest impacts the transition to Next Generation 9-1-1 will have is to those individuals providing technical support.

So, let’s put this in perspective- below shows the traditional 9-1-1 system today.Legacy

When a PSAP calls for support, the first thing the provider might ask for is the circuit information. Based on the diagram above, this makes sense- I check the circuit, then the equipment on either end. All 9-1-1 calls are send to the Local Telephone Company and its Selective Router. So, if things look good on the telco end and the circuit (CAMA Trunk) appears to be functioning, the next step is to check the equipment in the PSAP. Maybe a  dispatch to the PSAP to address the issue.

An important factor- the above picture shows that everything is:

  • Local

  • Linear and connected

  • Logical to troubleshoot

  • 9-1-1 Calls flow from left to right

  • Problems and outages are normally isolated to a single PSAP– there is no ‘network’

So imagine you’ve been in your role for awhile. You understand how things are connected, the different vendors, you are good at your job. You understand the critical nature and the importance of resolving any 9-1-1 issue as quickly as possible.

One day you receive a call from a PSAP that is connected to an ESInet (Emergency Services IP Network). Hello NextGen..

Our model here in Palm Beach County, FL now looks like this:

ESInet

  • There is more than one selective router and they are located over a hundred miles apart

  • The call processing has been removed from the local PSAP and is now ‘hosted’, in our case, in Data Centers – one five counties north. There are now two Call Processing systems and they support ALL of the PSAPs

  • A technical issue might affect one, many or ALL PSAPs

  • In the world of Internet Protocol (IP), things are connectionless, meaning that you are going to need additional technical support to see how the specific 9-1-1 call flowed through the system. There is no dedicated path a 9-1-1 call must follow. GIS and other I3 functions may engage

  • The complexity of the support model has now changed dramatically

  • The “Time to Repair” a problem has the possibility, especially during these times of transition, to be extended

If you provide technical support in this environment- thank you. Management has hopefully provided you and your team with a diagram that depicts each customers layout…

Training, staffing and procedures are all issues our vendors and partners are working to address.

 

 

Testing 1,2,3…

Recently, the Federal Government released a committee report. This report included the recommendation that the Standard Occupational Classification (SOC), NOT be modified to change the classification of Public Safety Telecommunicator from “Office and Administrative Support” to critical public safety professional. This was in direct opposition to the recommendations from APCO, NENA and the Congressional NextGen 9-1-1  Caucus.

OPM

The hope was that the committee would agree to reclassify Telecommunicator as a “Protective Service Occupation”. This is the same category as firefighters, police officers (and life guards)

Brian Fontes, CEO of NENA – “The men and women of 9-1-1 do so much more than just answer the phone. They guide callers through life-saving procedures, provide advice on how to handle dangerous situations, and provide critical backup to field responders, all while under great stress and pressure.”

APCO President Brent Lee- ” I am extremely disappointed that the Policy Committee failed to address the inaccurate classification of Public Safety Telecommunicators in the SOC.”

It would appear that the Office of Management and Budget does not ‘hear’ the compelling story of the service  Call Takers and Dispatchers provide.

As I understand it, NENA and APCO will be meeting with both OMB and Congress in an effort to resolve this before the SOC classification is finalized in 2017.

One thought- The Washington, D.C. “Unified Command” PSAP is only a 16 minute drive from the Office of Personnel Management. I had the pleasure of meeting  Karima Holmes , the Director, last week. I am sure that she would be more that willing to give the OPM Committee Members a tour.

Would somebody please set this up?? (Directions provided above..)

Google Can Now Provide Wireless 9-1-1 Location Information with its Android Operating System.

Google

First-  It is important to remember that there can be three distinct issues involving wireless 9-1-1 calls :  

  1. Call Routing  (Having the 9-1-1 call routed to the correct PSAP)

  2. Enhanced Location Information (Phase II) Challenge

  3. Indoor Location Information Challenge

With this recent Google announcement, we are only dealing with items number 2 and 3 above. The Google announcement does not address item 1- Call Routing.

Also, Googles’ mobile operating system, Android, commands approximately 80% of the market globally and almost 60% of the market in the United States.

And now:

Andriod111
Google has announced an Android feature that can  provide accurate location information for wireless 9-1-1  callers.  It is currently available in the UK and Estonia.

Google Europe Blog Post

Per Akshay Kannan, Google Product Manager “this uses the same location technologies available on your phone, including Wi-Fi, GPS, and cell towers, to produce a more reliable emergency location both indoors and outdoors.”

There is no app to install. Instead, Google will work with each wireless provider to allow the location information that Android calculates to be utilized by 9-1-1. An individual calling 9-1-1 would not need to have any knowledge of the technology or do anything special (e.g. search for their 9-1-1 app), they simply dial 9-1-1.

Google is reportedly in discussion with U.S. wireless providers.

So, without any technical details, Google has “put it out there” that they can assist the 9-1-1 community and the general population. Exactly how this technology works, or how the wireless carriers will utilize it, is not yet clear. We can guess, however, that this may be a major breakthrough that could immediately assist Calltakers by better identifying the location of the 9-1-1 caller.

We are all aware that last year the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted new rules around 9-1-1 location accuracy. APCO Website on the the FCC Location Rules. Will the wireless carriers utilize this technology to quickly provide more accurate location data for 9-1-1 callers? Or possibly use it to augment other plans?

I am hopeful that more information will be provided in the near term.

Also, I hope our friends at Apple have a similar offering in the works. I turned down an offer to work on Tim Cook’s team back in 2004- I’m not sure he will take my call…

 
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NextGen 9-1-1 Inside the PSAP

If your career is INSIDE the Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP), one question might be “How will NG9-1-1 help us do our job?”

In speaking with Telecommunicators (those dedicated individuals that answer your 9-1-1 call), many identify the following to be important:

  • Reduce the number of transfers– in other words, have the network route wireless 9-1-1 calls to the correct PSAP the first time, eliminating the need for 9-1-1 Call Takers to transfer the call elsewhere. note: I’ve listened to a lot of 9-1-1 calls, it can literally freak people out to tell them that you cannot help them, that they are located in another jurisdiction and you will need to transfer the call. Recently, a mother whose child needed assistance called 9-1-1 and was told that her call needed to be transferred. She became extremely upset. Later, she went to a local TV station to complain. Dan Koenig, from my team, and I were interviewed for a segment to explain how the current system works. 

Today most wireless 9-1-1 calls are routed, not by the callers location, but by which cell tower and cell tower face (sector) their mobile phone is connected to..

In the example below, the 9-1-1 caller is connected to a cell tower and sector that is ‘programmed’ to send all 9-1-1 calls to Municipality A. This is simply a limitation of how the traditional 9-1-1 network functions today.

PSAP A will receive this 9-1-1 call.  Once they determine the 9-1-1 callers location, they will transfer the call to PSAP B.

Cell Sector

  • NextGen impact:

With Geospatial Routing, the location of the caller is determined first. This information is then passed on to the GIS mapping function, which should then route the caller to the correct PSAP. In the picture above, the NextGen system should route the 9-1-1 caller directly to PSAP B.

Update: Admiral David Simpson of the FCC (Bio Here) posted a comment on this blog, mentioning that there are numerous occasions, throughout the country, where the mapping capabilities of (in this scenario) PSAP A would not provide the location of the 9-1-1 caller, so the Call Taker would not know where to transfer the call to provide assistance.

It is important to note that the above example addresses only a single  aspect, routing the call to the correct PSAP. Next post, we will look at the Holy Grail of identifying the exact dispatchable address of the 9-1-1 caller…

FCC Chairman Testifies on NG9-1-1

HECC

Today there was a meeting regarding the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) oversight responsibilities, conducted by the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee.

I am encouraged by the recommendation regarding funding for NG9-1-1.

Below is the testimony of FCC Chairman Wheeler:

Text of Wheeler Testimony on NG9-1-1

During my tenure as FCC Chairman, and in my prior testimony before this Subcommittee, I have been very vocal about the urgent need to improve our 911 system. The recent tragedies in Orlando, San Bernardino, and too many other cities highlight the importance of 911 in times of crisis. 

The Commission has taken action to improve the quality and accuracy of 911, and there is good news to report. We see industry is stepping up to many of the challenges, improving 911 location accuracy, supporting text-to-911, and generally investing to improve network reliability and resiliency. 

But effective 911 service depends on our nation’s 911 call centers. These Public Safety Answering Points, or PSAPs, must have technology to receive and process calls quickly, accurately locate callers, and dispatch an appropriate response. The unfortunate fact is that 911, designed originally for analog voice, doesn’t scale effortlessly to the advanced digital, wireless, and multi-media technology landscape. In too many communities, the PSAPs are relying on dangerously out of date technology, and the transition to Next Generation 911 (NG911) – envisioned by Congress in 1999 when it established 911 as the national emergency number – has not started or is stalled. Resource-strapped local jurisdictions struggle to maintain existing 911 service, let alone to achieve Congress’s NG911 vision. 

Industry and many states, counties, and cities are working hard to address transition risk and achieve NG911 capabilities. Nearly 20 percent of counties now support text-to-911. Many jurisdictions are building out their Emergency Services IP Networks – the basic backbone for NG911 in their communities.

But these islands of progress are the exception, not the rule. Unless we find a way to help the nation’s PSAPs overcome the funding, planning, and operational challenges they face as commercial communications networks evolve, NG911 will remain beyond reach for much of the nation. Let me be clear on this point: 911 service quality will not stay where it is today, it will degrade if we don’t invest in NG911. 

Congress has the unique ability to accelerate the transition to NG911. A clear national call to action, with timely application of resources, would actually lower NG911 transition costs by shortening the transition period and enabling 911 authorities to retire costly legacy facilities more quickly. Here are three ways that Congress could help:

  • National 911 Map: PSAPs are increasingly dependent on electronic maps for 911 routing and location, but the maps that they rely on should not end at the county or state line. Congress could authorize and fund the FCC (in collaboration with DOT) to create a national 911 map that would be available to every PSAP and would eliminate the seams between commercial communications network infrastructure and emergency response dispatch systems. 

  • Cybersecurity Defenses for PSAPs: PSAPs face the same cyber vulnerabilities that have proven so challenging to both government and commercial organizations, but most lack trained workforce and the necessary tools for cyber defense. Congress could bring PSAP IP Networks under the protective umbrella of DHS’s “Einstein” program by funding the deployment of intrusion detection sensors for NG911 networks.

  • National NG911 Implementation Date with Matching Funds: Currently, there is no national timetable or target date for completing the transition to NG911. Congress could establish a nationwide NG911 implementation date (e.g., to complete the transition by the end of 2020) and authorize matching funds to help state and local communities achieve this goal. Congress can further jump start this effort by ensuring that federally run PSAPs and Emergency Operations Centers make achievement of NG911 capability a funding priority.

This Committee has commendably made public safety a priority, and I urge you to do everything in your power to make sure our nation’s 911 system evolves safely as it adjusts to achieve your NG911 vision and that PSAPs have the tools and support they need to avoid undue risk in the transition.