Multiline Telephone Systems (MLTS):
The Overlooked Location Accuracy Problem
There is a great deal of talk about wireless location accuracy these days. Many people have died or been severely impacted because 9-1-1 systems were not able to provide an accurate location of a cell phone caller who was not able to verbalize their location.
Location accuracy is important, especially when an average of 70% of calls to 9-1-1 come from wireless phones. In Knox County for example, 828 of 1,154 9-1-1 calls were wireless in the month of June, which is 71% of all calls.
However, since the inception of E9-1-1, and long before cell phones were the focus, there has been another problem that has never been adequately addressed – multiline telephone systems (MLTS), or private branch exchange (PBX) systems.
Access to 9-1-1 Public Safety Answering Points (PSAP’s) and the limited location information these systems provide once connected are both long-standing concerns. Correcting these deficiencies should receive the same focus and energy as the wireless location problem.
Government and public safety agencies throughout the country have gone to great lengths to ensure consumers have 9-1-1 service available to them through traditional landline, wireless and VOIP services. However, every day millions of Americans, primarily at their place of employment, utilize MLTS that do not offer effective 9-1-1 service.
Most MLTS/PBX systems enable the digits 9-1-1 to be dialed and routed to a PSAP. However, the vast majority of these systems do not provide location information with the 9-1-1 call to enable emergency responders to know the actual location of the emergency within a large facility. As an example, a call from the 5th floor of a large hotel might only provide the street address of the building and not the floor or the room. Emergency personnel would have no way to know where in the building the caller was. If the caller is unable to provide his/her location and no one else is available to provide assistance, such a lack of information can prove fatal.
Numerous service providers currently offer technical solutions to the MLTS. Sixteen states have enacted statutes and regulations. In Maine, Title 25 § 2934 deals with Multiline Telephone Systems. In general, business systems responsible for operating a MLTS shall ensure that such a system is connected to the Public Switched Telephone Network in a manner that ensures dialing 9-1-1 will result in the display of the ANI (calling number) and ALI (location) at the appropriate PSAP.
There are two primary issues involving MLTS systems:
First, is the actual ability to reach 9-1-1 from a MLTS system. Most PBX’s use an access code to allow system extensions to dial outside the system into the public switched telephone network (PSTN). PBX systems are used in facilities such as public safety complexes and hotels. When a caller picks up the phone to make an outside call, they normally have to dial “9” or some other digit to get an outside dial tone. To reach emergency services, they must dial 9-9-1-1, for example. Many times in an emergency the caller never remembers to dial a”9” to access an outside line and the call never goes through. Most PBX systems today provide, or can be modified to provide the ability to allow 9-1-1 to automatically pass through the PBX system to a PSAP. Businesses should also have notices posted on the telephone explaining the need to dial “9” plus 9-1-1 for systems that cannot be modified to automatically pass these calls through.
The second problem is more complicated, but given improvements in telephone equipment in recent years, it is not as expensive to correct as it once was. A MLTS typically has a central switch to which a number of extensions are attached. Sometimes they are all in the same building, but in many cases, multiple buildings are involved. A hotel is an example of a system contained within one building, while a school system or a college campus are examples of systems where multiple buildings are served by the one switch.
In a hotel, if someone dials 9-1-1 and the hotel has already taken the necessary steps to allow direct dialing of 9-1-1, the call rings at the PSAP showing the main address of the hotel but does not provide the room number where the call originated. If the caller is not able to vocalize this information, the dispatcher does not know where to send the help. In the school system example, the problem is much larger. A call to 9-1-1 from any of the buildings shows the main address where the system switch is located, not the correct building where the call originated from. Even if the correct building can be identified, the system still does not show the specific location within the building. Having this problem fixed is essential to allowing the public safety community to provide the best service possible. If the switch itself is not capable of allowing the delivery of specific location information of the calling device to the PSAP, the system owner/operator is required to install adjunct equipment that will allow for that provision under Title 25 § 2934. Further, the database for phone location information should be required to be updated in a timely manner whenever a change to the phone system is made.
*Note: When a business switches from a PBX system to a more modern VOIP system, the requirements are still there to ensure that every telephone exchange assigned to the system is properly identified with the physical address, telephone number and location within the facility. If there is no information programmed, the 9-1-1 system does not know the correct PSAP to send the call to. These calls are then defaulted to the Department of Public Safety in Augusta for processing. This delays emergency response because the dispatcher will have to re-route the call to the proper PSAP and there is always the risk of the call being “dropped” or disconnected.
Business owners should consider this: Do the first responders know where the call is coming from in your system? In large office buildings or campuses with multiple buildings, it is not enough for first responders to show up at the front door. Conveying accurate location information to emergency personnel is critical.
If someone calls 9-1-1 from your building, how long it could take EMT’s to find the caller if he/she was unable to vocalize his/her location?