911 Misdials – Programming Your PBX To Minimize

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Misdialing 911 from your business telephone system not only can cause disruption to your business but can put lives at risk. It happens, more than we'd like to think, but when 911 is dialed, and the 911 operator can not speak to anyone on the line, your receptionist will receive a call back from your local 911 Emergency Center and is told that 911 was dialed from your location and wanting to know what the problem is? Unaware of any Emergencies within the building a frantic check begins. Sometimes even a call to the PBX vendor to see if they can find who dialed 911. If the 911 Center is unable to contact anyone with a return call, they will dispatch Police to check out the situation. This ties up 911 Operators from handling other calls, and pulls a Police officer (s) away from another call where they may need, and can delay a response to a real Emergency, only to later be found that it was a simple misdial.

How does a 911 misdial happen? The most simple explanation is that typically people calling from a PBX will dial 9 for an outside line, 1 for long distance, look again to verify the number they are dialing and then dial 1 plus the number. The actual dial string then looks like this: 9 + 1 + 1 ++. Notice the emergency services number in the string? Since the telephone system and the local carrier will ignore anything after the 911, a call to 911 has just been made!

Vince Foisy, Supervisor of Communications Systems for Rochester Hills Michigan, says that also many misdials are due to improperly dialed international long distance. For example, the country code for India is "91" and the city codes for Delhi and New Delhi are "11". When someone does not know how to or programs to dial the international access code of "011" the actual dial string, again, is "911". Mr. Foisy says that often in these cases, the person calling does not speak English well enough to be understood so a Police Officer may be sent to insure there is no actual Emergency, or the 911 Center may have a contract with a Language Translation Service they connect the caller to that can communicate with the caller again to only find out there is not a problem, then again tying up a 911 operator and costing the centers for the translation service.

Businesses are obliged to ensure that in the event of a real Emergency the 911 call can get out. Often, to help eliminate most misdials, the PBX vendor will program the pbx to force the user to dial "9911". This, of course, looks logical in that the user must dial a "9" for outside line access and then 911. But there is a major flaw in this logic. When in an emergency situation, the user will fall back to what they've been trained to do and that is to simply dial "911" without the extra 9. In this case the call will fail, increasing the already building situation of the situation . However, on the reverse side of this coin, if the use does dial "9911" and your PBX is not programmed for it, the call will also fail.

The result is that the PBX must be programmed to allow both "911" and "9911" calls. Of course this does not help eliminate the false calls to Emergency Services.

As a Voice Communications Specialist, I recommend a possible solution to the problem. That is to use the "Digit Conflict Timer" already built within your PBX.

Most modern telephone systems have within them the ability to distinguish between conflicting numbers. For example, your telephone system has the ability to know the difference when you are dialing "1234" or "12345". The system has to resolve between the two numbers dialed. This is accomplished using a digital conflict timer. In this case, when you dial "1234", your PBX knows there is a conflict with "12345". When the digit '4 "is pressed, a timer kicks in. This timer causes the system to wait to see if you are going to dial the" 5. "When this timer expires, the system then knows you intended to dial" 1234 " and not "12345". This causes a 3 to 5 second delay (the delay is programmable) when calling the first number but goes through immediately for the second number since the conflict has been resolved when the "5" was pressed.

To use this feature to help eliminate 911 misdials, the programmer adds some additional lines of code to the ARS or LCR programming. Most telephone systems are programmed for dialing "9" plus eleven digits to follows. That is 9-1-. The PBX program will delete the original "9" and send the remaining digits to your carrier. To create a "Numbering Conflict" that will help stop most misdials, simply add in another line or lines of programming that allows 9 + 1 + 1 +. Then program the system to delete the first "91" before sending the call to the carrier.

Now the system has to decide whether you are dialing Emergency Services or a normal number. It decides this by waiting the 3 to 5 seconds after you dial the digits "911" to see if you are going to press any other key. If you wait, the call goes to the 911 Center. If you dial any other digit, the call proceeds as normal.

Of course, this does add 3 to 5 seconds to genuine 911 calls. This delay is usually acceptable and will help eliminate false calls but you must evaluate your specific situation. To a person in need a 3 second delay can seem like minutes but in most cases this delay is reasonable.

The bottom line is if your receptionist is getting call backs from a 911 operator advising them that they received a hang up, get with your business phone vendor and insure they have set up your system to take into account the possible misdials, and make sure your staff understands that they need to stay on the line, and not hang up even if it was an accidental misdial to 911, they need to advise the 911 operator that that was just a simple dialing error. And YES there also is software / hardware that can be integrated into your business phone system that will specify to 911 the exact location of the phone in you building, or complex! See your pbx vendor for details.