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Standing Tall: CSPs and Emergency Numbers

Estimated Reading Time: 6 Minutes
Much has been made recently of who the ‘essential’ workers are in our societies, and of what constitutes ‘essential’ work. We can all think of a few obvious examples off the top of our heads: shop workers, public transport workers, emergency services personnel, to name a few. But what about communications service providers (CSPs)? Beneath the veneer of our societies, the physical network infrastructure of CSPs is keeping every aspect of our ever-increasing communication usage moving, and that obviously includes calls to emergency service numbers and government hotlines. At ECT, we are glad to know that, in some small way, our technology is helping to support these types of communication around the world. Let’s take a look at some of the ways in which CSPs are proving themselves to be cornerstones of a functioning society during a crisis.

Amber alerts and emergency numbers

In January 1996, Donna and Richard Hagerman of Arlington, Texas, experienced every parent’s worst nightmare. The body of their nine-year-old daughter was discovered four days after she was abducted while playing on her bike with her brother. It was a crime that stunned a community, and one that would have consequences both locally and all around the world. Her name was Amber, and she is now known nationwide in America for the ‘Amber alert’ for missing persons within the Broadcast Emergency Response System.

Later that year, Amber’s father, Richard, attended a media symposium in Arlington with a friend, who was to give a speech. That speech called for a new way to broadcast information about missing children to the public, involving various forms of media, such as radio, roadside billboards and television. A reporter from a local radio station heard the speech and took its ideas to the Dallas police department, to see if they could make them work in practice. Shortly thereafter, the first ‘Amber alert’ was trialed, via a series of radio broadcasts in the north of Texas. Over the next two years, the alerts were developed to include other forms of media, as well as participating cell numbers via SMS. Today, many of us know Amber’s name and the service it represents.

We already know the most important emergency numbers in Germany, the UK, the Netherlands or the country we live in, and we are all conditioned, almost instinctively, to call the emergency services whenever we witness or experience a crime, accident, or any type of crisis. Anyone who has ever dialed an emergency number like 911 or 112, for example, knows that the responder on the other end of the line is potentially hearing their voice at the most vulnerable time of their life. They could be physically threatened, trapped in a blazing building, or suffering a heart attack. Emergency numbers are useful because they allow someone caught up in such an event to both raise the alarm about it and to help tailor the correct response. And being able to use them when we are in such a situation, free of charge, without communication problems or wait times is not just a nice extra – it could be lifesaving.

The ideas from the Arlington symposium related to emergency communication in the opposite direction: From a centralized source traveling outwards to thousands – potentially even millions – of recipients. That is, to people who are not directly involved in a given emergency, with the aim of raising the alarm among them, so that they can help to avert a disaster. Both forms of communication are vital for the health and well-being of the general public in any society.

Nearly 80 percent of jobs may well have been affected, and many have been lost altogether as businesses go under – but not in the telecommunications industry.

Essential Services and COVID-19

Fast-forward almost 30 years to 2020 and the world finds itself dealing with the respiratory virus, COVID-19. So far, it has wreaked untold economic havoc around the globe – some reports say as many as 80 percent of all jobs have been affected – and forced nations with varying political systems to enter states of lockdown or adopt other stringent, social countermeasures. Amber alerts (which have been internationally adopted in the time since Amber’s murder), alongside emergency numbers, are absolutely vital tools available to governments and citizens in their fight against the virus.

In the Netherlands, Amber alerts were first adopted in 2002 in order to track down a missing boy. He was located safe and sound after a citizen recognized his face from a billboard image. To this day, there are over three million direct Amber alert participants in the Netherlands, and any given alert will reach 12 million Dutch citizens – 89 percent of the population. Given that Amber alerts in the Netherlands have a success rate of 94 percent, it’s no wonder that the Dutch government opted to disseminate its COVID-19 emergency message to citizens via SMS, using this infrastructure. Other governments have acted similarly, with the British government relying on CSPs to send out its own SMS detailing its emergency measures to tens of millions of people.

In Belgium, one of our customers is running the emergency number 112 on our technology. All live emergency calls are processed simultaneously, taken into the same complex call-tree, assigned a service number linked to the location of the user, and are then distributed to the nearest corresponding emergency branch with that same number. In order to properly work, emergency numbers need to have disaster recovery and very high availability. CSPs are the only entities capable of guaranteeing these conditions because they are both nationally regulated and in control of the necessary physical network infrastructure. In the Netherlands, the amount of emergency number users is sharply rising; our customer has noticed a large increase in system traffic, which continues to work seamlessly.

Looking again at the Netherlands, ECT technology in the CSP network facilitates the Dutch government’s official Covid-19 crisis hotline. This line is similar to those in other countries that citizens can call regarding information on such things as virus symptoms or government guidelines for isolation. It goes without saying that the usage of these numbers has been high and is also growing. You may also think that CSPs risk a reduction in service or the potential to reach maximum physical capacity when they run emergency numbers or hotlines in times of crisis. That’s why we offer CSPs the ability to realize such services via our virtual network function (VNF) integrated with the automated lifecycle management of a VNF manager, such as Nokia’s CloudBand Application Manager (CBAM); this makes it easy to scale up (or down) the capacity automatically as demand waxes and wanes, without having to install additional hardware. It means CSPs can continue to offer ad hoc solutions of benefit to society that can easily react to changing demand, crisis or not.

CSPs are the only entities capable of guaranteeing these conditions because they are both nationally regulated and in control of the necessary physical network infrastructure.

CSPs are standing tall

Amber alerts, emergency numbers, and government hotlines. Missing children, burning buildings, and costly pandemics. A time like this has a way of boiling things down to their key elements. Nearly 80 percent of jobs may well have been affected, and many have been lost altogether as businesses go under – but not in the telecommunications industry. In fact, telecoms is busier than ever, with CSPs working to make sure that emergency services, governments, and industries have the communication infrastructure and tools they need in order to keep the wheels of our world turning and the general public safe.

At ECT, we know this firsthand because we work exclusively with CSPs. We take heart from the fact that we are helping them to do their part in the fight against COVID-19 specifically, and generally in times of emergency. If you have any questions about how we can help you to support your local government and businesses during this moment of crisis, please don’t hesitate to contact us. And, of course, stay safe.

ECT Editorial Team