With 80-90 percent of 911 calls coming from mobile phones, the chances of them appearing to be a non-service initialized (NSI) call are pretty high. Calls from these devices come into a 9-1-1 center as having a 911 area code, since there is no area code associated.
If you have been taking calls for a day in a 9-1-1 center you have probably already identified that calls that come in from a 911 area code are challenging to process.
What is a NSI device?
According to the FCC, a Non-service initialized (NSI) device is a mobile device for which there is no valid service contract with any cellular provider.
NSI devices have “no associated subscriber name and address, do not provide a call-back number, cannot be called back, and may not provide the location.” However, these phones can still contact emergency services, and usually have a “911” area code for the call back number.
In short, the FCC First E911 Report and Order that was drafted in the summer of 1996, mandated that both service initialized and non-service initialized devices have the capability of connecting to 9-1-1 when dialed. In addition, there needed to be an indication to the telecommunicator that the device will not be able to be called back, resulting in the ANI/ALI displaying the phone number with a 911 area code.
When the order was released, there was a very small percentage of wireless 9-1-1 calls coming into 9-1-1 centers across the nation. I would wager those who created the document had not anticipated the cell phone industry to be as expansive as it is today. It is clear this requirement for the times was appropriate.
However, the use of cellular devices has dramatically changed – and yet it took 12 years for a petition to re-evaluate the rule and seek solutions. Here we are in 2020 and not much has changed, the number of and limitations of 911 area code calls have had a profound negative effect on public safety.
How to (properly) handle an NSI call
As I travel around the country speaking to 9-1-1 professionals, I am intrigued by the number of surprised looks to each other I see when I ask the question, “Did you know that not all 911 area code calls do not have service – some actually have a service and data plan that can deliver location to 9-1-1 and be traced if needed?
After a brief pause to let it sink in, I then explain that there are various reasons why a call may be delivered to the Emergency Communications Center (ECC) with a 911 area code. I also explain that very rarely do I hear this taught in 9-1-1 training classes.
Let’s peel back the layers of the often-overlooked reason for a 911 area code call and the importance of proper call handling procedures when handling them. Basic call-taking standards suggest the telecommunicator ask at a minimum:
- Where is the location of the emergency?
- What is the name of the calling party?
- What is the phone number they are calling from?
- What is the problem?
In addition to asking the questions, the telecommunicator must also verify the ANI/ALI and report any discrepant information to the proper authority. With that said, when the ANI/ALI is displaying a 911 area code, not all telecommunicators ask, “what number are you calling from?”
While I don’t want to assume they are not asking “what number are you calling” from because they assume there is no phone number available, it seems a bit obvious that this may be the reason it is omitted from the caller interrogation.
The goal here is first to emphasize the importance of asking, “what is the number you are calling from,” on every 911 area code call, and then to know what to do with that number when traditional means are not providing location or additional information.
Below are several “other” reasons a 911 call may be delivered with a 911 area code:
- The phone has not completed registration at the time a 9-1-1 call is placed
- The call is placed from areas of weak or no signal and another network is required to deliver the call.
- The calls are made from a handset that selects the strongest signal, which may not be the subscriber’s carrier
- The calls placed by consumers roaming in areas with or without automatic roaming agreements
- Calls placed on foreign phones
- Normal network events, system reboots, and other circumstances that can occur during the mobile switching center (‘MSC’) to MSC handoffs, for several seconds after the phone is powered on.
- As the call is made as the phone is recovering from the loss of service in a tunnel.
- Prepaid phones that have run out of minutes
Finding the location of a Non-Service Initialized call
When a service initialized device is appearing to be a non-service initialized device, there are a couple of options to obtain location and/or additional data that may have been provided at the time of the call.
- Having the verbalized phone number from the caller will allow a carrier to attempt to ping the call if the need arises
- If you have access to RapidSOS Portal, manually searching the phone number may reveal the device-based hybrid location and additional data (if applicable)
- Utilize Jurisdiction View in RapidSOS Portal to automatically track the location and identify the phone number of the call on a map of the ECC’s jurisdiction
As you can see, 911 area code calls may have another layer of location and additional information available, knowing how and where to access the information that may be available could mean the difference between life and death.
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