VoIP and 911(E911)

VoIP and 911- are we applying old methods to new technology? The basic infrastructure of the 911 system relates to the fact that every home has a standard landline, and that phone line can be traced to produce an accurate address. This makes the 911 system “traceable” and is even deployed in the “reverse 911 system”.

Because VoIP technology exists by sending “Packets” or units of information as data signals over the Internet, and because many Internet connections are mobile and high speed Internet can be wireless or through a cable modem, the technology to “trace” a computer’s location to determine an address in the case of a 911 emergency just isn’t reliable.

As the market for VoIP continues to grow daily, the issue of VoIP users and 911 has been of prime importance. The main question is, “Where does VoIP fit in with Basic 911?” The system of emergency management has undergone many changes over the years but has finally evolved to a very thorough system providing quick and timely response in the case of an emergency. When a person calls 911 from a standard telephone, they are immediately transferred to a Public Safety Answering Point Dispatcher. The dispatcher has the capabilities of seeing your phone number and location when you call.

Many mobile service providers have already established the Enhanced 911 or E911 program. This program connects to the Public Safety Answering Point and displays the caller’s location.

Because VoIP is technically not a “phone service”, VoIP has not been incorporated into the 911 systems. Unfortunately, there have already been serious tragedies and consequences stemming from VoIP users not having functional access to the 911 systems.

For many, the use of 911 may be a call, and then the Public Safety Answering Point tracing their location. With VoIP users, this isn’t an option.

For VoIP the relationship with 911 is a strained and complicated one. The FCC has imposed new regulations that VoIP service providers need to comply with Emergency 911 regulations, but the problem is deeper than just a matter of compliance. The problem extends to the fact that the very infrastructures of VoIP and PSTN networks vary.

For instance, when someone is on a VoIP network and dials 911, there is no way to “trace the line” and receive an accurate location. If someone calls 911 from a VoIP network, and then drops the phone, the call simply will not be traced. There are some steps that VoIP service providers have enacted to help address the problem, but the simple point remains, that IP addresses can not be traced during a 911 call to report an exact location.

When you first sign up with your VoIP service provider, the issue of 911 will be addressed. The FCC has enacted regulations to address this problem and the first step the FCC has taken is to make sure that all VoIP service providers have their customers sign a “waiver” or statement that they understand that their 911 services may be impacted due to VoIP.

Some service providers do not offer 911 calling, some do, and some will require the customer to register for 911 services. For VoIP providers that do not offer any 911 services, it would be a wise choice to keep a landline phone connected to your house.

Hopefully, if the FCC and VoIP service providers do not come to a permanent solution, they could readdress the issue of PSTN and 911. As it is now, you cannot purchase a landline phone for the sole purpose of having access to 911. You must have basic telephone services as well. Possibly, they could create special 911 lines dedicated solely to the enabling of all residences having 911. Until then, you do have a few options.

If your service provider does have 911, if you have an emergency, the first thing that you will need to do, is speak clearly, and give the operator your location, address, and name. The Public Safety Answering Point Dispatcher will not have any of your information in front of her. You can see, that this could be a disastrous problem if you were out somewhere without knowing your location. Another solution is to keep your cell phone on you for the sole purpose of utilizing 911.

Your VoIP service provider may require you to register your information with 911. Always double check with your service provider to see if your 911 services require activation. Unfortunately, there have been cases of people not activating their 911, and in a time of crisis, when they tried to call, they were met with a recorded greeting.

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