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VoIP and Emergency Services

One of the most perplexing problems facing VoIP providers from the very beginning was how to integrate the VoIP system technology with emergency service providers. With traditional landline service, your telephone number is linked to your address in each municipal system. When a 911 call is placed from a landline, it is transferred to a Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) for the community, and the emergency services can identify your both your number and address and know where to respond. When VoIP technology was first launched, a big deal was made out of the fact that you could reach the appropriate 911 local services and they didn't know where you were etc. etc. (funny, how the same is true with a cell phone but nobody seemed to concerned about that). Regardless, this was, obviously, one of the first areas that VoIP providers addressed when striving to improve the technology and customer service.

As of 2005, due in part to a recent law passed by the FCC, every VoIP provider also provides 911 emergency call services, sometimes referred to as E911 services. Before they can sign you up for a package, the VoIP providers 911 policy and procedures must be read, and verified by you, and you must provide a physical location to go with your VoIP service. For example, Vonage requires this information during account set-up immediately after selecting your phone number, and before billing information. However, if you change locations, it is your responsibility to go into your account information and update this information, so that your VoIP provider always has a current location listed for you.

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When 911 is dialed with a VoIP service, the direction it is routed depends both on location and on the VoIP provider. Some calls are routed directly to the PSAP, and others (depending on location inside the US and/or overseas) are routed to 24 hr emergency staff of the VoIP provider, who then route the call to the appropriate PSAP point. Regardless of the direction they are routed, the phone calls from a VoIP network may not work correctly with the software to identify a callback number and location, so in certain rare circumstance the 911 caller may need to vocally verify their physical location to the emergency services provider. Finally, VoIP technology does work through your internet connection, so if at any point your connection fails or there is a power outage, your VoIP 911 service may not work.

911 Recommendations to VoIP Users

  • Make sure that your current address is registered correctly with your VoIP provider when you initiate service.
  • Always, always, always update your physical location with your VoIP provider for emergency services immediately after relocating.
  • Be sure you clearly understand any limitation of your 911 service as detailed by your VoIP provider, and you may want to consider posting a sticker on the phone itself
  • Make sure your kids, babysitters and visitors all know you use VoIP phone service, and what, if any, 911 limitations it has
  • Consider have at least one wireless phone as a back-up in case of power outages
  • You may also want to look up the exact phone number for you local emergency response services, and program it into your VoIP contact list as a speed dial number

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