One of the first things everyone should do when in an emergency situation is to call 911, since the response teams will be integral to getting the appropriate help. The problem is that the infrastructure this system is based on still relies on traditional phone lines, and the way it works is not suited to implementing more modern means of placing calls.
And since more and more people – both businesses and personal users – are considering VoIP services instead of traditional phone lines, one thing that is easily overlooked is how to deal with situations like this. Imagine if you exclusively use VoIP, how then are 911 services summoned? In truth VoIP can complicate matters when it comes to calling the emergency services…
The Difference Between Regular and VoIP 911 Services
Thankfully it doesn’t matter what kind of service you’re using at the time – be it landline, mobile, or VoIP – 911 is provided to anyone who has a phone number. What’s more important is that approximately 96% of the United States is covered by an even better service, Enhanced 911 (E911 for short) that automatically gives the dispatcher the caller’s location, even if said caller is unable to provide the necessary information themselves.
However, landline services are way more reliable than VoIP due to the fact that they utilize copper phone wires – which comes in handy during power outages – and a direct connection to the nearest public-service answering points (PSAPs). VoIP, however, is connected via internet routers, meaning that the moment the power goes out, all phones connected to the device become useless.
And to make things even more complicated, the caller only needs a connection to the internet to make calls using the same VoIP phone number, meaning that if an emergency call is placed there is a chance that the caller is miles away from the physical address provided to the VoIP company.
Making VoIP Ready for 911 Calls
Despite the possibility of VoIP failing you in cases of emergency, the situation is not as tragic as you may think. As a matter of fact, internet telephony companies are obliged to provide their clients a reliable 911 or E911 service that will automatically connect the user to the right place.
But it’s better be safe than sorry, so there are certain things to check before jumping into the deep water that is VoIP:
It’s best to maintain an alternate phone service like a cellphone or a landline. For this purpose it’s best to opt for landlines, since they remain active even if power goes down.
But if the landline or mobile service is not an option, then check out the 911 alternatives of the chosen VoIP provider. Vonage, for instance, has a national emergency center with trained personnel who, upon acquiring the necessary personal information, will connect the caller to a local emergency center.
Before subscribing to a VoIP service, always check out the 911 section of the Terms and Conditions, especially the part that tells you whether the service is available at all. However, there is a very high chance that 911 can be called through your service thanks to the 2005 FCC regulation that made 911 a must for all VoIP providers.
It’s important to provide your real address, otherwise the E911 service may end up sending help to the wrong place. This means that if you’re keeping your VoIP subscription while moving to another place then you must update your address every time. Also, if you are at a different address to the one associated with your account and are able to safely speak, explain your current location to the operator.
Last but not least, make sure you test 911 as soon as the VoIP service is established. However, once the emergency number is dialed, don’t forget to tell the operator right away that you’re fine and just testing the service. They will then follow the necessary procedure to confirm your details are correct.
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