How Do 911 Calls Work with VoIP Software?
VoIP 911 calls work a bit differently with VoIP phones, since VoIP numbers aren't necessarily tied to a single physical location and 911 centers aren't necessarily able to know where a caller is without information from the E911 database. In this article, learn more about how 911 works with VoIP so you can be better prepared in case of an emergency.
How Do 911 Calls Work with VoIP Software?
E911 (Enhanced 911) allows VoIP vendors to provide phone service that can help first responders obtain the subscriber's physical location in the event of an emergency. This can help prevent communication problems if an emergency call is placed and the VoIP phone number is not tied to a specific location. This is how VoIP providers solve the problem of trying to find VoIP subscriber locations when they call---a database is cross-referenced for address information about the caller, making it much easier to locate the subscriber.
Whenever you get a new VoIP service account, you should let your provider know where your physical location is so it can be registered and provided to first responders in the event of an emergency. It is generally easy for Internet phone service customers to update their location if it changes, so relocating your business is a great time to also update your location information. 911 centers need to know where to send help if it's needed---never assume your address is going to be registered for you by the vendor. Be proactive and ask about it.
How Does E911 Work?
Historically, phone subscribers were provided service through an older legacy telecommunications technology. With these older phone systems, a physical location is tied directly to every phone number. At some point, authorities realized that it would be easier if first responders could automatically receive an address for callers. As a result, technologies used to determine the physical location of a caller have been implemented at most emergency call centers and 911 centers.
With VoIP, however, there is not necessarily a physical location tied to a specific phone number. This means that first responders need another way to get the caller's address.
The FCC requires that VoIP providers:
- Give subscribers information about emergency services and any limitations of their VoIP service with regard to accessing emergency communications.
- Send 911 calls along with information about the caller's location, if available.
- Always provide 911 service and not allow subscribers to opt-out of 911 service.
What are Tips for Using 911 Service and VoIP?
Before an emergency happens and you or a member of your team needs to call 911, take these precautions. You may need to take other precautions as well to ensure your safety:
- Know what the limitations are of your VoIP service and its ability to help you reach emergency services. Keep in mind that the people around you may not know, so share this info or post it near VoIP equipment.
- Train everyone on the limitations, if any, and suggest alternatives. You may consider keeping a phone with a different type of service on hand for emergencies, or instruct everyone on what to do if they ever need one.
- Don't assume everyone else knows how VoIP works or is familiar with the potential 911 limitations.
- Role-play how to deal with an emergency and consider what you'd do if you needed to reach first responders for help.
Getting Started with 911 Service and VoIP
E911 systems don't automatically work with VoIP phone service unless VoIP subscribers provide information about their physical location to their vendors. VoIP vendors can provide subscriber location information directly to 911 centers so phone users are safer in the even of an emergency. This way, although the number could technically be anywhere, the 911 center knows exactly where to direct help when the phone subscribers call with an emergency request for assistance. VoIP subscribers should do their own research and find out what the limitations are of their phone service for emergency purposes.
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