Last year, the Federal Communications Commission issued guidance for people and businesses considering voice-over internet protocol (VOIP) phone service. Namely, the FCC warned that 911 calls made over VOIP service can go to the wrong dispatch center, the center’s non-emergency line or may not connect with dispatchers at all.
When asked about whether Owensboro-Daviess County 911 dispatch had ever encountered problems with VOIP calls, Director Paul Nave said the center experienced two issues recently where a 911 caller from businesses with VOIP phones had trouble making contact.
“The system didn’t allow them to get (the call) out,” Nave said. “It may not have been set up correctly to allow them to call 911.”
“We’ve had several issues where we had to work with (VOIP service) providers, and the businesses to rectify the issue,” Nave said.
VOIP phones make calls through the internet instead of through a landline or cell tower. The FCC said 911 calls from VOIP phones not properly set up with the phone’s physical address have been known to connect to the wrong dispatch center or the non-emergency phone line, may not send the caller’s address and phone number to dispatch, and may not work at all in a power outage.
Nave said while VOIP phones offer more services to businesses, the phones have to be set up with the correct address for 911 calls to be routed properly. A business with several satellite offices will show 911 calls coming from the main office if the branch office addresses were not entered, Nave said.
In some cases, 911 calls won’t connect at all, or will connect with the VOIP provider instead of dispatch.
The FCC doesn’t regulate VOIP systems, because it goes through the internet, Nave said.
The issues are not solely with business phones, he said. “This can happen with a residence.”
A person who doesn’t make sure their VOIP provider has their correct address can’t be sure dispatchers will know where they live in an emergency.
If a person moves, a VOIP 911 call is going to go to the dispatch center associated with the address on file with the provider, even if that’s your former address, Nave said. “There’s going to be a significant delay” while the call is rerouted to the proper dispatch center.
Kristi Jenkins, director of Muhlenberg County’s 911 dispatch center, said the agency has experienced similar issues, although nothing that caused a significant problem or delay.
“I’m sure it has happened in the past,” Jenkins said. People with VOIP systems should know there can be issues, she said.
“It’s good to get the word out,” she said.
Nave said the VOIP provider should be contacted to make sure the right address for 911 calls is in the system. The dispatch center will also test homes and phones with VOIP phones upon request to make sure the system is connecting with dispatch properly.
“It’s scary and it’s frustrating for us” when VOIP calls are misrouted or provide wrong to dispatch, Nave said. “It puts tremendous amounts of stress on our staff.
“The main thing you need to do is reach out to your provider to make sure your service is provisioned to make 911 calls,” Nave said.
James Mayse, 270-691-7303, firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @JamesMayse