Do I lose 911 functionality with a VoIP System?

By Sheila Shanker
Updated: March 11, 2011

Many people wonder about the 911 functionality when moving into VoIP. When you use your regular phone to call 911, the call is routed to a Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) in the United States. The 911 system is not handled centrally; instead, it's managed by each county in connection with local governments. This system has been moving into an enhanced 911 mode, also known as E911. When you call in using E911, your location is automatically presented in the dispatcher screen, a major efficiency in emergency services delivery.

The Federal Communications Commission has required VoIP providers to give access to 911/E911 services, and now many firms are transitioning to comply with this requirement. Be aware that this requirement is not for every VoIP provider. To make sure you have this important service, take these steps:

  1. Inquire about 911 services and any limitations for your area. This service may work for some areas, but not others. Be sure that your area is covered.
  2. Ask the provider the number of 911 calls made last year using the service. If the provider cannot give you any numbers, ask more questions and be alert for possible problems. If the firm doesn't keep tabs on 911 calls, maybe this service is not reliable.
  3. Keep your provider abreast of your correct home address and let them know of any changes. Many providers keep track of this information, in case of emergencies. When a 911 call is placed, the provider can give your address to emergency services.
  4. Find out who and where is your PSAP and confirm with it about your 911 situation. VoIP carriers may transmit the 911, but many small locations may not capable of receiving the calls.
  5. Be sure that all users of the VoIP system know of the home or business address, so that if 911 is called, whoever is on the phone can give a proper location.
  6. Consider adding a backup power supply, in case of power failure to assure that you have access to the Internet and the phone service, in case of power failure.
  7. Get a land-line to be used for emergencies only.
  8. Research online to verify the reliability of the 911 service your provider offers in your area. Check out the Federal Communications Committee website for any news at http://www.fcc.gov

Inquiring about 911 services when you sign up with a provider is a good idea. Make sure to comply with requirements for address changes and ask your provider many questions regarding the reliability of its 911 service. You wish you never have to use the service, but then…you never know…

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