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How Your 911 Service Changes When You Switch to VOIP.

Updated: November 6, 2013

As they say, safety first.

9-1-1 is your staff’s connection to the local emergency service. With most landline telephone systems, it’s a direct connection from your office to a public switchboard to a local emergency dispatch. Dispatchers know your location immediately and use it to instantly determine the nearest available response team. So what happens when your IP phone makes calls through the web instead of a landline?

When you switch to Hosted VOIP, your 911 service changes too. Find out what those differences are, and how a dependable provider can make a difference in an emergency.

Hosted VOIP 911

Since VOIP networks encode and transmit data over digital networks, they don’t rely on copper wire pathways - or landlines - between locations. The phone operator’s location has to be provided to the local dispatch by the Hosted VOIP provider.

In other words, the phone number has to be actively and continually associated with a location to relay accurate information. This information is always available on traditional telephone system despite any changes in user and owner. This is why some emergency preparedness plans suggest maintaining a landline after you switch to VOIP just for 911 situations.

Service Provider Updates

Although there are regulations in place to maintain emergency service standards across all phone technologies, some providers offer more in emergency preparedness. More specifically, they offer client education, frequent updates to local dispatches, and general service accountability.

Some providers don’t have an internal policy to monitor how often the information is updated for dispatch databases. The longer it goes without an update, the higher chance of an inaccuracy in the dispatch database. This is further complicated by remote network access since the same number can be used from different locations with a hosted service - in the office, at home, from a hotel or a mobile device. When the call is placed, which location is received by the dispatch?

Emergency centres do have protocols in place that identify when calls are incoming from a VOIP system. This prompts the 911 operator to request the location and caller information that would normally be provided. Although this precaution is very important, it’s an unnecessary step if the information is updated properly.

Network Continuity and 911 Service.

Not all VOIP services and technologies are the same. The biggest concern for companies new to VOIP service should be overall uptime and disaster preparedness. If your network goes down, then you certainly can’t make emergency calls. This could leave you disconnected at the worst of times.

How to avoid losing power.

Unlike a traditional phone service, VOIP requires your building’s general power to function. The only way to keep your system up in a power outage is to install, configure, and monitor on-site battery devices (which you can read more about in our article on power redundancy).

If both power sources fail then mobile phones will have to be used to call emergency services. Mobile phones can either place calls from a Hosted VOIP network or via a cellular provider.

How to avoid losing Internet.

Always try to pair a Hosted VOIP service with the recommended Internet connection to minimize downtime. A service provider with a proprietary data network can offer a much better uptime guarantee. This will give you reliable Internet access for both business-as-usual and emergency situations. A Service Level Agreement (SLA) (which you can read more about in Epik’s Guide to SLAs) will give you a sense of their accountability and reliability.

Safety First,

Always. Be sure to go with a provider that properly assesses the ins-and-outs of emergency preparedness and 911 availability.


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