What is E911 and How Does It Work for VoIP Calls?

What is E911 and How Does It Work for VoIP Calls?

VoIP service has a lot of advantages for users, but there are a few situations where VoIP works differently from other types of phone service. In the case of emergency calls, VoIP calls have to be handled differently from most other calls. With landlines, there’s an effective system in place nationally that links specific physical addresses with individual phone numbers. This way, whenever an emergency call is placed, the dispatch team can immediately see an address associated with the phone number and make sure help is on the way to that address. It’s a bit more complicated for VoIP, though.

Be prepared! Know the differences between how different phone systems handle E911, and why VoIP may need special effort to ensure it works properly when something such as an emergency occurs. We’ll help you figure out how you’ll need to plan and prepare your business. From there, it’s all about your own action and effort.

In this article, we’ll talk about what E911 is and how the system handles VoIP calls, as well as some steps you can take to be more prepared in the event of an emergency. You will need to have a plan for emergency scenarios and make sure everyone using your VoIP phone system regularly is aware of what it can and cannot do with regard to emergency calls.

VoIP systems are highly reliable and offer great features, but they need to have updated profiles showing an address that can be used in emergency situations.

Article Contents:

  1. Why VoIP is Different
  2. What is E911 and How Does it Work?
  3. Being Prepared for Emergencies

1. Why VoIP is Different

VoIP service, or voice over Internet Protocol, uses the Internet to route calls and doesn’t rely on traditional telephone wiring to make it happen. With landline phone service, calls are routed over existing telephone wire infrastructure that is set up as a public network your building can connect to. A telephone company offers service over this network. This is how many calls, especially in the past, were placed. Because VoIP uses the Internet, it isn’t tied down to one location or associated with a single place in the way that landline phones are.

For emergencies, 911 was created in 1967 as a universal telephone number to dial anywhere in the United States to receive help from first responders. This number can be called from any telephone, regardless of the type of phone or the location. Dispatchers operate out of local and regional response centers and are trained to interact with callers and quickly assess the problem before dispatching appropriate help to wherever the call is coming from. Both landlines and VoIP phone users can use the 911 system and receive assistance in an emergency situation.

2. What is E911 and How Does it Work?

E911 is the database connecting phone numbers to the physical addresses that they go with. For landlines, this is fairly straightforward process because addresses are provided to database by the telephone service providers automatically. This is usually fixed and unchanging, as landline phones don’t usually change their numbers or have phone numbers moved. Each number is tied to one spot–you can’t use your landline number to call from somewhere else, for instance.

With VoIP, it get complicated. VoIP numbers can be used to dial and receive calls from anywhere there’s an Internet connection. As such, it’s hard to know if an emergency call coming from. It could be from a local address, or it could be from across the world. Because VoIP subscribers get to choose their own area codes and can have their phone numbers work anywhere they choose. This is a strong advantage for many businesses, since a lot of companies are starting to hire remote workers or keep offices in different locations. Yet it can be a disadvantage in this regard, so you’ll have to plan around this aspect of VoIP and be willing to make alternative plans to prepare yourself in the event of an emergency.

3. Being Prepared for Emergencies

Because you still want to be prepared for emergencies and be able to use 911 if something happens, you should register your address with your VoIP provider. To do this, you can generally update the information directly in your user or administrative portal. That way, your provider can place this address in a database that dispatchers have access to for whenever you or someone else places an emergency call. The address will appear onscreen for the dispatcher and they can provide it to first responders if something happens.

It also helps to have emergency plans in place for your business. Do you know what you’ll do if an emergency occurs? How about a natural or man-made disaster? Having this information in place in advance can help you respond better if the situation becomes chaotic.

For instance:

  • Does your VoIP provider have a plan in place? Generally, you’re looking for a provider who offers redundant service and equipment, so that if a natural disaster or man-made disaster hits, your phone system isn’t taken offline for extended periods of time.
  • If your industry requires better uptime than normal, have you chosen a provider who can offer 99.999% uptime? This is considered the gold standard, and is often referred to as “five nines.” It means your service is guaranteed to function 99.999% of the time and only experiences 0.001% downtime.
  • Do you have updated addresses filed with your VoIP provider for each phone number? This is often something you can have users change within their online portals. Having the right addresses ensures that you are prepared and your team is better protected before something happens. If your users change locations, they can change their addresses so that your VoIP vendor has the right information for the E911 database. It is worthwhile to do this for VoIP phone numbers, as we often expect them to work the same as any other phone, especially in a pinch when an emergency happens.
  • Have contingency plans in place if your employees need to work remotely or adjustments need to be quickly made as the result of a natural disaster or forced closure. Choosing someone to be in charge of coordinating the plan, updating it, and running drills with your team can also help.
  • Can you quickly use an alternative service or get a redundant system going if something happens to your primary phone system?

In other words, you do need to plan ahead, prepare for emergencies, and do ongoing drills to ensure you are ready if the worst happens. This will also help everyone to be on the same page and know exactly what is expected of them. Being ready for emergencies will help you protect your team, your community, and others around you. No one wants an emergency to happen. That said, they do occur, and it’s important to be as ready as possible. Do what you can now to ensure that your phone system will continue to operate or to ensure that you have viable alternatives if the worst were to occur.

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