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Sunday, August 10, 2008

Enough information was not provided: Emergency response through VoIP

Using the Internet instead of a traditional phone to call 911 could complicate emergency response to your home, Canadian officials are warning.

The warning comes after the death of an Alberta boy that has been linked to a mix-up caused by use of an Internet telephone.

Voice over Internet Protocol or VoIP, which allows you to make phone calls through a broadband Internet connection, has been available in the Greater Toronto Area for about four years. VoIP service is available throughout York Region. One of its selling points is it can be less expensive to make long distance telephone calls than using a traditional phone service provider.

The reliability of making emergency calls with the Internet service became the subject of debate earlier this week after an 18-month-old boy died. Paramedics were dispatched to a Mississauga address after a VoIP 911 call instead of being sent to the Calgary address where the child was because enough information was not provided during the call and the Ontario address was on file for the customer.

A complication arises when VoIP providers do not have the technology to allow their subscribers to call 911, according to York Regional Police spokesperson Constable Marina Orlovski.

If you have a VoIP phone and move it to another location, such as across town to a relative’s home and call 911 from there, the information sent to an emergency call taker will appear as your home address — not where you are.

"We have the capability to receive the calls. It's up to the VoIP provider to make sure their clients, first of all, have the technology and second, that their subscribers know about (911 service) and they have a system for them to sign up," Const. Orlovski said.

The traditional 911 system, based on land line use, routes an emergency call to the correct 911 center, according to Markham Fire's public education officer, Dave Blizzard. Enhanced 911 service provides the emergency call-taker your name, address and phone number.

Markham Fire also warns that access to 911 service for VoIP customers may not be available during a power failure or if the Internet connection is down.

"A phone call from your home or a neighbour's home is still so important," Mr. Blizzard said.

A Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) ruling on Oct. 20, 2005, required all local VoIP providers in Canada to provide notice to current and prospective customers about the availability and limitations of their 911 and enhanced 911 service. The CRTC also ruled local VoIP providers would have to communicate their 911 service limitations to existing customers at least once every year.

Advice to VoIP customers: Find out if 911 service will work through your VoIP provider.

Read another story on getting prompt emergency response.

Thanks for Joe Fantauzzi of YorkTimes.com for the source article.

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