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911 tragedy in Calgary reveals perils of VoIP

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ibagli

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http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20080501.wphone02/BNStory/National/home

An ambulance was dispatched in response to a 911 call about a toddler in distress, but the Internet phone service said paramedics went to the address it had on file – a home in Mississauga – not the new home in Calgary where the distraught family waited in vain for help.

The child died before an ambulance sent to the right place could get him to hospital Tuesday night.
 

SCPD

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even though you have VoIP, wouldent you still go to a dispatch center somewhere. if this is true, the dispatchers first question is always "911 where is your emergency"
 

mtindor

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That indeed is a sad story. I know better than to count on VOIP - I wish everyone else did. What's sad is that cable and other broadband providers are allowed to market their VOIP service as being a substitute for a landline phone, when there is absolutely no substitute at this time. If it isn't poor quality of service / poor voice quality, then it's inability to properly track the number in event of an emergency or it's complete phone outage in the event of power outage.

Landlines are reliable for a reason - but everyone is willing to give them up to save a quick dollar. This is what happens when they do.

The consumer is partly to blame because the majority of consumers are trying to save on landline phone charges so they can spend that money on something less important. The regulating authorities are at fault because they allow VOIP services to be marketed with only obscure fine print references to E-911 caveats.

Mike
 

z96cobra

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lakekid313 said:
even though you have VoIP, wouldent you still go to a dispatch center somewhere. if this is true, the dispatchers first question is always "911 where is your emergency"

Its "911, WHAT is your emergency" everywhere around here. Then they usually start asking for the address. Not being an ass, just saying! If the dispatcher gets the info on the screen they may not even pay attention to the city/state if the street is familiar to them. They would just assume that it was in their territory if the call came to them.

Roger
 

Jay911

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I don't want to get into any hot water here, so before I say this, I want everyone to know I am not speaking for my employer in any way, shape, or form. There are plenty of people who will give you official statements/sound bites/opinions.

Having said that.. we answer "911, for what city?". This is because we answer for a very large chunk of the middle south part of Alberta, from the BC border to just east of Calgary, and from about a third of the way to Red Deer to just south of Calgary - in essence, Calgary is in the lower right corner of our dispatch/9-1-1 area. And we have "Main Street", etc., in more than one of these towns.

VoIP is a dangerous thing in terms of 9-1-1. When it first came on the scene, we got emergency calls for places in all parts of western Canada just because the point where the Internet was linked to the regular telephone system happened to be here in Calgary at the ISP's data center. Nowadays, in truth, I'd probably be unable to tell if an incoming call was on landline 9-1-1 or VoIP, except for the line on the addressing record which tells the phone provider (company)'s name and contact info.

When a regular phone dials 9-1-1, the phone system traps the call in a special circuit in the phone network, where it can't be released (hung up) by anyone except the 9-1-1 calltaker. The person on the other end could smash the phone into a million pieces, rip it off the wall, and then if you connected another phone to the bare wires, the 9-1-1 operator would still be there, theoretically. However, with both cell phones and VoIP phones, there's no way to capture the line like that, so if the call drops, the call is lost.

The concept of taking a VoIP phone with you across the country, and having it still registered to address ABC while you're actually at address XYZ, is something that didn't occur to me until this situation came up. Ultimately it boils down to the fact you have to, have to, have to update your phone records if you're going to move and keep the same (VoIP) phone.

Also, to z96cobra: Our Computer Aided Dispatch system requires a validated address in order to proceed with a call for service. If a call is delivered to us that has all or any part of the address incorrect or not falling within our valid address system, the system throws up a virtual 'red flag'. We don't and can't assume a call is in our territory unless the address matches exactly, including municipality (town/county). Example: There is a Macleod Trail in our response area, and a Macleod Trail in a town south of us that is in a totally separate 9-1-1 center's area. It's entirely possible we might have a cell phone call that makes a crazy bounce off a tower in the south of our area where the caller might be on the Macleod Trail that's in the other town.

Anyway, if there's anything I can say to this particular incident, it's make sure the 9-1-1 operator has the information they need and knows where you are. Don't assume our magic addressing feed is working or showing us the right address. Don't rely on a telephone company operator to tell you that they'll get 9-1-1/the ambulance/police/fire for you. Talk to the emergency operator - we have questions we need to ask, and instructions we can give which may help you address your emergency situation prior to our crews' arrival.
 

ScanDaBands

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Heard a deputy response TODAY on a domestic.......Deputies were going nuts trying to find the address , seemed the numbers ended before the callers directions....don't ask me how but after about 30 minutes , dispatcher came back and said the call orginated from the next county over which had the same road and address ? Figure that one out.....sad but I guess it happens !!!!!!!!
 

iMONITOR

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I'm not sure VoIP had anything to do with the problem described in the article. It appears it was human error where someone did not update the records to reflect that the I/P address used in the call had been assigned to a different address. Couldn't the same thing happen with a land-line phone system if the people moved from their original location, and took their phone number with them to their new location...and someone forgot to update their records?

There is no magic taking place when someone calls 911 using a land-line that guarantees the call from that number is coming from a particular location. It's just a database that shows that phone number is on record as being at that particular location.
 

Raccon

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System at fault:
The “basic 911” service that many VoIP customers have puts them in touch with a call centre that takes down their address and contacts the closest emergency response centre. That's because subscribers are identified by an IP number rather than geographic location. If calls are disconnected, the VoIP provider gives the customer's last known address, which, in the case of the Luck family, was in Mississauga.

Traditional phone providers' enhanced 911 service sends location information on customers directly to emergency services.
Dispatcher at fault:
She provided the Calgary address, and the person on phone replied: “Okay, we are arranging it right away, so stay on the phone.” The line got disconnected, but Ms. Luck believed an ambulance was on the way.
Caller at fault:
The worker at the call centre had a hard time understanding the caller because of a language barrier, Mr. Barzakay said, and relied on the Mississauga address on file and dispatched an ambulance there. He added that customers are encouraged to stay on the phone, but in this case, the caller hung up.
Procedure at fault:
Elijah's mother said the family moved to Calgary from Mississauga in March of 2006. They changed their mailing address and receive bills in Calgary, but were never told they needed a separate 911 address change.
Take a pick whom / what to blame.
 

af5rn

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GreatLakes said:
I'm not sure VoIP had anything to do with the problem described in the article.
Yeah, VOIP is not some insidious problem here. This is no different than the millions of cellphone calls that roll into 911 everyday.

Raccon is right. There was epic failure on many levels of this incident that had zero to do with VOIP.
 

SCPD

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z96cobra said:
Its "911, WHAT is your emergency" everywhere around here. Then they usually start asking for the address. Not being an ass, just saying! If the dispatcher gets the info on the screen they may not even pay attention to the city/state if the street is familiar to them. They would just assume that it was in their territory if the call came to them.

Roger
well at least in NJ is "where is your emergency" thought that was a standard
 

Stick0413

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It all depends on the dept here. I have heard XXX (locality) emergency... XXX (locatlity) 911... simply 911... 911 what is your emergency.. 911 where is your emergency... there is no one way that it is done around here.
 

yyc_tbird_sc

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Great lakes:
When you take your phone number with you....you still have to call the phone company and tell them that you want to do that. This way they can transfer you on the system and be sure that the land line is properly connected.

With VoIP, all you do is take the modem and plug it into an internet connection and you have your number.
 

Grog

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Raccon said:
System at fault:
<snip>


Dispatcher at fault:
<snip>


Caller at fault:
<snip>


Procedure at fault:
<snip>


Take a pick whom / what to blame.


I say blame the kid, no one said it was allowed to get sick.
 

mikepdx

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mtindor said:
The consumer is partly to blame because the majority of consumers are trying to save on landline phone charges so they can spend that money on something less important.
Something less important?
Like FOOD, for instance?

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Here's an idea:
How about when a call is made to 911 from a VOIP number,
VOIP appears on 911's display.
In that case, by policy, the call taker would have to verify the exact location including city from the caller verbally.

When you call 911 from a cell phone, 911 knows that it's not a landline,
and would ask what jurisdiction (city) you're presently in. Right?

For instance, there must be more than a few very small towns close to each other,
where there's more than one "200 Main St" within a cell tower's footprint.
 
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Jay911

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mikepdx said:
Here's an idea:
How about when a call is made to 911 from a VOIP number,
VOIP appears on 911's display.
In that case, by policy, the call taker would have to verify exact location including city.

Presumably, when you call 911 from a cell phone, 911 knows that it's not a landline,
and would ask what jurisdiction (city) you're presently in. Right?
So-called Enhanced 9-1-1 services have what is called ANI/ALI, which stands for Automatic Number Identification/Automatic Location Identification, which provides a detailed record of the caller's location and phone number (kept on file by the phone company) to the 9-1-1 center. This information is delivered directly into the CAD (Computer Aided Dispatch) system, or, in places where they still use paper and pencil to process calls (which includes more than a few places, even in these days), is displayed on a computer screen.

The ANI/ALI "spill" (as it's called, since it dumps information into the CAD record of the event) contains the name of the phone subscriber (who pays the bill, in most cases), the address where the phone is located (in a format matching established addressing conventions), the telephone number, and the emergency services agencies responsible for covering that particular location, as well as finally, the name of the telephone company and the phone number used to reach that company's service center. So you might see:

JOHN SMITH
123A MAIN ST CALGARY
RES (403)123-4567

FIRE: (403)111-1111 CALGARY FD
EMS: (403)111-2222 CALGARY EMS
POLICE: (403)111-3333 CALGARY POLICE SERVICE

TELUS CORP (888)123-4567
Those three lines marked FIRE, EMS, and POLICE change with every call that comes in, and automatically route to the appropriate agencies, so that we can press the respective 'hot button' on our phone to connect the 911 caller to the proper service.

Cell phones in this area provide us with the phone number and the tower site info, as well as which direction the cell phone is "hitting" the tower from, in degrees from north. Example:

BELMO (416)124-5167 TOWER SITE B1234 AZ 120
12345 67TH ST SW AIRDRIE
CELL (416)124-5167

FIRE: (403)111-1111 AIRDRIE FD
EMS: (403)111-2222 AIRDRIE EMS
POLICE: (403)111-4444 RCMP POD 4 N OF CALGARY

Bell Mobility (800)134-5678
The cell phone in that situation would be 416-124-5167 and they are hitting the antenna that faces roughly southeast off the tower (120°, AZ = azimuth).

Similar records exist for all phones, including pay phones (PCT), business lines (BUS), and other such stuff. Currently, the only way we would learn of a VoIP line would be the last line showing up as something like "Rogers Internet (800)123-4567".

We always ask what city even if the address verifies fine in CAD. Partly because verifying the address twice is part of the call evaluation system we use, and partly because of the large area with similarly-named streets that we are responsible for.

However, the call which spurred this message thread never actually made it to Calgary Public Safety Communications. It reached the "911" center that the Internet provider (Comwave) operates to transfer such calls to the "normal" telephone network.
 

mikepdx

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Jay911 said:
So-called Enhanced 9-1-1 services have what is called ANI/ALI, which stands for Automatic Number Identification/Automatic Location Identification......
Thank you for the EXCELLENT explanation of the technology.
 

iMONITOR

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yyc_tbird_sc said:
Great lakes:
When you take your phone number with you....you still have to call the phone company and tell them that you want to do that. This way they can transfer you on the system and be sure that the land line is properly connected.

With VoIP, all you do is take the modem and plug it into an internet connection and you have your number.
The phone company still needs to update their database showing that your old phone number is now at your new address.

When you move your modem to another location, you are not always guaranteed the same I/P address. Also, when you move your modem, and VoIP service to a new address, the provider has to update their database showing your new address. Otherwise how would they bill you?

So the accuracy of the location of a 911 phone call is still dependent on the provider updating their database with either service.
 

mdulrich

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I use Vonage VOIP and before the system allowed me to dial 911, I had to enter my address into their 911 database using my online account manager. This was VERY evident when I set up the account with LARGE RED LETTERS. Vonage sent me a confirmatory e-mail when their system would allow me to dial 911. If I move or take my adapter with me I need to enter the new physical address into the account manager. If I would take my adapter out of the country I need to set my account as out of country for 911 purposes. Vonage also has a feature that allows me to dial a three digit number to verify my 911 dialing status, where my 911 call will be directed, and if E911 information will be sent to that dispatch center.

Mike
 

newtoscanning

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911 and vonage, a walk in the park!

I got vonage last Sept (Sep 07). I was really concerned about the whole 911 issue, I had some heart problems the earlier year and I am a frequent user of 911. (highly legitimate)

As stated in the above post, when you set it up, it's F*cking everywhere about the 911, in the e-mails, there's a BRIGHT RED CARD in the hardware box, and most annoying, EVERYTIME you call for tech support, they MAKE you listen to the ramble about 911 BEFORE they even help you. So it was VERY VERY clear the steps needed, to set it up, all you do is put in your address, and it sends you a confirmation e-mail.

When you call 911 from the phone, it's answered with "vonage 911 center are you located at XX Street in Toronto, Ontario, Apt ####". After stating yes they ask what service you need and they tell you to stay on the line. They then transfer you to a toronto police # where you can here them talking to the dispatcher, it sounds the same as if you called from a cell phone or land line "911 do you require police fire or ambulance." They ask for the appropriate service (that I told them earlier). Once connected to fire or ems they say there dispatcher ID and that they're calling from the vonage 911 center and they've verified the address on their screen. At this time the EMD or EFD take over and it's like talking to a regular dispatcher.

The process takes about 30 seconds longer, but hey, I was WELL WELL WELL warned of this prior to using the service!
 

WA4MJF

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Around here the first question is "What is the location of the emergency?"

Rationale is the call may not be where the ANI says it is for many reasons
such as, autopatch, cell phone, VoIP, number billed to a central location,
data error, etc, etc. Autopatchs are flagged to let the call taker know that
the ANI is NOT the location, that it is half duplex and to say over.

The reason is if the call gets cut off, they know where to send something,
usually a LEO, to get more details.

Works for us!
 
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