While the mid-2014 switch to the E-Comm 911 system has benefited many users, it hasn’t benefited individuals with voice over internet protocol (VOIP) phones.
“VOIP phones don’t work on the 911 system… they’re offered a limited form of 911 calling and it certainly won’t work during power or internet outages,” said Chris Vrabel, Campbell River Fire Department deputy fire Chief and administrator for the North Island 911 Corporation.
“When you dial from a land line, the operators in E-Comm… will have your name, address and telephone number associated with your account and that goes with your call to the appropriate [dispatch] centre,” said Vrabel.
“When you dial from a cell phone, your cell phone [number] and the latitude and longitude of where you’re making the call from or originating cell tower location will be sent along with your call.”
When someone in the North Island calls 911, their call is routed to E-Comm in Vancouver, where operators transfer the call to a dispatch centre in the North Island-Courtenay area for police, Victoria for ambulance or Campbell River for fire.
“That process takes about 30 seconds for them to do that,” he said, from the time the operators pick up the phone until the call is transferred to the dispatch centres.
Calls from VOIP phones however are transferred to Northern 911 in Sudbury, Ontario.
“They take your call, they have your information on account if they have it, they determine what’s going on and then they contact the B.C. operators service,” said Vrabel. “Then the operator looks up a list of where that call should go and they make that transfer. It’s certainly not a quick process, let’s be clear about that.”
According to the CRTC, of the 11.3 million residential home phone customers across the country in 2013, nearly half of them had VOIP phones instead of using a traditional cable company.
When VOIP calls are finally transferred to the appropriate dispatch centre, the enhanced location and phone number information is not available.
“It’s a voice call only. When we get the call on our screen we’re only getting your voice.”
According to Vrabel, while many switch to VOIP phones from traditional land lines for the cost savings, they need to be aware of the consequences.
“The CRTC has mandated that the VOIP phone providers put out a disclaimer with the product that 911 service is limited with their product. In a lot of cases the VOIP providers charge an additional fee to become part of the North Island 911 service.”