New Way To Call 9-1-1 Encounters Problems

By: Elizabeth Donatelli
By: Elizabeth Donatelli

June 16, 2005

In an emergency situation, dialing 9-1-1 can save lives, but what happens when you can't get through?

"There have been some specific cases across the country where people dialed 9-1-1 who had voice over IP technology and they are finding out for the first time that they weren't able to connect," said Tom Hanson Executive Director of the Emergency Communication Center.

Internet phones are becoming increasingly popular, but most don't know that they may not be able to connect to 9-1-1. Unlike all places in the Commonwealth, Charlottesville does accept emergency calls from Voice over IP, however, the Emergency Communication Center cannot yet track it's location.

"If the caller can speak, we're able to talk to them and ask them the questions that are needed so we can get help to them. Right now we don't get any information so we have no location information on them at all," said Hanson.

New regulations, however, are making it mandatory for Voice over IP providers to send info to the call centers. It is a similar problem that cell phones had in the beginning. Most new phones, however, now have a tracking chip. We tested the technology and called the Center.

The respondents was able to locate us, right outside the University of Virginia Police Department, partly because the FCC passed regulations about tracking accuracy.

"300 meters 95 percent of the time and 100 meters 67 percent of the time," said Hanson.

Officials say the best providers in the area are Nextel, Sprint, Alltel, Ntelos, and eventually Cingular, and the accuracy and technology is getting better everyday.

Moving vehicles will now be able to be tracked automatically due to a new software that the call center is using starting June 27.

The University of Virginia is one of three schools that will be a part of a program to test Voice over IP to begin later this year.

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