Why it’s important to update address information in VoIP systems

It took hours to find the location of an emergency. Now first responders are reminding people using VoIP phone systems to update their addresses in those systems.

PARKER, Colorado — Parker’s emergency calls didn’t know where to send first responders for nearly four hours after a Monday night emergency call, underscoring the frustration with insufficient address information for some calls made through Internet-based phone systems.

Dispatchers could only hear a man and a woman yelling at each other around 10 p.m. Monday during the call to Parker’s non-emergency line. They wanted to help the woman who called, but did not know where to go, said spokesman Josh Hans.

“It’s incredibly frustrating to know that someone needs help and doesn’t know where they need help,” he said.

The call to dispatchers came from a Voice over Internet Protocol – or VoIP – phone line. The technology allows people to make calls over an Internet connection, rather than a traditional telephone line or mobile phone signal.

“Instead of plugging it into your telephone jack, plug it into your modem,” Hans said.

He urged people using a VoIP system to update their addresses in case they can’t tell dispatchers their location in an emergency.

“You must have the correct address in the VoIP. When you log in to one of those systems, it is imperative that you enter that correct address,” said Hans.

Since the caller did not provide her address, he said dispatchers would have to contact her VoIP provider to access her account information. In this case, detectives had to email her provider and wait for a response.

“It took about two and a half hours later and we got an email back from them and it didn’t contain their address,” said Hans.

Her account, he said, had not updated her location.

It wasn’t until she called back—nearly four hours later—that officers asked her where to go and responded at her apartment complex near South Parker Road and Cottonwood Drive.

“That delayed the reaction,” Hans said.

By this time, the man had barricaded himself and the caller inside. Officers had to evacuate several adjacent units in the Montane apartments and enlist the Douglas County SWAT team to eventually break through the apartment. They arrested the suspect and said the victim was safe.

“We feel very lucky and blessed that the result turned out as it was and that everyone could go home safely at the end of the day,” said Hans.

He said the department answered nearly 1,800 VoIP 911 calls last year and encountered no problems with addresses, mostly because the caller could tell dispatchers where to go. But he said people should make sure to update their addresses with their carrier.

“Location is the most important thing. That’s why it’s ‘Where’s your emergency?’ if you call 911. not ‘What’s your emergency?'” Hans said.

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