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VoIP/WiFi Phones & 9-1-1

You can still connect to emergency services by calling 911 with Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and WiFi phones but there are very important differences and requirements for both of these calling formats. Now is the time to understand how VoIP/WiFi phones work when accessing 9-1-1 and the complications that can arise if you are not properly informed.

If your power is out and/or your internet service is not working you will NOT be able to dial 911 from either VoIP or WiFi phones.

The common factor with Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and wireless local area network (WiFi) phones is that they both require access to a power source and a connection to the internet.

  • If you have backup power and your internet service is working you will be able to connect to 911.
  • If you have back up power BUT your internet service is not working, you will NOT be able to connect to 911.

Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) Phones: (See also FCC web site for VoIP 911 information.)

Can be any of the following variety that connects to the internet:

  • A standard wired telephone plugged into your home internet router through a VoIP adapter.
  • A wired VoIP phone plugged directly into your home internet router.
  • Wireless– VoIP Phone: A wireless VoIP subscriber phone (looking like a regular residential cordless phone or cell phone) that uses VoIP technology, wirelessly connected to your home internet router.

The following is required for VoIP phones to work during a 911 call:

  • Power and working internet service.
  • Registering your residential address with your VoIP provider.
    • It is an FCC requirement for you to register your address with the VoIP provider
    • It is an FCC requirement for the VoIP provider to provide a means for you to easily update your e911 address. The address you register will be sent to 911 when you call. If you move your residence or are away vacationing for a period of time you need to update your “e911 address” (as sometimes called) with your VoIP provider.

VoIP phones used in your residence should not have any problem accessing 9-1-1, provided that your residential address (“e911 address”) is properly registered.

CAUTION: If leave your residence to shop, go to the doctor’s office, vacation, etc. you will probably take your wireless VoIP phone with you because of the many free WiFi hotspots that are available. If you should need to call 911, you may not be connected to the local 911 center where you are currently located. You may be connected to the 911 center for your VoIP-registered residential address and your location will be reported as your home address not your current location. (See “Complications and Solutions…” below)

Complications and solutions with VoIP phones and dialing 911:

Important: Make sure to read and understand your VoIP provider instructions outlining the VoIP capabilities and limitations for accessing 911 and emergency services. In addition, make sure to inform your family, guests and visitors of your VoIP phone capabilities and limitations. In an emergency you cannot afford any risks.

  • The caller’s address may not display correctly at the 911 center. Moving to a new home or away for a vacation, etc. If the VoIP customer does not periodically update their registered e911 address information with their VoIP provider, you may not be connected to the proper 911 center and they will not receive the correct address.
    • Solution: The customer should always be prepared to verbally provide the current/correct location to the 911 Call Taker.
  • Wireless VoIP phone users are mobile and their location is not available as is a cell phone. Wireless VoIP phones can be taken anywhere and used as long as they can connect to the internet (WiFi hotspots) but when the VoIP customer dials 911 the location defaults to the home address as registered with the VoIP provider and not the current location.
    • Solution: The customer should always be prepared to verbally provide the current/correct location to the 911 Call Taker.
  • The call may not go to the proper 911 center. If the e911 address is not registered correctly by the VoIP customer, with their VoIP provider,  the call may be routed to:
    • The wrong 911 center or,
    • Your call may be routed to the VoIP provider’s central Call Center where you will have to verbally provide your current location. The VoIP Call Center Operator will then try to determine your local 911 center information and transfer you to that number:
      • An active administration line where you will have to be transferred to emergency dispatch,
      • A daytime-only, administrative line (which may instruct the caller to call 911).
    • All of which will not display your current location and delay the accessing of emergency services.
    • Solution: The customer should always be prepared to verbally provide the current/correct location to the 911 Call Taker.

WiFi Phones:

WiFi phones work over the same wireless local area networks that VoIP phones are used.

  • WiFi phones can be subscriber-based, like VoIP subscriber services.
  • WiFi phones can utilize free internet applications to connect person to person.
  • WiFi phones have the same capabilities and limitations as do VoIP phones regarding, need to have power and internet service active, 911 calling, location identification, etc.

Always be prepared for an emergency. Whether you are using a traditional phone, cell phone, VoIP (wired or wireless) or a WiFi phone the most important piece of information you can provide to the 911 Call Taker is your current location. Know where your whereabouts. In Bucks County we can verify a location by the following means:

  • House number and street name with nearest cross street.
  • Common Place (Name of the Store, Restaurant, School, Church, etc. you are at.)
  • Intersection or cross street or cross road.
  • Limited Access Roadway (PA Turnpike, I-476, Route 1, Route 309 Bypass, Route 202 Parkway, etc.)
    • We need which direction you are travelling on this road and the nearest on/off ramp or over/underpass road name.

Have a backup plan:

  • If you are mobile (having only a wireless VoIP phone), does your travelling companion have a cell phone?
  • Is there an emergency call box available? (If travelling along toll roads, etc.)
  • Is there a payphone nearby in a safe location?
  • Can you stop at a store or gas station and ask the attendant to call 911?

Preparation begins when you purchase your VoIP or WiFi phone. Learn how to operate it properly; learn its capabilities and limitations and tell your family and friends this information before you have the emergency, when seconds count.

Department of Emergency Communications 
Todd Neumann
Interim Director of 911
Bucks County Department of Emergency Communications / 911 Center 
Bucks County Emergency Services Complex
911 Freedom Way
Ivyland, PA 18974
Phone: 215-340-8770 
Fax: 267-885-1323