Experts slam VoIP 911, but gloss over mobile 911 problems

Tom Keenan, a professor in the University of Calgary’s department of computer science, in an interview with CBC news says “land line telephones are more reliable than internet services for 911 calls.” Keenan, and other experts, have been quick to condemn VoIP in the wake of the tragedy in Calgary last week.

One thing that’s annoying about all these reports is they fail to note the fact that cell phone 911 is just as bad, if not worse. They also fail to take any responsibility for not speaking about the 911 issues BEFORE the tragedy. Where were the warnings and pubic service announcements about VoIP 911 BEFORE this incident? And where are the warnings NOW about cell phone 911, which is just as dangerous.

Look, I’m not trying to be alarmist here. Not everybody needs 911. But it is important to know what you have and make an informed decision about whether the 911 you’re getting (or not getting) is going to work for you. If you have kids, for my money, real landline 911 is the only way to go – it is well worth the $10-$20 per month – and trust me, I am not a shill for the telcos 🙂 The same thing probably applies if you have an elderly person living in the household or anybody else that may have difficulty providing accurate information in an emergency.

But it’s not just VoIP you need to think about. Something a lot of people don’t realize is that their cell phone 911 may be useless in an emergency too. This is not reported on enough by the press or by public safety officials (I wonder why – $$$) I strongly encourage everyone to put the local direct-dial number for their police department into their cell phone. Calling that number is almost always going to provide faster response than dialing 911 on your cell phone. All the limitations you see various “exports” attributing to VoIP, apply equally to your cell phone. In fact, if your VoIP 911 info is up to date, and if your provider supports E-911, dialing 911 on your VoIP phone will be more effective than 911 on your cell phone. In some larger general emergencies, officials will actually SHUT OFF cell phones. They don’t want a terrorist to use them and they want the airwaves cleared. You may wait on hold for a long time with cell phone 911 (and they are not dispatching anything in that time). In all cases, your call will be put in a low priority queue due to the massive quantity of false alarms received by cell phone 911. Again, try the local police number before wasting your time with cell phone 911. The police can transfer you to ambulance or fire faster than 911 can in most cases and if they don’t answer right away, you haven’t lost much and you can still dial 911. In fact, if your phone has call waiting, you can dial the direct local police number while you’re waiting on hold for someone at 911 to answer – emergency services may be on the scene by the time anyone at 911 answers (not a joke – actually happened in my case).