What happens when I dial 9-1-1?

The term 9-1-1 (Nine-One-One) is often used as kind of a generic term to describe the entire process of dispatching of Police, Fire, and Ambulance services to emergencies. Although that is true to some extent, it is an over-simplification of how the summoning of emergency responders really happens! So, how does 9-1-1 really work?

When you dial 9-1-1 on a hard-wire phone (not on a cell telephone) the local telephone service provider, usually Bell Canada, recognizes 9-1-1 as a valid telephone number. Your call is routed to a call centre named a Central Emergency Reporting Bureau (CERB). The CERB asks you whether you need Police, Ambulance or Fire services. The CERB does not take any other information from you. You cannot request more than one service.

The CERB also “captures” certain information from your telephone service provider. This feature is what is called Enhanced 9-1-1 (E9-1-1). The information provided is your telephone number called from, the name of the telephone subscriber, and the address of the telephone (called ANI / ALI information). The CERB also collects the name of the Police, Fire, and Ambulance emergency service providers for your area (called ESN # information).

The CERB then transfers your call to the appropriate emergency service dispatch centre. This will either be Fire Dispatch, Police Dispatch or Ambulance Dispatch depending on what you had requested. This process is computer controlled and travels through special telephone lines, so it is very fast.

The next voice you will hear is the Dispatcher for the emergency service. At this point, most callers do not even realize that they have been transferred to another person. The Dispatcher is the person who will question you on the particulars of the emergency. They will also ask you to verify the address of the emergency. As they are speaking with you the Dispatcher is looking at a computer screen that displays your E9-1-1 information. They will use this information to confirm with you the address of the emergency.

The emergency responders will be sent to assist you. Sometimes, the Dispatcher will spend some time with you on the phone getting more information on the emergency. This information is required to assist the emergency response personnel in making appropriate decisions on how to respond to your emergency. Your job is to assist in this process as much as possible. Don’t worry about the time this takes. In most cases the emergency responders have already been dispatched while you are still on the telephone with the Dispatcher.

When necessary, the Dispatcher will share the call with the other emergency services. This means, for example, that if you report a car accident to the Police, the Police Dispatcher will automatically call the Ambulance and Fire Department if necessary. It is very important that you provide as much accurate information as possible to the Dispatcher to assist the Dispatcher in making the decision on who else to be sent to the incident. You are on the spot and know the most about what is going on at that time!

A word about Cell Telephone calls. Cell phones do not have any of the benefits of E9-1-1. When you make an emergency call on a cell phone the CERB and the Dispatcher will depend entirely on you, the caller, to provide all the required information on your location. This can cause delays as the Dispatcher and CERB operators attempt to determine which emergency service to call and where to send them. It is very important that you provide accurate location information if you are using a cell phone. Vague directions will very likely cause delays. On highways use mileage marker posts as a reference. On secondary roads use the road name, the nearest crossing road name and if possible the name of the municipality, town or community that you are near.

Thinking about getting Voice Over Internet Telephone (VoIP)?

If you are considering the sometimes substantial cost savings potential of subscribing to VoIP based telephone for your residence or business please consider the following information. Your safety is important to us.

VoIP may not be able to provide ANI/ALI information to the emergency service provider in your community as is the case with a land-line based telephone. In this respect it is very similar to a cell telephone. The caller must know precisely where they are when they call for help. Make sure you have this information posted near all of your telephones.

VoIP may not be able to provide the necessary data (i.e. the ANI / ALI and the ESN # ) to the 9-1-1 call centre (called a CERB) in order to assist the CERB in quickly and accurately routing your 9-1-1 emergency call to the correct emergency service dispatch operator. Dispatch operators are the persons who guide and direct the police, fire, or ambulance staff to your location. The caller (you, your child??) may need to know detailed and precise information on exactly who provides what emergency services in your municipal area in order for your emergency call to be manually transferred by the CERB to where it needs to go. Be aware that there may be several service areas in the same municipality. Call your emergency services business office to get this information, including the location of their dispatching office.

VoIP may not be able to route your 9-1-1 emergency call to the correct CERB, unlike the land-line based telephone which does this automatically. This is because the routing of 9-1-1 calls for land-line based calls is done by the telephone service provider (example, Bell Canada) and the location of the CERB is decided by the municipality that you live in. The municipality decides where your 9-1-1 call should be routed in order to provide the best possible emergency response to your location. Make sure your VoIP service provider knows what CERB office to route your 9-1-1 emergency calls to.

Your VoIP service provider may not know when a municipality changes their CERB contractor. This is important because your VoIP service provider needs to know where the CERB is in order to route your 9-1-1 call properly. Your VoIP service provider probably does not route your 9-1-1 emergency call over 9-1-1 dedicated telephone circuits like land-based telephones do. Instead they probably route it to a business number at the CERB office. This is important because if the CERB number changes it is not possible for the municipality to notify you or your VoIP service provider of this change. The municipality does not know who has VoIP service or even who is providing VoIP services. Do not expect the municipality to contact you or your VoIP service provider about CERB information changes.

If your electrical power is not working then your computer and associated VoIP equipment may not work either, unless they are on a battery back-up power system. You should know that land-line based telephone service is the most reliable service in a power outage. Ordinary telephones that do not need electrical power to operate will work long after the power goes off. The telephone companies ensure this by providing emergency power sources at their offices.

You should also know that without a reliable computer in your home or business, your VoIP telephone may not function reliably either.

Some or all of the above may not apply to your particular VoIP service provider. BUT you should be prepared to question them closely on all of the points mentioned above before you make your decision.