I-COM fields 911 call from Nova Scotia

I-COM serves Island County around the clock, answering every call and dispatching the agency or agencies accordingly.

But the professionals at the Oak Harbor facility are not always looking at pitches coming right down the pipe. Sometimes there’s a curve ball. A very deceptive curve ball.

I-COM recently received a 911 hang up call, a frequent occurrence. The address displayed was local and the prefix from Oak Harbor.

“Everything indicated that it was a typical 911 hang up,” said Alice Johnson, I-COM operations supervisor. “We followed procedure and we dispatched law enforcement to check out the reason for the hang up.”

When the dispatcher attempted a callback, the person who answered advised the I-COM employee that medical assistance was needed. The address was verified. The actual geographic location of the call, however, astounded the dispatcher.

“She gave us an address in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada,” Johnson said.

I-COM Director Tom Shaughnessy said the incident was a result of Voice Over Internet Protocol, the routing of voice conversations over the Internet or through any other IP-based network. The military family moved from Oak Harbor and did not change the address. When they dialed 911, it displayed the local address.

“This is the problem with Voice Over IP,” Shaughnessy said. “This is not the first time this has happened and it’s become more frequent. We had to contact the Halifax authorities. They’re not exactly in our speed dial.”

Months ago Johnson read an article about a similar situation at a Chicago dispatch center. A 911 call came in reporting a domestic disturbance - a fight in progress. That fight was taking place in Tokyo.

“Because it had a military tie, I printed the article out and gave it to our folks since we’re a military community and this could happen,” Johnson said. “Lo and behold, a few months later it happens here.”

Vonage, one of the larger companies offering the service, was the provider in the recent incident. The company has been proactive in working with I-COM, but the responsibility ultimately lies with the customer.

“The disturbing thing is that so many people have Vonage and it is their responsibility to change the address when they move,” Johnson said. “Luckily it wasn’t a CPR in progress, something where seconds were critical. Otherwise the delay could have really been tragic.”

The Internet phone systems can shave dollars off of a person’s budget, but the consumer must understand how to access 911 and keep the coverage local should they relocate.

“When you’re looking for a cheaper phone system, you definitely need to research the impacts other than just the dollars that you may be saving,” the operations supervisor said.

“The companies spell it out in the agreement,” Shaughnessy added. “It’s in print. The customer has to update.”

I-COM has trunks dedicated to Voice Over IP separate from the 911 trunks.

“When they come in, we know what we’re dealing with,” the I-COM director said.

Unfortunately when a call actually comes in from Canada and shows up as a local number, all bets are off.

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