Internet phone service error causes 911 mistakes - WKRN News 2

Internet phone service error causes 911 mistakes

Posted: Updated: May 15, 2013 10:56 PM
FRANKLIN, Tenn. -

Twice during the past two weeks emergency calls from the Amazon Distribution Center, located at 500 Duke Drive in Lebanon, have been misrouted to Franklin's dispatch center.

During the first call on May 1, dispatchers did not know the call was misrouted until fire and rescue workers were unable to locate the address.

There is also a Duke Drive in Franklin, but no number 500.

The voice over Internet protocol or VoIP provider listed Franklin as the city where they distribution center is located and that caused the mistake.

Amazon did not immediately comment on the situation.

"That poses an extreme danger for you and puts emergency responders in unnecessary danger because they are responding code-three emergency with traffic to your call," Franklin Police Lt. Charles Warner said. "The fact is they are responding somewhere where no one needs help."

He continued, "In the meantime, the person who needs help isn't getting any because no one is coming from them."

Franklin emergency officials told Amazon's Distribution Center about the issue on May 1, 2013.

However, another 911 emergency call on May 13 was misrouted to the Franklin 911 center.

In both cases the misroute delayed emergency responders by several minutes.

"We are doing everything we can here to stay on top of VoIP providers and work with the state 911 system so that the problems that we become aware of are remedied," Lt. Warner said.

The problem is a national concern for people who use VoIP or the Internet for their home phone service.

Traditional phone services have generally associated a particular phone number with a fixed address.

VoIP phone service allows users to make and receive calls to and from traditional phone numbers using an Internet connection.

Because the service can be portable and can be used from virtually any Internet connection anywhere, it may be difficult for 911 centers to determine the automatic location for a caller.

A misrouted emergency 911 call from Texas nearly cost a former Franklin woman her life, in November.

The situation tied up two Franklin Police Department dispatchers for several minutes as they worked to get her help in Kingwood, Texas, which is 755 miles away.

The 38-year-old woman, who is not being identified due to privacy regulations, called 911 from her Houston area home November 8, 2012.

Her call was misrouted to the Emergency Communications Center at Franklin Police Headquarters because her previous address in Franklin was still listed on her phone service account.

She told dispatchers that she was having trouble breathing and was sweating profusely.

"She stated her address was in Texas, but unfortunately that is not what she was showing in our system that shows where the location is," dispatcher Abby Gambill said. "I desperately tried to get the correct address, but there was a language barrier. She had an accent that created a difficult time."

Gambill stayed on the line with the woman and learned that the address showing on her emergency system was the woman's former Franklin address.

The woman and her family had relocated to Texas in the fall.

"The main thing was trying to keep her calm," Gambill said. "Because of her difficulty breathing and her not knowing when help was getting to her, we wanted to make sure she stayed calm."

While Gambill stayed on the line with the Texas woman, Assistant Communications Supervisor Maureen Culberson started searching the web for phone numbers to Houston emergency officials.

"It was very stressful trying to figure it out," she said. "I was listening to my teammate and trying to find Kingwood, Texas, Kingwood police as well as Kingwood fire."

Culberson continued, "We are lucky here we are allowed Internet. Some dispatch centers are not allowed Internet."

Culberson was able to alert a Houston-area hospital and contact the Houston 911 Center to get paramedics to the woman.

The call lasted 28 minutes.

"It's just gut wrenching because you know somebody needs help," she said. "You can hear it in their voice and you know its going to take you so much longer to get them the help they are asking for that is even if you are able to."

Gambill kept the woman on the phone talking to her.

She even talked to the woman about her young children in order to keep her alert while they waited for paramedics to arrive.

"It's a scary position for us because we have to stay calm from the caller," Gambill said. "No matter what it looks like behind the scenes we have to stay calm on the phone and on the radio."

Dispatchers also called the woman's husband, who was working, to let him know his wife was headed to the hospital.

In the case of the Texas woman, when the address is incorrect, the system will send the call to the closest 911 center to the address on file, in her case that was Franklin because her old address was still listed.

According to the FCC, VoIP users should make sure to update their address with their providers any time they move.

They should also check to make sure that the VoIP service provider has the correct address on file.

If either the customer or the provider has the incorrect address, 911 services can be affected.

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