As the official national emergency telephone number in the US, 911 connects Americans directly with essential local emergency medical, fire, and law enforcement agencies. Enhanced 911, or E911, lets an operator know the exact location of a caller, and be able to contact or dispatch the appropriate emergency service provider with the push of one button. The implementation of E911 has helped emergency personnel perform their functions more quickly and effectively.
The system’s ability to pinpoint the location of 911 calls is critical because it enables almost immediate dispatch of emergency aid, even when callers are too injured or disoriented to provide their exact location. Most 911 systems in the US support this capability for calls made from phones with fixed, wired connections, including wired phones connected by means of newer technologies, such as Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) service. However, because VoIP service requires electric power to operate, VoIP telephone customers need sufficient battery back-up to permit them to contact E911 during a power outage.
For many years, reliable E911 capability did not exist with respect to mobile wireless phones; consequently, the operator needed to obtain the necessary emergency information from callers, who might not know where they were or might be incapacitated. Although there has been significant progress, there remain instances in which accurate and timely location information to the E911 system from a wireless telephone is not reliable (for example, inside large multistory buildings). The Federal Communications Commission has an ongoing proceeding to require providers to remedy the existing gaps in the E911 capabilities of mobile wireless services. This issue is particularly important for older Americans, who may subscribe to wireless telephone service primarily for emergency use.
Enhanced 911: Policy
Enhanced 911 (E911) wireless service
Policymakers and regulators should ensure that wireless carriers deploy wireless E911 technology as soon as possible.
The Federal Communications Commission should ensure thorough testing of the functionality and performance of every wireless carrier’s E911 Phase II system.
Policymakers and regulators should ensure that consumers have clear and accurate information to facilitate comparisons among the major wireless and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) service providers’ E911 performance in their local community.
Policymakers should require VoIP service providers to supply telephone customers with sufficient battery back-up to permit customers to contact E911 during a power outage.