Wednesday, May 20, 2009

important psa

I don't mean to frighten anyone but I want to issue a warning about an inherent problem if you have an internet telephone system like Voip/Vonnage. I am not bashing Voip/Vonnage but merely stating the facts using an actual case that I witnessed.

One of the most frustrating and tragic medical calls I attended was due to the fact that we were not able to respond in a timely manner. The person in need of help was was subscribed to the above-mention system. The problem with an internet phone line is that there is no direct link to 911. Let me explain. What traditionally happens when you dial 911 from a hard land-line is that the call goes directly to an emergency dspatcher/calltaker. The phone number you are calling from as well as the address will pop up on the dispatcher's screen and police/ambulance/fire will be dispatched immediately within seconds. If you are unable to speak or need to get out of your location in a hurry, all you need to do is call 911 and help will be on the way whether you hang up or leave an open phone line. If there is a language barrier or you are too scared or confused to get the information out, help will still be on the way. With Voip/Vonnage your call is sent to a national emergency call centre (which could be anywhere in the world) at which point the call centre operator asks you to confirm your location then transfers your call to the emergency dispatcher in your city who still does not have your phone number or physical location yet. You must tell them. And if you lose your connection Voip/Vonnage tells you to redial 911 again to start the process all over. You can see the problem here. During an emergency, there is no time to chat on the phone. If your house is on fire or you're in distress and cannot speak under duress, or you're a child with limited vocabulary, how do you communicate your information? Voip/Vonnage states if you are unable to speak during your 911 call, the call taker will contact emergency dispatch on your behalf but that is only provided that the information they have is current and on file as you can take your Voip number with you when you move. So then why do they ask you to call 911 again if you lose the connection?

Like I said, I have witnessed what can go wrong with this phone system. The emergency we had resulted in loss of life. The caller lived in a townhouse complex and was only able to give the street address and lost consciousness before the unit number could be conveyed. We literally had to divide up our crew of four along with two police officers and go knocking door to door. But if you are unconscious how do you respond? Our trucks are mandated to arrive at a call within 5-6 minutes. Because of the problem with the phone system, it took us over 20 minutes to just to find our call. Which was too late. Seconds do count and I think had we had the proper information without delay, the outcome could have been positive.

By the way, children old enough to understand what a true emergency is should be taught how to dial 911. Do not shelter them by worrying that you might frighten them. Empower them with the knowledge of what to do should the need arise. I don't recommend putting 911 on speed dial because if you accidentally hit that button the police will show up (in my city anyway) even if you tell them it was an accidental call.

So, this was a bit of a heavy post but an important one. I personally would never install an internet telephone system in our home. Those of you who have one, think about this: the money you save with a system like that could very well cost you your life.

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