Emergency Calling Oopsies

I know more than a few people in emergency services, and they’ve shared some of their stories around bad location information situations. I wanted to share a few of those here so that you get an idea of what can occur. All of these scenarios are preventable – make sure you’re not contributing to future examples!

The Case of the Amphibious Cruise Ship

The first incident involves a sick passenger on a cruise ship coming in to dock. An ambulance was dispatched, but something seemed wrong to the paramedics – the address didn’t make any sense. The address was near an amusement park well inland, and nowhere near the cruise ship terminal. It turns out that the PBX was hosted in a datacenter near the amusement park, and the correct address for the phone number at the cruise ship terminal was never provided to the telco providing the PRIs.

The Case of the Mixed-up Addresses

The second incident involves a dispatching error. In a previous post on 911 and mobile phones I shared an example of what is typically seen at the PSAP. Here’s a variant on that example with what the dispatcher saw:

PSAP terminal no markup

In this incident, the dispatcher sent resources to the address of the cell tower (28 Mineral Rd in this example) as the location of the mobile phone had not yet populated in the ALI database.

The Case of the Relocated Consumer

The third example involves a consumer with a home VoIP service. The consumer moved from a major city to a remote area, and neglected to update their address information with the carrier. When they placed a 911 call, they were connected to emergency services at their old address. Without a built-in method for reassigning the call to the correct PSAP, the staff relied on their wits and contacted a friend in the police service who’s brother – also a police officer – was near the caller and was able to coordinate a response.

The Cases of the Swapped Suffixes and Dizzying Directionals

The fourth and final scenario isn’t a specific case, because it’s too common. When you provide addresses, be very careful for suffixes like “street”, “avenue”, “circle”, etc., as in many areas the same road name will exist but with different suffixes. Mixing up or omitting directionals like “north” or “west” is also too common. Be really careful if you have craziness like “Maple Court East West” or “North Main Street Southwest”. Dispatching emergency services to the wrong location can have terrible consequences.

Your Goal

When you’re deploying SfB – or any phone system or line for that matter – take an extra moment to ensure the address is correct and clear. In the US, you can use the USPS address format to make sure your suffixes and directionals are clearly expressed.

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