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Is an e911 subscription a good idea?

posted Aug 23, 2014, 6:50 PM by EZvoip Co   [ updated Sep 13, 2015, 6:12 PM ]
Subscription to e911 is optional for our Canadian customers (CRTC 911 portal), but for our US customers it may be mandatory. There are some important considerations surrounding this decision:
  • CRTC decision 2007-44, which establishes the regulations for VoIP 9-1-1 in Canada ( The CRTC decision obliges VoIP service providers to deliver all 9-1-1 calls to the appropriate Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) using the zero-dialed emergency call routing service (0-ECRS), rather than PSAP low-priority lines. Adherence to this decision is mandatory for all VoIP service providers offering services in Canada, and is designed to protect the safety of VoIP users who expect that when they dial 9-1-1, they will quickly be connected to qualified emergency responders.
  • FCC Rules and Regulations for VoIP 9-1-1, (
  • The CRTC made a ruling effective September 15, 2010 which directs all carriers to “ensure that customers are able to update their most likely physical address online”. Address information needs to be available to the operator handling the V911 call when the subscriber is unable to give verbal information, and therefore should be current at the time of the call. Here is Paragraph 45: The Commission therefore directs all Canadian carriers that offer nomadic and fixed/non-native VoIP services to implement the following measures, within 90 days of the date of this decision: (1) contact customers each time they change their billing address to confirm their most likely physical address for emergency purposes; and (2) ensure that customers are able to update their most likely physical address online. The Commission also directs Canadian carriers, as a condition of providing telecommunications services to nomadic and fixed/non-native VoIP service providers, to include in their service contracts or other arrangements with these providers the requirement that the latter abide by this direction.

First and foremost, do you use our service with an ATA or some other fixed device? If you do and do not move around often, then the next question you might want to consider is how secure is your Internet connection. Do you protect your modem and router with an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) so that your Internet service continues in case of a blackout?

If you use our service mostly on the road, via a mobile device such as a smartphone or even configured with your tablet or laptop, an e911 subscription might not be a good idea, as it relies on a database that does not update automatically with your GPS coordinates. Moreover, that database might be susceptible to be hacked, as Wired is suggesting.

But Dameff and Tully discovered that the 911 system has several vulnerabilities that make it susceptible to failure. Dameff is an emergency room physician and Tully is a pediatric doctor. But they’re also white hat hackers who decided to team up with Peter Hefley, an IT security manager for Sunera, to identify problems within the 911 system. The trio recently presented their findings at the Def Con hacker conference in Las Vegas.

Aside from software glitches that can sometimes prevent medical help from being dispatched on time, they were concerned about the security of the address databases, populated by subscriber information from telecoms, that first responders rely on to locate victims. If a hacker could obtain access to the databases, he could alter or delete critical information that could prevent help from arriving on time. They were also concerned that a hacker might launch a denial-of-service attack preventing calls from getting through at all. Earlier this year in Washington state, the 911 system inexplicably went down statewide for six hours, preventing more than 4,000 calls from reaching dispatchers. Although the outage wasn’t caused by an intentional attack—just an overloaded system—the consequences of an intentional hack, they realized, would be the same.

“When [911] fails or doesn’t work as optimally as it should—either through glitches or something else—the demonstrable harm is that people die,” Dameff says. “This isn’t, ‘Oh my credit card got stolen and someone charged $600 at Target.’ These are systems … designed and implemented to save peoples’ lives. It’s the definition of a critical infrastructure system.”

The minutes between a 911 call and the arrival of help are particularly critical for people in cardiac arrest. Research shows it takes an average of six minutes for first responders to arrive after such a call is placed, during which time the victim has a 50 percent chance of survival without CPR. The survival rate drops drastically with each subsequent minute that passes without help.


But the problems that can occur with the system aren’t only about response times. Dameff and his team found that swatters could bypass the database lookup altogether to make a 911 operator believe he’s somewhere he’s not. Swatting calls often involve phoning 911 using a spoofed phone number or caller ID to make a bogus report of a home invasion or hostage threat, sending police—often with guns drawn—to the address of an enemy or other target. This is how a 12-year-old boy got SWAT teams dispatched to the homes of Ashton Kutcher and Justin Bieberlast year and how a serial swatter in Los Angeles last week got police to lock down an elementary school while officers in tactical gear searched for a gunman who didn’t exist.

Whichever your decision is, we will accommodate it - just let us know.