A Calgary family is mourning the loss of their baby that may be the fault of using an internet telephone service.

Sandra Luck says it was due to a VOIP 911 call that went unanswered. She watched her 18 month old nephew, Elija fight for his life while they waited for emergency help to arrive. She says they were told help was on the way, but it had been 20 minutes and there was still no sign of an emergency crew. A neighbor called 911 and shortly after that EMS arrived only to find it was too late.

Records from the city show that the call came in around 8:43 pm and that an ambulance showed up 5 minutes and 43 seconds later.

Curtis Brochu, Manager, Public Safety Communications says the family was using a Voice Over IP (VOIP) phone when the 911 call was placed. And this could have been the problem. They called 911, unfortunately that connected them to an internet provider rather than the local 911 centre. There was a failure in communication, the message was not relayed to the local 911 service. In fact there is no record of the call ever having been made.
Brochu says with a standard landline calls in Calgary go directly to the Calgary 911 centre. When using VOIP it goes to a VOIP Centre which is supposed to relay the information to Calgary 911. He says this time that didn’t happen.
Luck is convinced her nephew would have lived if their 911 call had been answered the first time.

These days cell, cable and VOIP services are used quite often and this poses challenges for the 911 call takers because these services do not provide the caller’s phone numbers or addresses like landline calls do. If a call becomes disconnected using a landline phone the call taker would still be able to send emergency responders to the address. But if the call comes from a web based or cell phone the 911 call taker does not have the same information.

VOIP users should also ensure that the internet provider has their current address if they have moved since they purchased their service. The Luck family had only moved to Calgary two years ago and had recently moved to a new location in a different neighbourhood. 

Under CRTC regulations VOIP companies such as Comwave, a Toronto based voice over internet provider, must have a call centre to respond to 911 calls. Operators there are required to direct that call to the appropriate 911 centre based on the address they are provided with from the client.

Sources include  The Vancouver Sun and CityTV

Jan Barrett

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