Ooma Blog

Are You Able To Call 911 In An Emergency?

By |Thursday August 30, 2018

In an emergency, you may not even think twice about calling 911 to get help from emergency services.

However, dialing 911 was only initiated in 1968 as a standardized way to access emergency services across the nation. Of course, telephone technology has undergone significant changes since the sixties, and unfortunately, 911 services have not kept up.

Are you aware how today’s technology can impact your emergency services? To find out more about 911 experiences, Ooma VoIP phone service surveyed more than 1,000 people across the U.S. Here’s what we found out.


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Did You Know That Calling 911 from a Cell Phone Can Be Problematic?

We’ve previously discussed how 911 services have limitations when calls are placed from cell phones. It boils down to the technology that the dispatchers have access to cannot always geolocate a user’s cell phone to identify where the emergency is occurring.

While this is a national issue, states and municipalities are upgrading their tech infrastructure at different rates. The success rate for 911 dispatchers determining cell phone locations is only:

  • 10 percent in Washington, D.C.
  • 29 percent in Virginia
  • 33 percent in Texas
  • 37 percent in California
  • 58 percent in Colorado

With a 90 percent failure rate in Washington D.C., HBO show host John Oliver insightfully explained that apps such as Domino’s Pizza Delivery or Uber are better able to determine your cell phone’s location than 911 dispatchers are. In a Find Me 911 survey, dispatchers have shared harrowing stories of not being able to locate crime victims or people who need medical attention, proving that this technology failure is no laughing matter.

Yet our survey found that the majority of people are unaware of the geolocation limitations of 911 calls made from cell phones:

  • 40 percent: I had no idea there were limitations
  • 23 percent: I’ve briefly heard something about this
  • 26 percent: Moderately aware of this problem
  • 11 percent: Very aware of this problem

Access to Help During an Emergency

While each emergency is different, the steps that you take to get help are standardized.

First, an emergency call is placed. Our survey revealed that 63 percent of respondents who called 911 used a cell phone.

Next, the dispatcher receives the call, identifies the nature of your emergency, and assesses your location. Not only is it critical for dispatchers to have address information and map coordinates, but in multi-story buildings such as high-rise offices and apartment towers, knowing the floor of the caller is essential to finding the emergency.

Then, following the identification of the emergency caller’s location, emergency services arrive at the scene. The response times vary widely, in part due to the nature of the caller’s emergency. Our survey reveals how long that callers had to wait for help to arrive:

Response Times by Emergency Services

  • 52 percent: Under 10 minutes
  • 36 percent: 10-20 minutes
  • 8 percent: 20-40 minutes
  • 2 percent: 40-60 minutes
  • 2 percent: Longer than 60 minutes

In a 2014 FCC report, it was reported, “in the Salt Lake City area, a one-minute reduction in response times would have resulted in an annual saving of 746 lives.” Extrapolating this out to the entire country, the report said improved location accuracy technology could save more than 10,000 lives annually.

The problem of locating 911 callers using cell phones is not new. A 2018 FCC report details that the Commission first addressed the issue in 1994, and in 1996, the E911 rules “established a five-year period for carriers to be capable of providing geo-coordinates (latitude and longitude) for the mobile unit making a 911 call (referred to as Phase II location information).”

So, that would have made 2001 as the targeted date for 911 calls from cell phones to be geolocated. Yet, problems still exist.

Emergency Preparedness

While no one can fully prepare for what emergencies they may encounter, our survey revealed the types of emergencies that people are most concerned about.

Emergencies of Greatest Concern

  • 24 percent: Health of a loved one or associate
  • 18 percent: Report a crime (Burglary, etc.)
  • 17 percent: Fire, natural gas, carbon monoxide, or environmental threat
  • 16 percent: Active threat (Shooter, assault, etc.)
  • 12 percent: Car accident
  • 9 percent: Health of oneself
  • 2 percent: Domestic incident
  • 2 percent: Unknown

Ooma VoIP Phone Service with Automatic Geolocation

Advanced 911 tools are available to all Ooma users and can provide valuable geolocation tools during emergencies.

After entering your address during setup, 911 calls placed with Ooma will automatically route your call to a local dispatcher, not a national call center. Additionally, Ooma will transmit your home address to the 911 dispatcher, saving valuable time.


“I’ve been a tech person for a very long time, but I was hesitant to give up my landline. I have heard horror stories about people having issues reaching needed services over cell. I did not want to lose my ability to reach the services. The day happened that I needed emergency services and Ooma was right there. It may have saved a life. Thank you for having a great E911 system and great service.” – James

Plus, Ooma can also help keep you in the loop if an emergency happens in your household. If a 911 call is placed from your Ooma account, Ooma 911 Alerts can send a notification email or text message to your mobile phone. With the health of a loved one or associate being the primary concern for 24 percent of people, this 911 Alert tool can keep you in the loop.

Ooma’s home security integration with Alexa means that you can place hands-free emergency calls. So, if an elderly person has fallen, their Amazon Echo would respond to the statement: “Alexa, call 911.”

Ooma Home Security with Integrated 911 Service

Ooma’s network of home security sensors can offer another layer of integrated safety. With Ooma Home, our smart home sensors will send you an alert to your mobile device of unexpected activity from door/window sensors, motion detectors, water sensors, garage door sensors, or our AI-powered video camera with facial recognition, the Ooma Butterfleye.

After a home security notification, you’re only one tap away from getting help with your emergency. That’s because our Ooma Home security system is equipped with the same advanced 911 service as our telephone services.

Both Ooma’s free calling app and the Ooma home security mobile app have remote access to our 911 services. So even though you may be calling about a home intruder while you’re at work, your call to 911 will still be routed to the call center nearest to your house, and your home address will still be transmitted to dispatchers.

Learn more about Ooma’s smart communication tools and read more home security articles here.

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