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What is E911? All you need to know about mobile emergency calling

Bill Yackey

Senior Product Marketing Manager, UCaaS

Peter Nees

Director, Product Management

What is E911 All you need to know about mobile emergency calling
Table of contents

What is E911? We’re glad you asked.

To put it simply: E911 makes sure that people calling 911 can get found and get help wherever they are.

Calling 911 on a cell phone means you might be calling from anywhere in the world, so E911 ensures the emergency services get your location, and fast.

Not only is this important for organizations (you want your employees to be safe) but communications providers as well (you don’t want to leave your customers in danger).

And of course, it’s mandated by law.

This can take different forms based on the service in question. VoIP calls and cell phone calls handle calls differently, so the E911 laws regulating them will be a little different too.

With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at E911 locators and how Dialpad’s E911 calling helps keep employees safe.

Or, if you don't feel like reading, Bill can tell you all about it:

So, what is E911 anyways?

Alright, let’s start by answering that question:

E911 is designed to improve the effectiveness of emergency (911) calls from mobile devices by providing additional information on wireless 911 calls. This works by having FCC carriers provide the Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) with important information for emergency calls, including:

  • The telephone numbers wireless 911 calls come from

  • The location of the cell site or base station transmitting the calls

  • The location of the caller (latitude and longitude)

In short, it lets the emergency services you’re calling know where you are, so they can get to you more quickly.

That’s the simple version of it, at least. For regular wireless calls, it’s easy enough—the calls are received via cell towers, and the cellular networks can triangulate the caller’s device and use the phone’s built-in GPS to get the location. Easy-peasy, right? (It’s actually a bit more complicated, but that’s the short version.)

However, things are a little different for VoIP calls. With VoIP, you’re connecting to the Internet to make the call, which can be a little more complicated.

It can be harder for emergency services to find your location over a VoIP call, but the FCC does have some E911 rules in place to help:

  • VoIP providers should provide 911 service to all customers (without needing to waste time navigating menus to make the call)

  • 911 calls should be transmitted along with a callback number and the caller’s registered physical location to the appropriate emergency services call center (based on coordinates or the best available location obtainable)

  • Providers need to provide customers with a clear understanding of their 911 service and its limitations

VoIP providers can (and should) also provide features to help locate E911 callers, such as an Automated Location Information (ALI) database that helps assign locations to devices, support for phone mobility with presence information, and support for remote VoIP devices so off-site workers can update their locations in real-time.

All this is designed to help emergency services get to you quickly, no matter what device you’re calling from.

How does E911 work—and why does it matter?

Imagine this scenario: you’re out for a drive in an unfamiliar area, when your car bursts on fire. You quickly pull over and get out, but you need to contact emergency services.

“911, what’s your emergency?”

“Hi, my car’s engine just exploded and now everything is on fire.”

“Not to worry, we can have emergency services on the way. What’s your location?”

“Umm… I’m about a few blocks down from the McDonalds?”

“Can you be more specific? There are a lot of McDonalds here.”

“Umm… no, sorry.”

Fortunately, with E911, the emergency services can still find your location and help will be on the way. With a VoIP phone, you’ll need to make sure your service has the right information for your location and is fully E911 compliant, otherwise you’ll be waiting a while.

The faster emergency services can find your location, the faster they can reach you. If your phone transmits that information automatically, it’ll be quicker and easier to get the help you need. So it’s in everyone’s best interest for VoIP services to be able to access and provide that location information to E911 calls quickly and accurately.

And of course, E911 regulations are required by law, so any organization not complying with the FCC’s regulations risks legal liability. Just in case anyone needed the extra incentive to help protect their employees.

More E911 learnings: Other things you should know

E911 requirements by state can vary, but the FCC has clear regulations that all providers should follow: Kari’s Law and Ray Baum’s Act. These E911 laws are designed to ensure that callers can dial 911 without needing to do anything extra to dial out, and dispatch centers will know where to send emergency services. These are the most essential E911 laws, as without them, time—and lives—could be lost.

E911 fees and taxes also vary across jurisdictions. E911 fees are part of any service fee, while E911 taxes go towards funding state and local emergency service programs. You can find your E911 service fees by state, including VoIP fees, on The 9-1-1 Association’s website.

Okay, so does Dialpad offer E911?

You better believe we do.

Dialpad is compliant with the FCC’s Kari’s Law & Ray Baum’s Act, so you can use it to make 911 calls with confidence.

It works like this: when you make an emergency call, the call includes the location provided by your admin. We want to make sure we can provide as accurate a location as possible, so there are two ways Dialpad gets your location information:

  • If you’re inside a building, we gather information like the wireless ID endpoints and their locations, then map those endpoints to pinpoint your location (similar to how cell phone towers can be used to triangulate your location on a cell phone). This can help emergency services locate you more accurately, down to the floor of the building you’re on.

  • If you’re outside a building, we use the latitude and longitude information tied to the call.

E911 location information is provided by the admins ahead of time, rather than gathered at the time of the call. Keep in mind that you’ll need to allow the app to access your phone’s location services, otherwise it might not be able to find you.

Oh, and did we mention that it will work when you text emergency services too? That’s right, we’re working on E911 for SMS messaging as well.

So as much as we hope you’ll never have to call 911, rest assured that when you place an emergency call with Dialpad, we’re providing everything you need to help emergency services find you and help you as fast as possible.

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