back to article Canadian toddler dies after VOIP 911 call

A Canadian toddler has died after a VOIP-based 911 call sent an ambulance to the wrong address. Last week, as reported by the CBC, a Calgary family dialed 911 via their internet phone service when 18-month-old Elijah Luck went into medical distress. Their VOIP provider, Comwave, then dispatched an ambulance to the family's …


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  1. Jeff
    Thumb Down

    Customer's must update their info...

    How could CBC have been billing these people unless it had their _current_ address?

    More corporate irresponsibility.

    Heads are gonna roll...

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    So where have the bills been sent for the past 3 years?

    Seem to me that this should had been a no brainer.

  3. Daniel B.

    You pay what you get

    Thing is, I prefer to have landline+DSL than having broadband+VoIP because of these reasons. VoIP might be very nice for cheap calls, but for real emergencies you don't want to have a botched 911 redirect. Even worse would be that your internet link's down, or DDoS'd, or otherwise b0rked by "traffic shaping".

    Landlines tend to be available most of the time, instantly, and without any kind of latency. Too bad a toddler had to pay the price for this oversight.

    And anyway, as some others have mentioned, how the hell were these dudes being billed? Ok, maybe they had one of those "charge my credit card automatically" schemes, but didn't they notice the lack of bills??? Looks like these guys themselves are responsible for neglecting stuff like this.

  4. Robert Moore

    Bill to credit card

    I have VOIP through Vonage. I love the service. Most of the VOIP companies require a credit card to sign up.

  5. Blacklight


    Various VoIP providers may bill via Credit or Debit card - and if you move, they only have the address you *may* have supplied at the time.

    One of my VoIP providers does request my physical address on their web interface - in the event of an emergency services call, however it's dependant on me - and also they bill electronically, and I pay via credit/debit card (which may vary depending on mood) so it's not fixed.

    If you're after least cost routing, my rule is always have a paid-up landline available. My ATA is configured to dump emergency services calls direct to the POTS/PSTN interface, to get around any confusion....

    YMMV - but if you may rely on it - know how it works...

  6. kain preacher

    911 failure

    I also forget to say some viop companies do annual and quarterly billing . SO if you move between billing cycles how would they know.

  7. Sampler
    Dead Vulture

    Not as straight forward as you think

    My VOIP supplier is paid via transfer or direct debit, my bills are sent by email - they have no way of knowing my supplied address is actually correct.

    Though her supplying the right address to the operator should negate all that anyway.

  8. Dale Loyd
    IT Angle

    Ever heard of electronic billing?

    Direct debit, etc? You don't have to have a bill for a service snail-mailed in order to see what you're being charged for and pay. My gas and electric bils are online PDF files if I want a hard copy.

    I don't think there's any 'blame' here, just unfortunate circumstance.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    CBC is a news organization

    Their service was provided by Comwave, I would imagine, like probably most (a lot?) of other VoIP providers, they pay by credit card or direct deposit, address is unnecessary then...


  10. Steve Mann
    Thumb Down

    More importantly

    911 (the 999 of North America) should just bloody work!

    These sodding VOIP vendors get away with not implementing it at all for I don't know how many months, then do a piss poor job when they finally get round to it. They get to skirt this and other regulations simply because they aren't subject to the same conditions of operation and oversight as the trad phone companies.

    This sort of "couldn't care less until someone gets hurt" attitude is rife in the new "high tech" world and is the single most important reason why the bloody cable TV company will never get me to allow them to provide me with phone "service" if I have any say in it. They can't get a decent TV picture to me any more (they went digital, then scrooged out on the bandwidth so any sudden change in picture brightness makes the screen look like a cheap polarised glass toy for a few seconds as it pixelates and they want my phone service? Fat chance.

    Now ask the bleeding Cell Phone providers how *they* are doing with 911 signal location implementation. In New York the answer is static. Last I heard the money appropriated to make it happen at the state level by levying a tax on cell phone calls was used to buy upstate State Troopers new boots.

    What a Brave New World.

  11. Richard Silver badge

    I really don't understand this.

    The most important thing you do when you make an emergency call is to TELL THE OPERATOR WHERE YOU ARE.

    You don't assume they'll work it out - you tell them. The location is the single most important piece of information, even more important than a description of the problem.

    The more precise you can be the better - if you're at home, there's no excuse for not giving the entire address, down to house number and postal/zip code. If you're out shopping/driving or something it's harder, but still the most important thing to do.

    Anybody who doesn't do this is an idiot. Probably caused by panic, but an idiot nonetheless.

    Also, in the UK at least all the VOIP phones say "not suitable for emergency calls" or similar.

  12. Daniel Hoover

    VoIP provider failed them

    my VoIP box won't let me make/receive calls after UNPLUGGING [as for a move to another location] until I confirm [keypad] that I am connected athe the address of record. It would force me to call customer services otherwise.

  13. Daniel Hoover

    bills can go one place...

    ..the voip box another. .Force the user to re-establish the location or surrender liability at every move/unplug, as AT&T Callvantage does!

  14. Nick Palmer

    @Jeff & AC

    You're assuming that the family were receiving paper-based bills. They may (depending on whether the option was available - I honestly don't know) have opted for payment by direct debit or standing order and have adopted electronic billing. It's irresponsible to assume facts not in evidence...

  15. Kanhef

    re: billing

    Odds are it's all done online to save the cost of postage, paper, and handling all those cheques. No physical address needed.

  16. Nick

    Never again

    If VoIP is going to supplant PSTN, then we've got to get this one right. Going to market with a service which doesn't handle emergency calling with 100% right-first-time is not on. Caveat emptor will not do.

  17. Alan W. Rateliff, II
    Paris Hilton

    Bills get sent?

    Who gets paper bills these days? Automatic billing, email invoicing... most companies either work exclusively electronically, or encourage customers to do so.

    Paris, because she ain't seen a bill, ever.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "no brainer"?

    Well given that the majority of bills are paid directly via my bank using something not all that modern called a "direct debit" (and those that aren't are paid online with web billing) it wouldn't at all be unlikely that someone might not get around to telling the VOIP-telco that they'd moved.

  19. Adam Foxton
    Paris Hilton

    Bill address

    If the service kept working and they were billed the money every month I can't see many people breaking much of a sweat over missing bills. At least with the bills I get there's not much personal information- certainly nothing hugely useful if they've not updated their address- and no loss of service. So it'd be at best a "I'll do it later" task.

    And when moving house, there's normally more pressing things to do than change your address on some online phone service thing.

    If they HAD changed their billing address and the rest of the system hadn't been updated- including the potentially life-saving 911 address- then this is bordering on corporate manslaughter. And as it'd appear to be an interdepartmental communications problem that'd mean that the rolling head would be of someone pretty high up.

    You can see Paris there, thinking "How could someone say this is a no-brainer?"

  20. vincent himpe

    the problem

    is that the voip to landline gateway may be somewhere completely different then where you are based.

    if you have autobilling the address may even be the one from the bank.

    This is of course a tragic incident , but there is a reason that things like the Skype phone ( linksys , netgear etc 0 carry a BIG warning label that the thing is NOT a phone and that emergency service calling is not guaranteed to work correctly.

    People want everything free these days ... and then something like this happens.

    I too am a Skype user , but i take it as it comes. And i do keep a regular landline as well . just have the cheapest plan ( local calls only)

  21. Rolf Howarth


    Sad as this case is, it seems to me you pay for what you get. If a fixed landline is slightly more expensive for telephone calls well... maybe there's a reason.

  22. Chris C

    Am I the only one?

    I think we can all agree this is a sad occurrence, one which should not have happened. So I don't mean to diminish or demean it, but am I the only one who's sick of people saying things like:

    "This is a first for Canada, and it's a tragic one... This was a very young boy."

    Would it have been any less tragic if the boy was older? The simple fact is that it was a routine emergency call (if there ever can be such a thing) that could have possibly had a better outcome had the emergency services arrived more quickly. It doesn't matter if the person was 2 years old or 20 years old. The fact that a decent life (not a violent criminal) was lost is what makes it sad, not the age of the person.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    ermmm - e-billing?

    Awful story . . . but likely they never received a paper bill.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Billing

    If it was set up on the Candian equivalent of a direct debit (I don't know if such a thing exists or if it does what it's called), then it's entirely possible that bills were being sent to the old address but the company still getting paid...

    Also, if the service was just VoIP, and not the actual internet connection as well, then there would be no necessity for the correct address to be on file for the service to work. None of this however offsets the fact that a child has died here, and especially that if the aunt really did give the correct address, that was ignored!

  25. kain preacher

    @AC and Jeff

    Credit card billing. As long as the address is correct for the CC it will bill Oh and before you say will the should use the CC address, some people have their bills sent to post office box, and business often have a different billing address than their physical address .

  26. This post has been deleted by its author

  27. Marvin the Martian

    Billing without address no problem

    If you do the billing online (VOIP = internetty, you've heard of it), then there's no problem and no paperwork needed as long as bills are paid on time. And from that payment no address is deduceable. I guess afterward they could find out that the address was wrong, from their routing, but that would not be something you continuously check.

    Now, if they'd have an all-in-one broadband+phone (and possibly +tv) deal, so the company would as a consequence know where they live.

    Maybe the company has even been sending every Xmas a "dear customer" card to their old address?

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Dead Vulture

    Well a couple of things....

    Just recently, I had an emergency SMS from my GSM provider (Voda) saying they needed to contact me urgently.

    This turned out to be that although I had given them my new address, somehow their system had still been sending postal bills to my previous address - and eventually - the mail had been returned.

    They knew it was me when I called though, and after all, they did have my DD details, which I was able to confirm. Sometimes these systems don't hang together.

    However, the second item is, I use a VoIP provider via my mobile too. I'm not sure if OfCom are going to require them to provide 999 service, like they say they want most VoIP providers to use - and there seems precious little point when I can just make a GSM 999 call.

    I'd be interested in people's views.



    p.s. It seems about the right time of night for this symbol ;-)

  29. Anonymous Coward

    @So where have the bills been sent for the past 3 years?

    They were probably paying direct from their bank account with any invoicing sent via email.

    It's a no-brainer.

  30. Graham Lockley

    not quite a no brainer

    >How could CBC have been billing these people unless it had their _current_ address?

    Not trying to defend the VOIP provider but a possibilty is two databases.

    Its not unusual for a billing address to be different from the address that the service is provided to. Its possible that the billing database may have been updated but not the service address. I do wonder what might have happened had a mobile phone been used though, maybe the poor lad would have survived.

  31. Aubry Thonon
    Thumb Down


    I grieve for the loss of the family and feel *really* sorry for the kid - he was an innocent bystander - but marvel at people's (not just the parent's) stupidity.

    Who in their right mind relies on TCP/IP for mission-critical application comms? The damn thing is designed to "gracefully loose" information, FFS! Whether it be emails, documents, voice, whatever - TCP/IP is *convenient* and *flexible* (best design so far for the purpose) but it is not *guaranteed delivery*!

    Surprise, surprise, you decide to go with VOIP because it's cheaper and complain because you (don't get as clear a line)/(have to compete with other TCP/IP apps)/(aren't located physically). Well, DUH! TCP/IP was designed not to care about physical locations ON PURPOSE and now people wonder why it's so hard for VOIP providers to locate callers physically? Wrong tool for the wrong job, people! "well, a hammer drives nails in real good, so why don't it work properly with mah screws?"

    Jeez. Visions of the "cruise control" lawsuits of the 80s come to mind. These are the kind of people which caused at least one chain-saw manufacturer to have to place a "do not stop chainsaw with genitalia" warning in their user manual.

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Out of interest

    Why didn't they say their fucking address?

  33. Pete

    My thoughts...

    go to the family concerned. What a tragedy. The 911 service should just work and, in my eyes, whatever the circumstances, the family bears no responsibility whatsoever for what happened. Procedures should have been in place, complete with caller confirmation at the time of the 911 call, to ensure that the ambulance was sent to the correct address. As far as I see it, the company should pay dearly for what was a senseless loss of human life.

  34. Jonathan Barrie

    Billing Address was Correct

    The problem wasn't their billing address, it was correct. Unfortunately they were not aware that they had to separately update their 911 information as well. In my opinion this is a failure on Comwave's part. They should be prompting users for when a billing change is made.

    This is the exact reason why I stick with a landline.

  35. lglethal Silver badge

    Emergency service op & family should take blame

    The Emergency Services Operator should take the majority of the blame here - the first thing they should have done (and id be suprised if it isnt in the manual) is to ask for the address where the ambulance was needed. Pretty standard piece of info that the ambo needs.

    Secondly, the family need to take some responsibility, They should have told the operator the address (whether they were asked for it or not), you never rely on a database to get things right. You always state your address - its a major no-brainer.

    As for the company, there only responsible if there systems pointed to the old address with a degree of confidence that made the operator not ask the question of what is your address. If thats the case then the entire system needs to be changed so that the question is always asked!

  36. Levi

    Re: Why didn't they say their address?

    @AC: "Why didn't they say their fucking address?"

    Read the article:

    "Sylvia Luck said she gave the family's Calgary address to the operator, but the ambulance was sent to Mississauga."

    I would hazard a guess that this is yet another case of an operator believing what was on their screen becuase "the computer said so" rather than using some actual judgment.

  37. The Wanderer


    Actually, a more interesting question might be, "what kind of call centre did the call go to?" The underlying assumption is that the operator was a highly trained 911 operator, but given that a lot of call centre operations are outsourced third party companies, and tend to cut costs wherever they can, like train their workers to multitask on as many diffrerent aspects of a client's business as possible, it's entirely possible that the next call that operator got might be from someone inquiring about their bill or wanting to cancel their account.

    I sincerely hope I'm wrong here, but it honestly woudn't surprise me if the operator's 911 training was two weeks of in-house, ad-hoc training by fellow call centre employees only slightly more experienced.

  38. skeptical i
    Black Helicopters

    shouldn't have to give address

    It is my understanding that most landline- centric 911 operations will send first responders to the address whence the call originated, since there are too often cases wherein someone is having an emergency but can not speak (e.g., intruder on premises, cardiac arrest, stroke, &c).

    How difficult would it be to have a GPS widget as part of the VOIP box so that there is some backup data available if customer has moved, if the billing address is not the customer's residence, if customer has somehow evaded all the "can not start service without verifying location" hoops, et cetera? If nothing else, it would give the provider a reasonable defense in the court of public opinion.

    This is the med-evac chopper that should have gotten the victim, RIP.

  39. Ben

    " The question is ? "

    "We need to have everyone involved in the emergency systems to cooperate in providing the right technology and we need to make sure the technology works. The question is who will pay for this infrastructure upgrade"

    Uuuuuuuuh , i think somebody just did ! ffs!

    Bit like a hangman apologising because his axe isn't quite as sharp as he'd like , shut the f*ck up with the dead corporate statement , tell the shareholders to shut the f*ck up moaning about the COST and do the job right , its an emergency service , not cable telly ......or the Royal Mail (irony)....................... sad do.

  40. Anonymous Coward

    @Well a couple of things....

    That's because on cell phones, the emergency number is, for some reason, mapped to 112 instead.

  41. E


    CBC is a broadcast radio network. You know, AM/FM talk and music? Not a phone company or isp? CBC is one of the stations what broke duh story? What has drrruvuhn da story very nearly to a public inquiry? What some cunt-ries like to say is public space? Grunt, grunt grunt?

    I guess it is inevitable that your media position drops core periodically, despite the think tanks backing your shy*e, your backers are mercenaries. Still, it must burn where you took the penny.

    And of course your think tanks must be valid - by the positions they laid out (legs spread) in their position papers: screw what we pay for and what the civil law requires... if we want 911 calls or a fire department or police services then that should be value added... but I suspect your knowledge of history is as thin as your ethics.

    ... what country do you live in? I'll bet it's 1st world and western: elsewhere you'd have top contract your security. And having to do that you'd be far less of a twit. If you spouted your talk as a citizen of many countries you'd merely identify yourself as a mark - so remember what your civil society has given you. And worry about who you were paying if you were elsewhere.

  42. E
    Thumb Up


    I live in Canada. I've called 911 half a dozen times in the past six or seven years - auto collisions outside my apt tower. Every time the operator said (paraphrase):

    "What's the deal?"

    I said:

    "Auto collision"

    Operator said:

    "OK what's the address?"

    I said:

    <my address>

    Operator said:

    "Cops are on their way"

    End of call.

    In Canada an ISP - Shaw, Rogers, Bell, Telus if you buy VOIP - are not subject to the same requirements as traditional phone companies qua 911 calls.

    So you wankers can yak about get what you pay for - but the fact is in North America the number 911 means that you get the emergency services people - this is and has been ingrained in basic education for decades. I suspect that in the EU and other places the idea is the same if the number is different.

    With the traditional phone system if you dial from a location the telco could tell where you were dialing from: a function of copper wires. So your emergency call was connected to where you were.

    VOIP argueably disconnects location from IP address: but I tell you that if every e-commerce site I deal with knows that I am in Calgary (I am in fact in Calgary) then the same tech can be used to (1) locate the emergency caller, (2) at the very least flag that the Ontario address is wrong.

    What you have here pure and simple is a phone service provider that parsed the letter of the law and it's requirement under emergency services so finely, that maximized it's profit margin so carefully, that when a 911 call came it could not even tell that the call came via router path from Alberta - 3000 KM away - not Ontario.

    And I am sorry to say the regulatory regime allows this kind of thing.

    There are many posts above that blame the people that had the medical emergency. The people who wrote those posts are a**holes who, given the same situation in their life, would regret their current position.

    911 works with copper POTS. It doesn't work when we allow a regulatory regime that ignores non-colocation of terminal equipment and the copper. Yet standard routing tables could have been used to tell the operator that the call did not come from Ontario. If the ISP could not be bothered to use it's routing tables, then out could have used the many IP-to-geographical-location services. This is not the fault of the subscriber: it is the fault of the VOIP service provider and of the regulatory regime.

    The legal code says that 911 shall work as a function of providing phone services: if you sell a phone service where 911 does not work then you are a criminal, plain and simple. In this case you would be - the ISP in question is - accessory to a death.

  43. Tim Brown

    Hang on...

    Why are we blaming the voip provider?

    Surely the 911 operator should have asked the family where the hell they were. What if the family had been on a picnic - it'd be stupid to send an ambulance to their home then.

    Blame the idiot operator for not getting an address (it shouldn't matter where the hell the operator is sitting) and sending help there.

  44. un compressed


    I've been reading El Reg for a long, long time and this is the first time I have ever added a comment. (Yes, I did do the registration process specifically to add this missive).

    It's unbelievable how fundamentally depressing the comments are that followed this story; people trying to score points with their superior knowledge of telco systems and how to avoid having your child die, people blaming 'the man' (i.e. the telco) for causing the child's death, people blaming the parents, people blaming the operators - this list could run and run.

    I realise that by responding to these I run the risk of sounding as dense as the comments previous, but honestly, can't anyone apply Occam's razor and a little bit of humanity to this sad story?

  45. Bruce Sinton

    Very seldom a kind word

    I was a Volunteer Ambulance Officer for eleven years in New Zealand.

    Often what I and the others in the Service got, was abuse , insults and assaults .

    Frequently the information received over the phone about the job was quite different to what I found at the scene.

    Rarely did you get any thanks. I can remember the times I got thanked because they were so few.

    Have a go at the sharp edge of the Ambulance work and you might not be quite so quick to condemn

    I collected my coat some time ago

  46. James O'Brien
    Paris Hilton

    All I can say is. . .

    They* are screwed.

    *The VOIP company

    /Paris cause even she is confused as to how the company screwed this one up.

  47. John Parker
    Black Helicopters

    @Chris C - why is it always about *young* people in news

    I think it's because PR departments are permanently trying to appeal to the masses - so talking to people in the context of children gets people into mushy, maternal/paternal illogical mode of thinking - hence easier to deliver spin to. They get used to this, and it makes the messengers appear more maternal/paternal and less pragmatic and political too.

    We need more CCTV..... why? It will keep our children safe! Oh shit, yeah your right we definitely do need more TV, as priority #1 in the world is keeping my genetic offspring intact etc...

  48. Anonymous Coward

    Automatic Dispatch

    (posted as anon due to the work I do)

    Since April the 1st ambulances in the UK have to reach the most life threatening calls (kids, breathing trouble, chest pain) withing 8 minutes. To do this as soon as you dial 999 the address on file is sent to an ambulance and it sets off to the job. All this happens BEFORE your call is answered. Indeed if you dial and then hang up an ambulance is dispatched while the operator calls you back to see if you actually needed one.

    Now I've actually turned up at a call centre for one of these elderly help lines. Little old dear had pulled her emergency cord because she'd fallen and needed picking up. Call centre rang for an ambulance and one was sent. As it happens we were only 10 miles away from the correct address...

    Now if the caller shouts "help me, 123 high street" and then is too panicky to give any other information the operator has a hard job. How many high streets are there?

    It doesn't just happen with VoIP

    Mine's the one with the shiny stripes and the glow-in-the-dark colours.

  49. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Read it again....

    "Elijah Luck's family switched to Comwave's service three years ago, after moving to Calgary from Mississauga."

    The family SWITCHED to Comwave AFTER moving to Calgary...

    So why didn't Comwave have their Calgary address?

    Someone must have gone out to set up their connection.

  50. This post has been deleted by its author

  51. andrew

    This is the reason why...

    I have a plain old cr@ppy phone in my house. Along with Skype and fandango cordless jobbies running from a powered base station.

    In the event of a powercut we can still have a phone to use.

    Sometimes a technology solution isn't the answer.

    Heart cos I do it for the family...

  52. Neil

    @ Richard

    If you read the article, they told the operator the address. This puts the blame squarely on the company, they just have a convenient excuse with the fact that the home address hadn't been updated.

    It's not the fault of the caller or the operator, but the company for not having the procedures in place for this not to happen. You can bet your bottom dollar the the company will blame either the customer or the operator rather than accept responsibility itself though.

  53. Joe Blogs

    @Neil Briscoe

    "However, the second item is, I use a VoIP provider via my mobile too. I'm not sure if OfCom are going to require them to provide 999 service, like they say they want most VoIP providers to use - and there seems precious little point when I can just make a GSM 999 call."

    Actually, as far as I can remeber, in the UK, on a mobile, 999 is treated and routed as a normal call. 211 is treated and routed as an emergency call. If you are on a mobile and need emergency servcies you are much better off calling 211

  54. Anonymous Coward

    Why is the address important?

    A couple of points here:

    - many VOIP phones could be plugged in anywhere

    - people make emergency calls from mobiles

    So why would there be any reliance on physical addressing for any 911/999/112 call? This is crazy! Do they do it like this in Europe?

    In addition, the story says that in the case the Aunt gave the physical address, but this appears to have been ignored anyway!

  55. James Dunne
    Paris Hilton

    Then don't use voip in emergencies?

    Is it not common sense to use a standard land line when calling an ambulance of all things? And even if they did use voip you would hope that they'd state or be asked for their address / postal code (zip?) when they spoke to the operator.

    Tragic yes but..

    Paris, because while she does like to lead the simple life, shes not this ignorant.

  56. Spleen

    @un compressed

    What do you want, tributes? We didn't know this boy. We don't know his family. We have, to put it bluntly, no interest in him. As people who have nothing to do with the family, but do use the phone and have a non-zero chance of being involved in an accident that requires the emergency services, our interest is in how this happened, whose fault it was and how it can be prevented from happening to anyone else. Anyone who pretends otherwise is in the extremely seedy realms of conspicuous compassion.

    We can say that his death sucked but only in the same way that every involuntary death sucks. Of which, in the five minutes it took to write this post, there were 500 more. Spending even one second grieving over this one particular death, of this person that I didn't know and would almost certainly never have met, is an exercise in mawkish futility.

    And what has "entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity" got to do with this?

  57. Norman Nescio Silver badge

    @Joe Blogs

    Don't know about treatment of the call, but the GSM emergency 'number' can be any one of several. They will all work even if the keypad is locked, or there is no SIM, or the SIM is not registered to a visible network. The numbers I know off the top of my head are:




    Try taking the SIM out of your phone, and see that you can dial any of the above numbers on the keypad (DO NOT PRESS SEND/THE GREEN BUTTON) - even with no SIM, the phone will make the call. It's part of the GSM standard.

    Unfortunately, some countries use all of 112, 113, and 114 for different emergency services, and AFAIK, 113 and 114 are not in the GSM standard.

    Part of wonderful EU regulations is that 112 _should_ work as an emergency number across all of Europe, including land-lines - in addition to any national variant (like 999 in good old blighty). Some countries are taking a while to implement this.

    I'm pretty certain that if the GSM network is congested, a 'normal' call will be dropped in favour of a call dialled with an emergency number. I'm not sure if this is the case if the police/military have taken over the network in an emergency.

    Norman Nescio

  58. James Pickett


    A little harsh, but certainly fair. As so often in life, this is a cock-up, and the entire blame does not rest on one individual, or even business, tempting as it is to apportion it that way. No-one would deliberately choose the wrong address, but somewhere between the call and the details handed on, it got confused. The poor operator has probably suffered enough already.

    'Wisdom is the booby prize, given when we've been unwise' - Piet Hein

  59. Pete


    We're all Jock Tamson's bairns. Just because you don't know the family and would certainly never have met them doesn't mean you should throw empathy to the wind. No, I for one don't want tributes, but I would like answers, assurances that this will not happen again and action to be taken if negligence is uncovered.

    I do have an interest in the child that died. Of course there are plenty of involuntary deaths but should that mean that we can't feel and express remorse for them? Empathy and compassion are never futile. Here's wishing you a nice day Spleen - try to take good advantage of that precious gift we call life and, if you can, spare just the tiniest of thoughts for those who can no longer take advantage of that gift.

  60. Anonymous Coward

    @un compressed

    Two words for you my friend.

    Lurk Moar.

  61. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    @ Chris C

    It's that age old adage "Think of the children!" that people assume will shutdown our feeble brains and make us incapable of judging things in a sensible manner.

    Paris, because I want to bang her and that's a good enough reason for me.

  62. Sean Aaron


    The number of tossers posting here about people not giving the address when actually READING the goddam article would have indicated that they did. That, coupled with the fact noted by the last AC that they switch AFTER moving means that the VOIP provider is squarely at fault any which way you cut it.

    I can only imagine that VOIP providers will be facing fiercer regulatory scrutiny in North America and elsewhere after this; they should definitely be held to the same standards as other Telcos.

  63. alistair millington
    Thumb Down

    that sounds like a poor cop out by the phone people

    Why don't they give an address over the phone? Is that normal for Canada? What makes people rely on a DB for an address, what if it was a mobile, would emergency services assume the location??? Or rely on triangulation.


    Military and police can take over a network and all those numbers do work over here, 911 mainly because sad kids in this country watch too much TV from the states and try dialling it instead of 999 (Education standards these days.. tsk tsk.)

  64. Steve Evans


    Last time I dialled 999 in the UK, they asked me the address... Or has Canada gone all IVR now...

    Press 1 for Police, 2 for Ambulance... I seem to remember a Simpsons sketch about this...

  65. Nick Askew

    Makes you think

    I am currently working on a similar system for a European country. Clearly this is a terrible event for the family and hopefully a wake up call for the Canadian authorities and possibly it should be here too.

    For me the only logical procedure should be that VOIP calls (nomadic or otherwise) should direct the operator to a script that is similar to the mobile script. In other words the operator would ask "Where are you calling from?" or possibly "Are you calling from ....?" rather than assumig that some billing address (which could be different from the installation address) is accurate.

  66. Hollerith

    your young child is dying...

    ...and you are terrified and not thinking straight, which is why you can't be expected to give all the details you should, although in this case, they did. There were so many cases where someone ringing could give details (in one case, I believe her throat had actually been cut) that UK emergency services instituted the 'send ambulance upon receipt of call' procedure described in a post above.

    But, sadly, it really does take a death before telcos stop pretending they are in communications-lite and take their duties seriously, or are made to do so.

  67. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What's the difference?

    I don't see why the VOIP is so important here? This could have happened through any communication service, be it landline, mobile, whatever. The point, as many have stressed is that you really need to ensure that for critical services, ensure your details are correct. I am not having a go and it's very easy to be smug when it's not you, but as the McCann's have also found out by way of a tragedy, you only get one chance to make some mistakes.

  68. The Wanderer

    @alistair millington and @E

    @alistair millington:

    As has been repeatedly commented, the couple GAVE their address.

    But to answer your question about giving addresses in Canada, let me give you my own personal experiences, which I admit are hardly representative:

    I have had to call for 911 only twice in my life so far. The first time was from a landline, and the operator, who already knew where that phone was, verified the address by asking me to confirm it. The second time was by my 3G CDMA phone, where the operator asked me exactly where I was. I understand that dialling 911 on that model phone automatically switches on the GPS, though it's not clear if the 911 operator had access to that. In both cases, the operator verified the address/location, and emergency services were there within 5 minutes.

    It seems to me verifying the location of the caller is, or SHOULD BE, SOP. This is my experience, and it seems to be the experience of E, that other Canadian. It should make zero difference if I'm using a land line, mobile, VOC, VOIP or two tin cans with a string.

    Arguably there are situations where you cannot get the caller to verify the address, in which case, then, yes, VOIP is a disadvantage. But even then, as E pointed out, if the e-commerce websites seem to know where I live (heck, even the very El Reg page I'm looking at right now has ads that seem to know which region of Canada I live in, and I never told them that), then there must be some way to verify the caller's location beyond the DB.

    But this isn't one of those cases.

    @E: From your comments, my suspicion of what kind of 911 call centre ComWave had is only strengthened: Not highly trained professionals, but outsourced, minor league ones.

  69. Xpositor


    The number of sites that use Geolocation - establishing where you are by your originating IP - yet this is something that the VOIP providers are incapable of doing?

  70. conan


    I've no idea about the situation in Canada, but in the UK when you sign up to a VOIP package you have to agree to a big, obvious disclaimer that says something like "Don't rely on your VOIP phone for emergency calls. Ensure you have another way of contacting the emergency services. We can't guarantee how emergency numbers will work on your VOIP phone". Hence, if I was a parent who didn't have a reliable mobile phone or two, I wouldn't choose VOIP. As I say, it might be different in Canada but my guess is that the family were warned not to use VOIP for emergency calls - can anyone confirm/deny this?

  71. Matt

    Voip + emergency

    I briefly had a voip phone in the last house I was in (moved a year ago and went back to a boggo pstn line). I remember - not sure if it was in the Ts&Cs or just general details from the Voip provider, but it stated that you shouldn't rely on the voip phone to make emergency calls, and to have an altenative system to make emergency calls on.

    Not sure if this was purely from a legal/cover their asses pov, or was there a technical reason for this...

  72. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Everyone but me is stupid" mentality

    Perhaps it's quotes like these that are concerning to people like un compressed:

    "The most important thing you do when you make an emergency call is to TELL THE OPERATOR WHERE YOU ARE." - stupid parents. incidentally failing to read the article.

    "Who in their right mind relies on TCP/IP for mission-critical application comms?" - Stupid parents, probably don't even know the difference between https and p2p

    "Why didn't they say their fucking address?" - Stupid parents. Also, the same mistake as the first quote.

    "So this is Darwin acting. Pure and simple." - Spoken like a true humanist. Also making the same mistake as the first and third quote.

    "Is it not common sense to use a standard land line when calling an ambulance of all things?" - Arguably, common sense is difficult to rely on in an emergency.

    “Why don't they give an address over the phone? Is that normal for Canada?” – Same mistake as the first, third and fourth.

    There are others. It really is depressing how soon compassion goes out the window and how even a small amount empathy gets treated with suspicion.

  73. spegru

    End Users, PSTN vs VoIP & Emergencies

    End Users are stupid - we all know that. So, for that matter are ISPs.

    It is just this type of event that will prevent VoIP supplanting ye olde PSTN.

    Mistakes WILL be made and so we need a system that works by default for emergency calls.


    For VoIP on broadband, there are devices that will call-through to the PSTN for emergency calls even though they normally use VoIP - (so you always get a geographic fix like in the old days). This should be mandatory for broadband devices with VoIP functions (that users could forget they have) - and PSTN should remain the preferred option for emergency calls.


    Dedicated VoIP Numbers that (automatically) prompt the question 'where are you?'. Likewise Mobile numbers (for that picnic)

    There is a major role for regulators in this


  74. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    So people in the UK phoning emergency services from an AOL Internet connection would get ambulances sent somewhere in America? You can't reliably assume someone's location from an IP address.

  75. Spleen


    I can, if I concentrate, imagine what it would be like to lose a two-year-old son. If I hold onto it long enough, it feels pretty damn miserable. As soon as I let go and return to the reality where I haven't lost a son, of course, the feeling goes *whoosh* out of my head, an advantage the actual family don't have. It's a futile exercise about as useful to the grieving family as me jabbing a pencil in my arm. Of course, physical or mental self-harm does feel good in some circumstances, but it's not generally viewed as healthy.

    150,000 people die every day, the vast, vast majority against their will. If each individual felt the full misery of that as if it was happening to them, we would be unable to function. So we ration empathy to those we know and care about. If there's a reason why this death out of today's 150,000 is special to me or to you, I'm all ears. "It happened to be in the news due to technological failures that resulted in the story being covered in an online IT magazine which I read" isn't one.

    Don't imagine that just because I know what empathy is and where it belongs it means I don't have any.

  76. Steve Mann

    Yeah, but...

    I agree that there is no supposition that the billing address should be shared with the 911 dispatch system.

    Any more than I think the phone company should have the innate right to sell said billing address along with suindry other details to "marketing partners".

    IT SHOULD JUST BLOODY WORK. Whatever it takes. Whatever it costs, that is what is required from a National Emergency Response system. If you can't do it, get out of the effing market and make way for someone who can.

  77. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    In some respects, I'm quite envious that you have such fine control over your emotional responses that you can switch them off when they serve no purpose. Similarly, that it takes you an effort of will for you to experience a negative emotion over this.

    I suspect that for most of the rest of us, our reactions are rather more spontaneous (hence, 'reactions' rather than 'willed responses') and we can't help but feel bad about a specific instance of something terrible happening. Unlike the 150,000 events to which you refer, we know this has occurred, whereas with other deaths we only make an implicit assumption that they've occurred.

    That might well be illogical, but I'm not a robot.

  78. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I live in Toronto, I signed up for Vonage and it pretty clearly stated what you said. 911 with VoIP is special, yada, yada, yada. I only use Vonage for travel, I have copper for home/work.

    I have called 911 from home, work and mobile in Toronto and each time they ask/confirm my exact location. They also asked me to stay on the line until the emergency services arrived to confirm that they in fact arrived.


  79. Spleen

    Re: 14:50

    Perhaps I was unclear. I don't switch anything off. I feel the same instinctive reaction you do. The concentration I was referring to is what genuine empathy would feel like - my point was that neither you nor I actually feel it. We have exactly the same reaction to remote death, I'm just explaining what it is.

    Question: how did you feel when you heard 50,000 people had died in the Asian cyclone? Probably not 50,000 times as worse as you did when you heard that Elijah Luck had died. Someone else's death makes us "feel bad", as we should, but it's not empathy, it's not shared grief, it's just a quick reminder that people die.

    Recognising what it is to be human doesn't make you a robot.

  80. kain preacher

    @By Steve Mann

    I agree that there is no supposition that the billing address should be shared with the 911 dispatch system.

    Any more than I think the phone company should have the innate right to sell said billing address along with suindry other details to "marketing partners".

    IT SHOULD JUST BLOODY WORK. Whatever it takes. Whatever it costs, that is what is required from a National Emergency Response system. If you can't do it, get out of the effing market and make way for someone who can.

    Well I got one for you. When I worked at SBC the true address accord to the county records office was 300 first street., but they had the building listed by a cname (industry term) This was a street name you only saw once you turned onto first street and then turned into the parking lot.. End result if you called 911 they went looking for an address that was not listed in the county records. Gee if the largest phone company in California can get the address wrong, I wounder. oh by the way having your address pop up when you call 911 is called e911. E911 is not available every were either

  81. Daniel B.

    Some reasons you should have a landline

    I just didn't expand on what I posted previously, about having a PSTN line for actual emergency calls. Here are some reasons that basically are being overlooked:

    - VoIP requires always-on equipment, powered on, to provide the datalink to the Internet. If you have a blackout, tough luck. PSTN line always has 60VDC running, so it will work unless the line itself is down (or the telco's down), in which case you're already out of luck anyway.

    - VoIP will go down if your internet link goes down. Would you place your trust on your ISP not going down when you really really need to call 911? In fact, VoIP opens up a very nice weakness as someone planning on assaulting you in your home would only need to orchestrate a DoS attack on your IP, and wham! Your "phone" is jammed.

    - Natural disasters. The power grid is usually the first one to go down, and because of reasons I already addressed, you're VoIP would already be down.

    About some 3 years ago, my landline worked in a strange way; the telco installed an antenna on my bldg's roof, pointing to one of their radio stations. This would connect to an endpoint box at my apartment, where I could plug in a normal PSTN/POTS phone. The box required power, but precisely because of this, the box also had an 8 hour emergency battery in case the power went down. That's redundancy right there.

    Bottom line: If you want to do VoIP, do it, but just don't entirely ditch the landline, as it may save you in these life-threatening situations.

    @GSM Emergency phones: Is 999 actually routed in the UK GSM network as a "normal" number? I can dial 080 or 066 (emergency numbers over here) on my cellphone, and they get the "emergency number" treatment (i.e. can dial even when the handset's locked, free of charge).

  82. Blacklight
    IT Angle

    Addressing and being simple...

    VoIP, being IP enabled, means someone could be signed in as a "presence" agent from anywhere you can get an internet connection. You can make calls from a VSP from any phone (via ringback), or anywhere you can get a SIP client to function - and the VSP will send the same CLID - so you'd "appear" to be at whichever DID of whichever VSP you were using.

    Admittedly, the above isn't likely for a home user ringing for an ambulance/fire engine (unless it's a phreaker or SWATter), however - take the example of a company with a VPN across multiple sites using a shared VoIP PABX - and one of those sites has an emergency and rings 911/999, and the outgoing call goes via the centralised point using the main switchboard number - where do they send the emergency services if the call goes dead before anyone gets an address? Or do they ring back and hope a sysadmin can internally find the call and supply details?

    Hell, cordless DECT phones in the UK have warning stickers on them saying "don't rely on this in an emergency/powercut" - as the good old landline handsets have their own power & no batteries.

    Are you going to sue your ISP if you only have a broadband VoIP connection and their UBR fails and you can't call out in an emergency? I doubt the VSPs or ISPs will fall for that one - read your T's & C's....

  83. Blacklight

    @Daniel B

    GSM phones are programmed to "recognise" emergency numbers (i.e. 112, 911, 999 etc) and they should then initial a call to 112 (the GSM standard emergency number) which should be picked up by the nearest cell and routed accordingly.

    However, again, YMMV - dependant on the manufacturer - if you buy a handset in country A, and roam to country B - it may not know country B's emergency number is a valid emergency number - but if you dial country A's emergency number, it should still connect.

  84. druck Silver badge

    Do you know where you are?

    I too though this was pretty silly, that you should always give the emergency operator your address, and they should go by that. But I remembered I was at my friends new house last weekend, its only the second time I'd been there, the first time I put the post code in to the sat nav, this time I just remembered the route. We'd a bit of a heavy drinking session and he was sick a couple of times during the night, if he'd started choking to death on his vomit and I dialled 999, would I have known the address?

    I cant remember the house number, its the one just round the corner, I know the road name, but its rather a silly one and I'm not sure of its spelling. Its a brand new estate so I'm not even sure which of the neighbouring villages it belongs to. As its new they might ask what road it is off, and I don't know that either. Pretty frightening that you could be somewhere but not know how to describe it.

    About the only way I could give them a precise location would be to start rummaging though my friends draws to find a letter with the address on it, which hopefully I'd think of during an emergency with my friend rapidly turning blue.

    So automatic location services are a good idea, but only if they work.

  85. Richard Hodgson

    Who's at fault?

    This seems like a very complicated issue, you see, the VoIP provider shouldn't be relying on their own records in order to dispatch emergency services.

    Personally, I don't wouldn't use VoIP for emergency services (especially since the call is free!), but if I did, in my case this would cause a huge amount of confusion, since my VoIP client is my mobile phone, which utilises whatever data connection it is allowed access to connect to my VoIP provider. Basically, I could be anywhere at all when I make that call.

    This brings up the issue that is inherent in VoIP: The service isn't static. I can carry around an ATA or SIP phone and hook it up to any broadband connection, and (assuming that the connection is fast enough and doesn't block any services) expect it to work, so how can anybody rely on set records with the VoIP company in order to pinpoint their location for something as important as the emergency services? They may as well do a geographic trace on the IP, it'll be about as reliable!

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