Emergency response delayed due to caller's internet-based phone system

It took hours to find the location of an emergency. Now, first responders are reminding people who use VoIP phone systems to update their addresses in those systems.

PARKER, Colo. — Parker emergency dispatchers did not know where to send first responders for nearly four hours after an emergency call Monday night, underscoring a frustration with inadequate address information for some calls made from internet-based phone systems.

Dispatchers could only hear a man and a woman screaming at each other on the call to the Parker Police Department’s non-emergency line around 10 pm Monday. They wanted to help the woman who called, but did not know where to go, spokesperson Josh Hans said.

“It’s incredibly frustrating to know someone needs help and not know where they need help,” he said.

The call to dispatchers came from a Voice over Internet Protocol — or VoIP — phone line. The technology allows people to make phone calls over an internet connection, rather than by using a traditional phone line or a cell phone signal.

“Instead of plugging into your phone jack, it’s plugging into your modem,” Hans said.

He urged people who use a VoIP system to update their addresses in case they’re not able to tell dispatchers their location in an emergency.

“You have to have the correct address in the VoIP. When you register on one of those systems, it’s imperative that you put that correct address in,” Hans said.

Since the caller did not give her address, he said dispatchers had to contact her VoIP provider to try to access her account information. In this case, detectives had to send an email to her provider and wait for a response.

“It took about two and a half hours later and we got an email back from them and it didn’t contain their address,” Hans said.

Her account, he said, did not have her location updated.

It wasn’t until she called back — nearly four hours later — that officers asked her where to go and responded to her apartment complex near South Parker Road and Cottonwood Drive.

“That slowed down the response,” Hans said.

By then, the man had barricaded himself and the caller inside. Officers had to evacuate several neighboring units in the Montane apartments and call in the Douglas County SWAT team to eventually breach the apartment. They arrested the suspect and said the victim was safe.

“We feel very fortunate and blessed that the outcome turned out the way it did and that everyone was able to go home safe at the end of the day,” Hans said.

He said the department answered nearly 1,800 VoIP 911 calls last year and did not run into issues with addresses, typically because the caller was able to tell dispatchers where to go. But he said people should make sure to update their addresses with their provider.

“Location is the most important thing. That’s why when you call 911, it’s going to be ‘Where is your emergency?’ not ‘What’s your emergency?,'” Hans said.

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