The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) provides the following information regarding
Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). For the latest information, go
to the fcc.gov website.
Emergency CommunicationsFCC Consumer Facts
During emergencies, the importance of our country’s communications systems
becomes clear. These communications systems include the wireline and wireless telephone networks, broadcast and
cable television, radio, satellite systems, and increasingly the Internet. For example, in an emergency, we may
dial 911, call our family members to make sure they are safe, and turn on our televisions and radios to get breaking
news and important updates. Although our communications systems are among the world’s most extensive and dependable,
unusual conditions can put a strain on them.
Since September 11, 2001, and Hurricane Katrina, the Federal
Communications Commission (FCC) has taken important steps to ensure that 911 services remain operational when
disasters strike. For example, in response to recommendations of an independent panel reviewing the impact of
Hurricane Katrina, the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau (PSHSB) is working on several fronts to
improve communications during emergencies, including streamlining collection of outage information during times
of crisis through the Disaster Information Reporting System, helping ensure that communications workers receive
“essential personnel” credentials during emergencies, working with other federal agencies to improve interoperability
among first responders, and promoting use of enhanced 911 best practices. For more information regarding these
and other initiatives, visit PSHSB’s Web site at www.fcc.gov/pshs
The following information will help you better understand what happens to our communications systems during
an emergency and how best to use our communications systems during a crisis or disaster.Emergency
There are three main components to emergency communications:
1. 911 telephone call processing and delivery through Public Safety Answering Points (PSAP) and call dispatch;
2. The Emergency Alert System; and
3. Radio and/or broadcast or cable television station news and updates.
All of these components must operate effectively in order to achieve a successful response to an emergency.
Emergency personnel and others often learn about emergencies through
911 calls. The 911 network is a vital part of our nation's emergency response and disaster preparedness system.
This network is constantly being upgraded to provide emergency help more quickly and effectively. Dialing 911
quickly connects you to a PSAP dispatcher trained to route your call to local emergency medical, fire, and law
enforcement agencies. At the PSAP, the dispatcher verifies the caller’s location, determines the nature of the
emergency, and decides which emergency response teams should be notified.
Most traditional wireline 911
systems automatically report to the PSAP the telephone number and location of calls, a capability called “Enhanced
911” or “E911.” With this information, PSAP staff are able to call back if the 911 call is disconnected, and also
know where to send emergency services personnel. E911 service from wireline phones is available in most parts
of the country. Wireless 911 Calls
The mobility of wireless telephone service
makes determining a wireless 911 caller’s location more complicated than determining a traditional wireline 911
caller’s location, where numbers are associated with a fixed address. In order to enhance the ability of emergency
personnel to respond efficiently and effectively to callers placing wireless 911 calls, the FCC has taken a number
of steps to ensure that wireless service providers make location information automatically available to PSAPs.
Basic 911 rules require wireless service providers to:
- transmit all 911 calls to a PSAP, regardless of whether the caller subscribes to the provider’s service
Phase I Enhanced 911 (E911) rules require wireless service providers to:
- within six months of a valid request by a PSAP, provide the PSAP with the telephone number of the originator
of a wireless 911 call and the location of the cell site or base station transmitting the call.
Phase II E911 rules require wireless service providers to:
- within six months of a valid request by a PSAP, provide more precise location information to PSAPs; specifically,
the latitude and longitude of the caller. This information must be accurate to within 50 to 300 meters depending
on the type of technology used.
For more information about wireless 911 service, see the FCC consumer fact sheet at
VoIP and 911
Some VoIP services allow you to make and receive calls to and from regular
phone numbers, usually using an Internet connection. This type of VoIP service is called an “interconnected VoIP”
service, whether the service is one that can only be used at a fixed location, such as a residence, or one that
can be used wherever the user travels as long as a broadband Internet connection is available.
the FCC has required interconnected VoIP providers automatically to provide 911 service to all customers as a
standard, mandatory feature without customers having specifically to request this service. VoIP providers may
not allow their customers to “opt-out” of 911 service.
Before an interconnected VoIP service provider
may activate a new customer’s service, the provider must obtain from the customer the physical location where
the service will first be used so that emergency services personnel will be able to locate VoIP callers who dial
911. Interconnected VoIP providers must also provide ways for all customers to update the physical location they
have registered with the provider, if it changes.
Interconnected VoIP providers must transmit all 911
calls, as well as a callback number and the caller’s registered physical location, to the PSAP over the 911 network.
All providers must specifically advise new and existing customers of the circumstances under which 911
service may not be available through the interconnected VoIP service or may in some way be limited in comparison
to traditional 911 service. They must distribute labels to all customers warning them if 911 service may be limited
or not available and instructing them to place the labels on and/or near the equipment used in conjunction with
the interconnected VoIP service.
Interconnected VoIP providers must obtain affirmative acknowledgement
from all existing customers that they are aware of and understand any limitations of their 911 service.
For more information about VoIP and 911, see our consumer advisory at
Emergency Calling for Persons with Speech or Hearing Disabilities
Text telephone devices (TTYs) allow persons
with speech or hearing disabilities to send and receive text messages over telephone networks. Wireless service
providers have made technological changes to their networks to provide TTY compatibility for digital wireless
calls for consumers with TTY-compatible hand-sets. In certain locations, however, TTY users may not be able to
complete 911 calls using these newly available digital wireless services. In the meantime, TTY users should consider
alternatives for placing an emergency 911 call, such as wireline phone service, analog wireless service, or Telecommunications
Relay Service. For more information about using TTY devices with digital wireless phones, see the FCC consumer
advisory at www.fcc.gov/cgb/consumerfacts/ttywireless.html
To further improve emergency call handling for persons with speech or hearing disabilities, the FCC now
requires Video Relay Service (VRS) and Internet Protocol (IP) Relay service providers to provide regular ten-digit
telephone numbers to their subscribers so that subscribers’ emergency calls, along with the ten-digit number and
location information, automatically route to the appropriate PSAP. VRS and IP Relay providers must inform their
subscribers of these new procedures and the need to keep location information updated.
For more information
about emergency call handling for VRS and IP Relay, see the FCC consumer advisory at
Network and Power Outages
The FCC has established the Disaster Information Reporting
System (DIRS) to allow wireless, wireline, broadcast, and cable providers voluntarily to report on the status
of their infrastructure and operations during times of crisis. This information is not made public, but allows
the FCC to monitor and evaluate communications services during a crisis. DIRS supplements the Network Outage Reporting
System (NORS). Through NORS, the FCC requires wireless, wireline, cable, and satellite companies providing voice
and paging services to report significant disruptions or outages to their networks, and disruptions affecting
911 facilities or airports. Again the data is not made public, but allows the FCC to monitor and evaluate disruptions
If there is a power outage during an emergency, your wireline phone, wireless device, or
VoIP service may not work unless you have a back-up power supply. If you suffer only an electrical power outage,
you should still be able to use a traditional wireline (but not cordless) telephone, because electrical and telephone
transmissions use different circuits or wires and telephone company facilities have back-up power available. If
you keep the battery on your wireless phone or other device fully charged, these devices should also continue
working during a power outage. Note that, because wireless networks may be congested during an emergency, sending
a text message may work better than placing a voice call. Finally, unless you have a battery-operated TV or radio,
these devices will not work during a power outage.Emergency Alert System
event of an emergency, many people rely on radio and television to receive updates on what is happing and what
The Emergency Alert System (EAS) is a national public warning system that requires TV and radio
broadcasters, cable television systems, wireless cable systems, satellite digital audio radio service (SDARS)
providers, direct broadcast satellite (DBS) service providers, and wireline video service providers to offer to
the President the communications capability to address the American public during a national emergency. The system
also may be used by state and local authorities to deliver important emergency information such as AMBER (missing
children) alerts and emergency weather information targeted to a specific area.
The FCC, in conjunction
with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's
National Weather Service (NWS), implement the EAS at the national level. Only the President determines when the
EAS will be activated at the national level, and has delegated the administration of this function to FEMA.
Exception: If your local television, radio tower or studio is damaged during a natural disaster like a
tornado, you might not receive emergency alerts. EAS was designed, however, so that if one link in the dissemination
of alert information is broken, the public has multiple alternate sources of warning.
For more information
about the EAS, see the FCC consumer fact sheet at
Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS)
The FCC has established the CMAS to allow wireless service providers
choosing to participate to send emergency alerts to their subscribers. During 2007 and 2008, the FCC proposed
and then adopted the architecture and framework requirements, the technical requirements, and operating procedures
for the CMAS. While much work has been done, the exact date that CMAS will become operational depends on many
factors, and is still probably at least two years in the future. Most major wireless service providers have told
the FCC they will participate, although some have indicated they may not be able to provide alerts to all customers
immediately after CMAS starts operation. Additional smaller providers may decide to participate later when all
technical issues are resolved and they can better determine their costs.
For more information about CMAS,
see the FCC consumer advisory at /cgb/consumerfacts/cmas.html
Accessibility of Emergency Information
The FCC requires broadcasters, cable operators,
and satellite TV providers to make local emergency information accessible to persons who are deaf or hard of hearing,
and to persons who are blind or have visual disabilities. Thus, emergency information must be provided both aurally
and in a visual format.
In the case of persons who are deaf or hard of hearing, emergency information
that is provided in the audio portion of programming must be provided either using closed captioning or other
methods of visual presentation, such as open captioning, crawls, or scrolls that appear on the screen. In the
case of persons with vision difficulties, emergency information that is provided in the video portion of a regularly
scheduled newscast or a newscast that interrupts regular programming must be made accessible. This requires the
aural description of emergency information in the main audio. If the programmer provides the emergency information
through “crawling” or “scrolling” during regular programming, this information must be accompanied by an aural
If an emergency affects the broadcast station or non-broadcast network or distributor, it may be
impossible for that broadcaster, network, or distributor to provide accessible emergency information.
For more information about accessibility of emergency information, see the FCC consumer fact sheet at
Emergency Preparedness and Crisis Information
For additional information on communicating
during emergencies and helpful tips on emergency preparedness, visit the Web site of the FCC’s Public Safety and
Homeland Security Bureau at www.fcc.gov/pshs
. You may also
want to visit the Web sites of these other federal government emergency organizations:
The Federal Emergency
Management Agency (FEMA), www.fema.gov
is responsible for responding to national disasters and helping state and local governments and individuals prepare
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS),
is responsible for preventing terrorist attacks within the United States and reducing America’s vulnerability
to terrorism. DHS has established the homeland security advisory system, which rates terrorist threats to federal,
state, and local authorities and the public. The system provides warnings through a set of graduated “threat conditions”
that increase as the risk of the threat increases. State civil defense agencies alert the public of any changes
to the threat level through the news media.The threat conditions are:
For More Information
- Severe Condition (Red) – Severe risk of terrorist attacks. Requires sounding
of emergency alert sirens.
- High Condition (Orange) – High risk of terrorist attacks.
- Elevated Condition (Yellow) – Significant risk of terrorist attacks.
- Guarded Condition (Blue) – General risk of terrorist attacks.
- Low Condition (Green) – Low risk of terrorist attacks.
For more information about LPFM radio stations, visit the FCC’s
Media Bureau at www.fcc.gov/lpfm
. For information about
other communications issues, visit the FCC’s Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau Web site at
, or contact the FCC’s Consumer Center by
; calling 1-888-CALL-FCC (1-888-225-5322)
voice or 1-888-TELL-FCC (1-888-835-5322) TTY; faxing 1-866-418-0232; or writing to:
Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau
Consumer Inquiries and Complaints Division
12th Street, SW
Washington, D.C. 20554. For this or any other consumer publication
in an accessible format (electronic ASCII text, Braille, large print, or audio) please write or call us at the
address or phone number below, or send an e-mail to FCC504@fcc.gov.
To receive information on this and other FCC consumer topics through the Commission's electronic subscriber service,
visit www.fcc.gov/cgb/contacts/. This document
is for consumer education purposes only and is not intended to affect any proceeding or cases involving this subject
matter or related issues.