Emergency Calling (911)

Last updated: April 19, 2022

[This article discusses Emergency Calling (i.e. 911) for UW-IT Phone Service.  For questions about emergency call handling on UW Medicine phones, please contact UW Medicine IT Services.]

The Basics

How do I make an Emergency Call?

To make an emergency call, dial 911.  (UW-IT provided phones also support dialing 9-911.   Both methods connect to the same emergency services.)

Who Handles Emergency Calls?

Emergency calls are handled by a Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP), often referred to as the “911 operator” or “911 dispatcher”.  One thing that’s not evident is that there are many PSAPs, not just one.  Which PSAP you reach is determined on a per-call basis, based on location and service type (landline vs cellular).

How Does an Emergency Call Get to the Right PSAP?

How an emergency call routes depends on where the call originates.

  • From Campus:

Campus emergency calls are routed to a public phone carrier connection at the same or nearest UW campus.  This provides the fastest carrier routing and best call quality, regardless of which campus the call originates from.  From there, the carrier’s system uses location data (see below) to route the call to the correct PSAP.

  • Remote Worker:

Remote Worker emergency calls are routed to an Emergency Call Routing service.  This cloud service uses the location data entered by the Remote Worker (see below) to route the call to the correct PSAP anywhere in the country.  This same vendor service is also used for UW offices in non-campus cities, but without the need for those office workers to individually manage their office addresses.  Remote Workers are responsible for keeping their Emergency Location up-to-date using the Emergency Location Management web portal (see below).

Other, Less Frequently Ask Questions

How is my Location Determined?

Multiple processes are involved in providing as accurate location information as possible.  Unlike cell phones, which can provide real-time location information, emergency calls through the UW-IT phone system rely on pre-entered location information that is published to a national location database.  When an emergency call arrives at the PSAP, their computer system uses the caller ID to look up the location from that database.  Read below to see how different systems work to get your call and your address information to the correct PSAP.

  • Telephone Number Management System

When phone service is ordered, the Telephone Number Management system is updated to associate the new phone number with the physical location provided at the time of the order.  The address data is very granular, often down to the room number.  This static location data is batched with other changes and sent into the location database every 24 hours.  

This location data is manually updated by UW-IT upon request – there is no automated process to update a phone location. When customers move their own phones (e.g. switching offices) it is important that customers report the location changes to Customer Service (help@uw.edu), otherwise emergency services may go to the wrong location.

  • Emergency Location Information Number Server

With some exceptions, Phone Service is provided by a Voice-over-IP (VoIP) system.  Since VoIP devices (desk phones and softphones) can move around more easily than traditional phones, a system was developed to track VoIP device logins.  

When a VoIP device logs into the system, an emergency location server is notified.  This server uses available network information to determine roughly where the phone is on campus.  It compares this information to the address in the Telephone Number Management system.  If the two addresses don’t agree, the emergency location server assigns a phone number with a predefined general location (like a building and/or floor) to be used by the phone system during an emergency call.  Obviously, this information is not as granular, but it ensures that responders would still come to the correct building and floor.

  • Emergency Location Management for Remote Workers

Remote Workers are required to use the Emergency Location Management web portal to provide their current working location.  This portal allows remote workers to update their Emergency Location data, but is available only to customers that have enrolled for the Remote Worker service with UW-IT Customer Service.  

Unlike the national location database, location updates performed using the Emergency Location Management web portal are processed immediately.  This location data is used to route calls to the servicing PSAP anywhere in the country.  As an example, if you work from your house in Ferndale, the data provided will cause your emergency call to route to the PSAP for the Ferndale area, despite having a phone number from a different city.

What about Non-Emergent Issues?

Each campus has a local safety office.  Visit the following websites for a definition of non-emergent issues and other services available:

Are There Laws Around Emergency Calling?

While state and local regulations have played an important role, two more recent federal laws provide tighter definitions of how emergency calls can be dialed,  what information is made available and how.  These laws are Kari’s Law and Section 506 of Ray Baum’s Act, both requiring compliance on February 16, 2020.

For a summary of these laws, their requirements and industry discussion, see this article.