April 22, 2011

Wowway: ‘We’re in compliance’ on 911

But company warns customers don’t dial 1 first
Published April 22, 2011
By Ted Schnell • BocaJump
A representative of Wowway, which provides telephone, Internet and cable television service to some Elgin residents, says it is in compliance with the state’s regulations on 911 calls, even though one such call recently was routed to an Indiana sheriff’s office.

Spokesman Bill Wright, calling from the company’s offices in Colorado Springs, Colo., said Thursday afternoon the company had checked with the Illinois Commerce Commission, which oversees public utilities such as telephone service providers, and verified that its service is routing 911 calls correctly according to ICC standards, even though one such call in Elgin was routed to the sheriff’s office dispatch center 80 miles away in Lake County, Ind.

The company plans to make no changes to its system unless required by the ICC, Wright said. Wowway provides cable television, Internet and telephone services.

Early on April 12, an Elgin resident dialed 1 before calling 911 to report gunfire in his southwest-side neighborhood. The call was picked up by a dispatch center in Crown Point, Ind. The resident was able to contact Elgin police when he called 911 a second time, without dialing 1 first.

The incident was cause for alarm by emergency officials, who this week conducted tests on the resident’s home phone to see if they could duplicate the routing error, and they did. Police asked the resident then to contact his service provide, Wowway.

But Wright said the system worked as it was intended. According to Wright, 911 calls should be routed directly to local authorities. But, he said, the system is also designed to route misdialed 911 calls to police as well.

However, Wright said, the system will route misdialed calls to the nearest dispatch center whose phone lines are least busy at that moment. That, he said, is why the Elgin man’s call about 12:45 a.m. April 12 was directed to Crown Point, Ind., and is likely the same reason the test call one morning earlier this week also was routed there.

Elgin police Sgt. Dennis Hood said earlier this week that he believed safeguards are supposed to be in place to ensure that even misdialed 911 calls and even 1-911 calls are directed to a local emergency dispatch center, not one as far away as Crown Point.

Hood did not return a call Thursday but said earlier the department may issue a statement to residents asking them to make sure they do not dial 1 first when calling 911.

The incident proved puzzling to local authorities, who said they had never before heard of anything like this involving a land-line phone.

Occasionally, cell phone calls will be routed to another nearby agency, depending on the location of the cell tower to which the phone’s signal connects. And for those who subscribe to online VOIP services, 911 calls can be misdirected if the computer user fails to fill out an online address form when setting up the service.