Back in the early days of VoIP, there was a horrific incident involving a death, a baby and Vonage. This led to regulatory oversight of VoIP by the FCC. This was something that then fellow VoIPWatcher, Om Malik, had pretty much predicted while my archives show that there were efforts being taken earlier by Vonage and others. So when I read the Wall Street Journal's piece about Alexa and E911, I could only think back to what was a PR nightmare then for Vonage, but more, a tragic situation for the family.
Let's face it. 911 in general sucks. Call it from a mobile phone, and you have a 50/50 chance that the call goes to the right dispatch center. In some cases, wait times are minutes, not seconds. Moreover, with VoIP, the location information that's to be provided is more of a voluntary effort, even though in theory it's required.
There is a solution. First Amazon can enable Alexa to call 911. Since they know your address for deliveries, chances are linking the device to deliveries would make it easy to connect the two. The problem is you can take your Echo elsewhere, and it will still work, but something we learned with the former AT&T VoIP service, CallVantage, if your ATA was offline for more than a certain amount of hours, you had to validate the device's address if you changed locations or not. That could be done between the Echo and the mobile phone deployed Alexa apps using location technology the same way credit cards are able to be validated using similar technology.
Another way to make this work is with IP address validation with the Internet Service Provider. Granted the latter suggestion requires permission not to violate privacy, but when it comes to safety, privacy rules should go hand in hand and technology can be used to make it all work together.
For now, Amazon is playing it safe, but as people start to use their Echo's like phones, and that day is here for some already, the prospect of Deja Vu from what happened with Vonage can't be far away unless E911 calling comes to your Echo.