In December 2013, 9-year old Brianna Hunt knew what to do when her mother, Kari, was being stabbed in a Texas hotel room.
Brianna dialed 911. But she couldn’t get through. She tried four times as her mother was being murdered. What Brianna didn’t know is that in many businesses and hotels — this one included — the caller must dial a prefix, such as the number 9, prior to 911 to get an outside line.
After more than four years, Kari’s Law Act of 2017, which will require businesses, offices and the like, with multi-line telephone systems to allow direct dial to 911, without any prefix, was signed into law by President Trump on Feb. 16.
The law says that anyone installing, managing or operating multi-line telephone systems may not install manage or operate such a system unless it is configured such that the user can directly initiate a 911 call. This applies to anyone installing, manufacturing, first selling or leasing two years after the date of enactment of the act.
A central figure in the march toward getting the act into law was Kari’s dad, Hank. He vowed to his granddaughter that no other child would experience what she had. Unified communications solutions provider, Avaya, and Mark Fletcher, who manages Avaya’s public safety solutions portfolio, supported Hank along the way.
“He chose to take on this role,” Fletcher said of Hank Hunt. “I said I can get you in touch with the right people, but this is your story and you need to get on the Senate floor and testify.”
In Fletcher’s travels, he became well-aware of the situation at hotels and then he heard about Kari Hunt’s murder and reached out to Hank. Fletcher got a meeting with then-FCC Commissioner Tom Wheeler and began participating in hearings.
State legislatures were jumping on board, but it took longer at the federal level. Through his expertise and Avaya’s backing, Fletcher was about to demonstrate that the fix was of little or no cost to the hotels or businesses and was technically very easy. “We’re telling people to turn on something they already own.”
There is also an onsite notification requirement in the law, Fletcher said, so that if someone in a hotel calls 911, someone onsite is notified of this and can prepare for the arrival of paramedics, an easy fix on a PBX system, he said.
“So what’s needed if I call 911 in my office? Well someone [in the building] needs to know, ‘Hey, Fletcher just dialed 911. Let’s go see if he’s OK,’ And by the way someone needs to go open the door and let the paramedics in,” Fletcher said. “Onsite notification. We call it situational awareness. It’s a simple notification included in their systems. It just needs to be turned on.”
Both Kari’s Law bills were approved unanimously by the House and Senate, but the timetable was different in each bill.
Current FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, said in a statement after the Senate bill passed, “I am pleased that the U.S. Senate passed Kari’s Law. This legislation will help ensure that every call to 911 directly connects those in need with those who can help.”
Hank thanked Avaya in a statement for working side-by-side with him throughout the process. “Because of these efforts, I know that Kari’s death was not in vain.”