FCC Commissioner: All Hotels Need Direct 911

Thousands don’t allow direct emergency calls
March 26, 2014 Updated: March 26, 2014

Kari Hunt Dunn was murdered in a Texas hotel in December 2013, while her 9-year-old daughter dialed 911 four times. The hotel phone system did not allow a 911 call to go directly to emergency responders.

Tens of thousands of hotels don’t allow guests to directly reach emergency services when they dial 911, according to a national survey taken after Dunn’s death. Her father started a campaign asking hotels to change the way they handle emergency calls. Henry “Hank” Hunt, of Winona, Texas, created a petition on Change.org.

It is addressed to his congressman, Louie Gohmert, and to Wyndham Hotels, the parent company of the chain where his daughter was killed. “Seconds count and when a 9-year-old little girl is mature and brave enough to attempt to dial for help, she should be answered,” he wrote in the petition.

FCC Support

The commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission supports the effort. “Kari’s daughter behaved heroically under horrific circumstances. But the hotel’s phone system failed her, her mother, and her entire family. I am still shocked by this terrible event,” said Ajit Pai at the 9-1-1 Goes to Washington Conference on Tuesday.

In response, Pai started an inquiry into multiline telephone systems (MLTS), used in schools, hotels, and office buildings. He sent letters to the CEOs of the 10 largest hotel chains in the country, asking if guests can reach an emergency responder directly.

On Monday Pai’s office announced the results of a survey done after Dunn’s death by the American Hotel & Lodging Association. The industry group found that about 45 percent of franchised hotels and motels and 32 percent of independent hotels have direct 911 dialing.

Independent owners and franchisees comprise the “vast majority” of the estimated 53,000 such properties in the United States, including hotels using a brand name, Pai said.

“These statistics are alarming. They show that the telephone systems at tens of thousands of lodging properties across this country could fail Americans when it counts,” Pai said in a statement released by his office. “My message to the hospitality industry has been straightforward: This is not acceptable.”

Pai said he was starting a new round of surveys, this time to vendors of multiline telephone systems used in hotels and workplaces, to see whether their products could easily be configured to allow dialers to quickly reach 911.

Kari’s Law

Hunt is asking for a federal law to require direct 911 access, which he calls “Kari’s Law.” It would require “all hotel and motel chains, including all Mom & Pop locations, [to] have all phone systems updated to E911 systems.

These systems allow the 911 call to automatically connect to a 911 operator without having to dial a “9” in order to get an outside line and give emergency personnel the business name, floor and room or suite number.”

Hunt also wants the federal government to help pay for upgrading multiline systems. The petition Hunt started had 441,581 signatures by Tuesday afternoon. “It’s very, very encouraging,” Hunt said Monday. “The number of people that seem to be taking an interest in getting this done is increasing at a rate that we weren’t expecting.”

Pai proposes that 911 calls within hotels automatically alert hotel staff of the emergency as well.

The National Emergency Number Association, a group representing 911 call takers and industry professionals, said it continued to support measures including automatic notifications to hotel management anytime a guest calls for help. This includes not routing 911 calls to a front desk.

“The 911 community stands ready to work with Congress, the FCC, and all stakeholders in drafting and implementing new policies to fix this problem,” the group said in a statement.

But so far no legislation has been introduced.

Big Chains Already Comply

Even without a new law, there has been progress. Some chains are already meeting the requirement.

Pai stated: “For example, La Quinta reports that 100 percent of the telephone systems at its managed properties allow guests to connect directly with emergency services when they dial 911. Starwood reports that guests can directly dial 911 and reach a PSAP or 911 call center at over 91 percent of the properties it manages. And InterContinental, Wyndham, Hyatt, and Marriott all report similar figures for their managed properties.”