In December 2013, Kari Hunt was murdered by her estranged husband in a Texas hotel room despite repeated attempts by her nine-year-old daughter, Brianna, to call 911. Because the multiline telephone system (MLTS) in the hotel required a “9” to be dialed first to get an outside line, Brianna was never able to connect with emergency services as her mother was stabbed to death. This tragedy sparked a campaign to require direct-dial access to emergency 911 services from all devices.
Congress unanimously passed the Kari’s Law Act of 2017, which was signed into law on February 16, 2018. Kari’s Law requires phone systems to be configured in a way that allows people to call 911 without dialing any additional number, code, prefix or post-fix, regardless of location or device. The goal is to remove all roadblocks to critical emergency services so that people can get the help they need as quickly as possible.
Kari’s Law applies to manufacturers, importers, sellers, lessors, and any business that installs, manages or operates an MLTS. “Willful and knowing” noncompliance with the law could lead to a fine of up to $10,000 and additional penalties of up to $500 per day of noncompliance.
Although organizations have two years to comply with Kari’s Law, a similar law had already been passed in Texas and went into effect on September 1, 2017. Laws have also been passed in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Tennessee and Maine, and are pending in other states and counties as of this writing. Furthermore, failure to promptly implement any needed phone system changes could put your organization at risk of a civil lawsuit.
Whether you operate or simply use an MLTS, it’s important to ensure your system is in compliance. Traditionally, an MLTS referred to a circuit-switched telephone system, but many organizations are now using voice over IP (VoIP) phone systems, including both on-premises and cloud-based systems. Compliance with Kari’s Law could require software and core system upgrades, but not necessarily hardware replacement or additional phone lines.
Cerium can review your phone system’s automatic route selection settings, particularly if an audit of your dial plan has not been conducted in some time. In determining if modifications are needed, it’s important to keep in mind that state and local laws could be more stringent than the federal law.
Organizations may also need to satisfy Enhanced 911 (E911) requirements. Twenty states currently have E911 legislation that requires interconnected VoIP service providers to offer E911 services to their customers. Providers must ensure that all 911 calls, as well as a callback number and location information, are automatically delivered to the local Public Safety Answer Point. In addition to a physical address, location information could include more detailed information, such as a floor, office or conference room. This eliminates the pressure on distressed callers to have to explain where they are to a 911 operator.
Providers must also offer a simple, easy process for customers to update their registered physical location and to educate customers about the capabilities and limitations of E911 service. This will ensure that VoIP users get access to the emergency services they need when they dial 911, and that emergency responders know where they are.
Organizations should be assessing their phone systems to ensure compliance with Kari’s Law, state and local legislation, and E911 regulations. Take these steps not just to avoid heavy fines and legal risk, but to provide employees, customers, guests and families with simple access to the help they need in case of an emergency.