The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Local News

March 30, 2014

Limestone official helps lobby Congress for direct-dial 911

— In 2013, a 9-year-old girl tried four times to dial 911 from an east Texas hotel room where her mother was being stabbed. Each time the girl got only static. She didn't know she needed to dial 9 to get an outside line before dialing 911.

The little girl’s father, Brad Dunn, who had been estranged from her mother, Kari Hunt Dunn, had come to the hotel to visit the couple’s three children. Instead, he dragged Kari, who planned to divorce him, into the hotel bathroom and repeatedly stabbed her. She died in that bathroom. Her story did not.

Kari’s father, Hank Hunt, began a petition for Kari’s Law, which would require hotels, motels, schools and businesses to upgrade to “Enhanced 911” systems. This would allow guests to directly dial 911 without dialing 9 or being redirected to the front desk. It would also give emergency operators the caller’s precise location. His petition garnered 440,000 signatures and got the attention of the Federal Communications Commission and others.

The National Emergency Number Association, or NENA, which represents 911 call takers and industry professionals, is now lobbying for a change in the law that would require direct-dial 911 at hotels, businesses and schools, said Limestone County Emergency 911 Director R.V. White.

White, who is the NENA state chapter president, was among more than 200 911 directors to travel to Washington this past weekend to lobby Congress for passage of the proposed legislation during the NENA annual conference. The event is called 911 Goes to Washington.

The Texas girl’s inability to directly dial 911 from her hotel room, forcing her to eventually go to another room for help, “concreted it for everyone,” White said. “Some have already implemented the direct 911, but right now it is voluntary. That was our focus in talking to members of Congress and to our senators — Sen. Jeff Sessions and Sen. Richard Shelby — and asking them to support the bill.”

NENA hopes to have the legislation introduced sometime in the next year. 

For some, a change in the law would require only the computer software needed to make the change while others might need to upgrade their telephone systems, White said. The proposed legislation would not apply to those businesses or companies large enough to have their own emergency response, such as Disneyland, which has its own police, fire and emergency medical services, he said.

“We just want people to get help quick,” White said.

Included in the legislation is a requirement that the phone system also send the caller’s location within the building, he said. This requirement, however, would not apply to businesses under 7,000 square feet. They would still have to provide direct-dial 911; just not location identification because they are so small EMS could find the caller.

White emphasized Friday that he does not want to alarm people. He simply wants them to be aware so that if they go to a hotel, for example, they should ask if 911 could be directly dialed from their room.

After Dunn’s murder in Texas, the American Hotel & Lodging Association did a survey. Results showed only about 45 percent of franchised hotels and motels and 32 percent of independent hotels have direct 911 dialing. It also found that independent owners and franchisees comprise the majority of the estimated 53,000 such properties in the United States, including hotels using a brand name.

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