Long Island Legislator Rob Trotta Vows to Push for 911 Reform around Kari's Law

For large pockets of the U.S., you still have to dial ‘9’ to get out of internal phone tree systems. While that’s a minor annoyance for office workers making routine calls, it’s a potentially deadly (and entirely preventable) problem when you have to dial 911. Or, in that case, 9-911.

I’ve been actively advocating for 911 reform, following the tragic death of Kari Rene Hunt in December. That campaign is getting results.

Today, I sat down with Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta, to talk 911 on New York’s Long Island.

Suffolk County Legislator Robert Trotta

Fletch: Hey, it’s Fletch with the Avaya Podcast Network. Welcome to this edition of E911 Talk Episode 192, recorded on Sunday, March 16, 2014. We’re sitting down talking with Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta, who’s the legislator for the 13 District of the North Shore, Long Island. Legislator Trotta, welcome to the podcast.

Robert Trotta: Thanks for having me.

Fletch: I’ve also got Dan Wilson who’s a subject matter expert for 911 and a Systems Engineer for Avaya in New York City. Welcome Dan.

Dan Wilson: Thank you, Fletch.

Fletch: We’re talking today about legislation around E911 and as I understand it, Legislator Trotta, you were talking to Dan about 911 and that’s when the issue of dialing 9 out of a PBX came to light, correct?

Robert Trotta: Yes. It’s actually quite embarrassing because I’ve been a detective prior to my legislative duties for 25 years, and it never really came to light. Dan pointed out the situation with Kari’s Law and what happened to Kari down in Texas and I said, “You know, that’s just something we should look into here.”

Fletch: What are you planning to do about this? I mean, you’ve obviously got some legislative duties on the island to make things happen, what’s on your agenda to take care of this problem?

Robert Trotta: What I’m going to do is I’m going to introduce a bill requiring all hotels, office buildings, county facilities, government facilities in Suffolk County to have the ability when you pick up the phone and dial 911, it should go to an official dispatch center for the police department.

It shouldn’t go to the front desk. It shouldn’t go somewhere else, and it shouldn’t go nowhere–which is what happened when I tested here in my own office.

Fletch: You’re kidding me. Your own office is not even 911 compliant?

Robert Trotta: No, it’s not. I picked up the phone and dialed 911, and it didn’t go through.

Fletch: Wow. You know what, in some ways it’s kind of surprising, in some ways it’s not. This is where we’ve gone out and we’ve talked to the Avaya distributor network that’s out there. TelServ is a company up in Connecticut, a local distributor, they’re going to be doing some “>free 911 checks for their customers, letting them know if they’re compliant or not. Dan, I understand that you talked to a couple of distributors on the island as well.

Related article: What Really Happens When You Dial 911?

Dan Wilson: Yes, I talked to two of Avaya’s value distributors in Suffolk County, DJJ Technologies and CSDNET, and they both are committed to the safety of their customers and have both committed to do free 911 help checks for their existing customers to make sure, as Representative Trotta said, when someone dials 911, the call goes through.

They don’t require an access code like 9-911 and it goes through to the emergency dispatch center, not some other number somewhere in the facility. They’ve committed to giving their existing customer this help check. They’re pretty confident that their customers are set up that way, but they’re committed to verifying that with any customer that request that service.

Fletch: Yeah. You know what, when you look at this, it’s not really difficult to set up most telephone systems. Certainly all the Avaya PBXs have the ability of handling 911 and 911 directly. The PBXs have the ability to notify people onsite that a 911 call event is taken care of and obviously, we got the ability to route the call directly to 911.

We’re really talking about built-in features that always been a little bit of trepidation, I think, on customers. They’re thinking that they’ve got to buy this hundred thousand dollar application or excessively expensive application to turn this functionality on. In reality, it’s built-in to the PBX most of the time, certainly with Avaya products and even with our competitor’s products.

Robert Trotta: Yeah. I’m hoping that’s the case because most adults might know to dial 9-991, but quite honestly, a lot of times, this situation with children who were just taught 911, they pick up the phone and it goes nowhere. That’s a big concern right now.

Fletch: Yeah. I think that’s what really brought the light of the Marshall, Texas tragedy around Kari’s Law and that’s what kind of really got the nation behind that was a 9-year-old girl who watched her mother get stabbed multiple times. She tried to dial 911 four times, but she tried to dial 911, not 9-911, and that’s where the problem is.

Placarding telephones in the hotels that are there, the type is so small that you don’t even notice it and at the end of the day, we teach our kids to dial 911, and that’s what it should be at all times.

Robert Trotta: Yeah. If this is something that’s not going to cost companies thousands and hundreds of thousands of dollars, this is definitely something that we should do. It certainly going forward, any new system should have the ability to dial 911 or that should be built in right from the beginning.

Fletch: Absolutely. We got some federal legislation that’s being modeled in the works right now. The FCC is going to start looking at this again.

9-1-1 Goes To Washington is the National Emergency Number Association annual event that’s happening a couple of weeks. Down there, I think it’s going to be a great example just to show–even if your bill is not even in place at that point–it’s a great example just to show legislators around the country that people are standing up and saying, “Look, this is a problem. We’re not going to wait for this to get fixed. This needs to happen right now.”

If it can start happening at the local level, that just gives it that much more credence when it starts to happen at a national level. If everything is in alignment, it’s not a big problem to have all of these kind of come together and normalize once it does go federal. You have my total gratitude for pushing this forward at a local level. If we have more legislators stand up and just do the right thing, this wouldn’t be a problem. You have my gratitude for taking that measure.

Robert Trotta: Thank you very much.

Fletch: Dan, anything else that you want to add to this?

Dan Wilson: I noticed that the change.org Kari’s Law petition is still active and I know that Hank Hunt certainly looks at those numbers and I would encourage people that haven’t signed that petition, and by the way, Legislator Trotta personally signed that petition last week, and I would encourage people to get on the website and sign that petition. I think we’re at 400,000 and why can’t we have a million signatures?

Fletch: Yeah, exactly. That’s change.org/karislaw. You can pledge your support on there. The last I looked, it was 434,000 signatures and I’m sure it’s up a little bit from that.

When Hank initiated that petition after he realized what had happened and he had lost his daughter to this tragedy, he was hoping to get a hundred signatures on that petition and be able to take it somewhere, and like I said, he’s now 434, 435 thousand people from around the country.

Robert Trotta: I don’t see why everyone in the whole country doesn’t sign this. This is something that’s very, very simple. I mean, who would be against this? Nobody.

Fletch: I look at this kind of like the jaywalking law. Why do we need a law against jaywalking? I mean, it’s kind of common sense, yet we do. I tell you, we do need a law, because when I do talk to companies, just out in Wisconsin, speaking to a user’s group meeting out there and I had four or five people come up to me and say, “What’s the law? Because I don’t want to do anything without a law in place.” I think some people are just afraid of making that decision on their own.

Related article: Hotel E911 Check-Up for Owners and Guests

Robert Trotta: Yeah, this shouldn’t be a problem. I mean, this is something that’s just very, very simple to make. I mean, the only downside I see is that, let’s say a hotel has something like this and the economy is not doing so well and they don’t want to buy a new phone system. There’s got to be something in that law that say, “Okay, we’re going to make them sign something knowing they have to say dial 9-911 or something that just to get,” if there is a few hotels or motels or some business that don’t have the ability to do it, we’ve got to be able to teach the employees and teach the guest how to do this.

Fletch: I think that’s the key right there. There are going to be some systems out there somewhere that are just not capable of being compliant and because of that, we don’t want this to be a financial burden on anybody, but in those very specific, unique cases, if they can show that their equipment cannot be compliant, then that’s when a placarding law makes sense. I’m not talking about a little tinnie label on a phone at 8 point, we’re talking about a decent sized label.

Even if the model legislation NENA is looking at, they’re talking about text on a placard that in like 14 point that says, you can’t 911 from this telephone, you need to dial 9-911, and the 9-911 has to be in like 36 point, red, bold font.

None of these little stickers that you wouldn’t even see unless you’re looking for it, because that’s what I find in a lot of places. It’s there, but if you’re not looking for it, you’ll never see it. The other problem is, I see people answering their own 911 calls and that’s probably just as big of a travesty. I know they’re not trained in CPR and emergency medical care like the Emergency Medical Dispatches are at your 911 centers.

Robert Trotta: Yeah, hotels are particular concern because you have children in hotels, you have people not familiar with the area, and a lot of hotels sometimes they have different things besides 911, dial 0, something like that. That’s my greatest concern is if you’re working in a business and you’ve been dialing 9 to get an outside line all the time, the odds are, when an adult will dial 9 and then 911. I’m more concerned with the hotels and with places where there’s children involved.

Fletch: You know Legislator Trotta, I think that’s excellent point here. This is really maybe that’s why the focus of this has gone so well because incidents like this have happened over the past few years and they’ve been a story for a couple of months and they kind of then died off.

This one is really kind of held on and it’s retained a lot of attention in the press, I think partly because it’s a travesty of a 9-year old girl who got caught up in this. I think that you’ve just hit on the head right there of one of the most important points.

It’s a hotel environment, it’s a child, we can’t expect them to start reading placards or knowing what to do. We drill into their head in schools and everywhere that you dial 911 in an emergency, yet when they’re in that hotel room and the only phone available is the hotel phone and it doesn’t work that way, yeah, that’s a problem.

Robert Trotta: You often wonder or heard about this, how many people has this happened to and people might have died of a heart attacks or medical situation, that we never know about?

Fletch: I think you bring up a great point because whenever I’m talking to the public safety community, everybody always says, “Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, PBX is … what a big problem that is.”

Everybody’s got one or two stories and they’ll always be stories that I’ve never heard before. The famous stories are the woman in Chicago, two tall buildings next to each other and phone system was in one, she was in the other, terrible fire up in the high floor, firefighters went in the wrong building. Everything was quiet for a long time.

There was an issue down in Gaithersburg, Maryland. A company had addresses and buildings on both sides of the street, worker comes in, dials 911, has a heart attack, EMS is there in 6 minutes, but they go into the main building. Nobody knew that 911 was dialed. He’s 50 feet away from everybody and dies under his desk. Ten hours later, cleaning lady finds him.

There were chemical plant explosions down in West Virginia, not one 911 call from the entire facility. You can’t tell me they weren’t answering their own 911 calls. You had residents from 20 miles away calling the 911 center going, “Something just exploded.” Again, it’s all these circumstantial evidence that this has been a problem, and then we finally have this incident that happened down in Marshall, Texas and this thing went nearly three weeks before it was even a story in the news that went nationwide.

When I saw it and I realized that it was, “Wait a second, she tried to dial 911 and couldn’t?” That’s when I saw it was the story and it started bringing the attention. That’s when I started writing letters to the FCC and getting their attention.

Thank goodness for Commissioner Ajit Pai picked this up and started jumping right on top of this, and really starting to carry this home. They’ve got the American Hotel and Lodging Association forming a task force over this. We’ve got our distributors going out doing the free checkups and now, we’ve got a Suffolk County Legislator who’s going to just say, “You know what? I’m not waiting. I’m drafting a law and I’m going to use the model legislation as a basis to get something going right now.” Unbelievable, unbelievable is all I can say.

Robert Trotta: All right, let’s get this going.

Fletch: Okay.

Robert Trotta: I’m planning on doing it Monday morning. I’m going to submit the bill.

Fletch: Fantastic. I really appreciate you. We’ve got breaking news here. We’re actually breaking the story. Good find, Dan. Great job.

Dan Wilson: That’s what I do.

Fletch: That’s why we keep you around. We’re talking with Legislator Rob Trotta with the 13th District in North Shore, District of Long Island who is going to be introducing a bill for 911 within Suffolk County so that people can dial 911 from schools, businesses, hotels, and multi-line telephone system. We’ve also got Dan Wilson on the line who has gotten a couple of distributors out in the Long Island area and really kind of brought this whole matter to Legislator Trotta to raise awareness.

Want more technology, news and information from Avaya? Be sure to check out the Avaya Podcast Network landing page at http://avaya.com/APN. There, you will find additional podcasts from industry events, such as Avaya Evolutions and INTEROP, as well as other informative series by the APN staff.

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