Avaya Chief Public Safety Architect Talks Kari’s Law, Life-Saving Policies

When Hank Hunt’s nine-year-old granddaughter saw her mother being stabbed in a Texas hotel room, she did exactly what she learned to do in the case of an emergency: she dialed 9-1-1. When her call didn’t go through, she dialed again … and again … and again. Four times, she dialed 9-1-1, and four times, her call went nowhere.

Hunt’s granddaughter didn’t know – and why should she? – that the phone system in the hotel was an MLTS/PBX, a multiline system that often requires users to first dial a number to reach an outside line.

Since the murder of Hank Hunt’s daughter, named Kari, Avaya Chief Public Safety Architect Mark Fletcher, ENP has made 9-1-1 public safety awareness and progress his mission.

“We know from the coroner’s report that it was the last stab wound that killed Kari,” Fletcher said solemnly. “If Kari’s daughter had been able to directly dial and reach 9-1-1, Kari may be alive today. The gravity of that led me to an epiphany. This needs to change.”

Fletcher is an advocate for Kari’s Law, U.S. legislation that requires direct 9-1-1 dialing from multiline telephone systems, which are commonly found in schools, office buildings and, like in Kari’s case, hotels. At this year’s annual Public Safety conference, National Emergency Number Association President Christy Williams honored Fletcher with the President’s Award for his continuing advocacy.

Until last week, specific language regarding Kari’s Law was only seen at the state level – recently, it was approved by the likes of Illinois, Maryland, Texas and Pennsylvania. It was just introduced at the federal level on Dec. 3 by Representative Louie Gohmert, who filed a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives called The Kari’s Law Act of 2015, which requires anyone who dials 9-1-1 to be able to directly reach emergency personnel and requires the enablement of onsite notification.

On the heels of this milestone, Fletcher sat down with Avaya Connected for an exclusive Q&A about this life-saving legislation.

How have you and Avaya been involved with Kari’s Law?

I saw the initial news of Kari’s murder in Dec. 2013, and when I read the story, my heart sank as I realized what had happened and why. It was clearly an avoidable programming issue, and when I saw Hank’s Change.org petition, I thought I’d help Hank collect more signatures. I recorded a podcast for the Avaya Podcast Network (APN), telling the tragic tale. I also went a step further and got the idea to write an open letter to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler. I copied all four Commissioners and tweeted to Commissioners @AjitPaiFCC and @JRosenworcel. That evening, I was shocked to see Commissioner Pai favorite the tweet.

A few days later, I received a phone call from Commissioner Pai’s secretary. “He’d like to meet with you to talk about it.” I went to Washington, D.C. expecting to get 5 minutes. That day, we spoke for nearly an hour, and I knew I had his interest and concern.

From there, it’s taken off. We just hit more than half a million signatures on the Change.org petition, and, as you know, we have several statewide legislation initiatives passed and now an active bill filed in Congress. Avaya has given me the pulpit to go out there and educate our customers.  We can change the conversation about 9-1-1 and easily correct the problem, and, for that, I’m very grateful.

What do you mean when you say that Kari’s Law is “changing the conversation?”

There are 240 to 300 million 9-1-1 calls annually, and, based on personal experience, I’d say there’s a lack of direct 9-1-1 dialing access in at least 60 percent of those originating from MLTS/PBX systems. Improving these systems to have direct access and onsite notification isn’t difficult, and it isn’t expensive. Most systems have this ability already built in, and it just needs to be turned on. Kari’s Law is giving us a platform to say: this is something that can − and needs to − be fixed.

Then why would there be resistance?

It’s not resistance so much as a lack of awareness. When Commissioner Pai reached out to the American Hotel and Lodging Association, which represents nine of the top ten hotel chains, they were shocked. They convened an internal task force to address access to 9-1-1 and, now, they have committed to nearly 100 percent implementation of 9-1-1 direct dial access for the owned and managed properties of 10 of the association’s largest member chains, just because they were made aware of the problem. There was no huge financial impact to address this.

There’s a tragic misconception that this is costly – in time or in money. In my experience, it takes 3 minutes to fix the access problem, and 1 minute to configure on-site notification. In nearly all cases, it’s just the flip of a switch or a keyboard click, and can often be done remotely.

In terms of cost, I’ve spoken with four major PBX vendors/distributors/installers that said they’d be happy to check their maintenance customers free of charge to make sure direct 9-1-1 is turned on and, if it’s not, turn it on for free. Three of the four, CSDNet, CSG and DJJ Technologies, all said yes, of course, they’d check and enable their customers. The fourth one, TelServe in Connecticut, said, “I don’t care if it’s a customer or not. We’ll check their systems regardless.” That is a powerful statement and carries a lot of weight.

The Kari’s Law Act of 2015 would amend the Communications Act of 1934 to have phones configured to directly initiate a call to 9-1-1 without dialing any additional digit, code, prefix or post-fix and to require onsite notification for facilities with multi-line phone systems. What does The Kari’s Law Act of 2015 mean for the future of 9-1-1 legislation?

It justifies and promulgates it, but we still have work to do. This is just the Congressional bill. We need to get a Senate bill sponsored, and it needs to go through both houses and to the President’s desk before it is a law. While we will continue to push toward that federal law, in the meantime, we’ll be knocking on state doors to create safer and smarter 9-1-1 legislation for schools, businesses and anyone who uses an MLTS/PBX system.

What can a blog reader do to advocate for safer 9-1-1 technology?

Awareness and action. Don’t assume your office’s 9-1-1 system just works. Take proper precautions and have your maintenance vendor check.

Hank Hunt told us, “Mark Fletcher has been very instrumental in making Kari’s Law a reality. His knowledge of the telecommunications industries is without match and, without his and Avaya’s support, Kari’s Law wouldn’t have been nearly as well received.” If passed, the law would be, quite literally, a life-saver. Congratulations on the progress!

Thank you!

For continued public safety information, be sure to follow Fletcher on Avaya Connected.

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