Jerry DotsonAugust 05, 2019

Saving Lives with Ground-breaking NG911 Technology

Without a moment’s warning, you find yourself facing an emergency.  Somehow, you manage to maintain your composure and dial 9-1-1. Silence. You try again, this time pressing the numbers more firmly to ensure the call goes through.  You dial two more times, nothing happens. Emergency becomes a tragedy.

Think this narrative is a scene from a horror movie?  It wasn’t. It happened on December 1, 2013, when Kari Hunt was attacked and stabbed-to-death in her hotel room.  Kari’s then nine-year-old daughter listened to the situation unfold.  Rather than run, she bravely stood her ground, and unsuccessfully tried to get help for her mother by calling 9-1-1. Four times.

What happened?  Like many hotels, this one possessed a multiline telephone system (MLTS) that required dialing a number first to obtain an outside line.  Kari’s daughter needed to include an extra digit before 9-1-1, but how could she have known or remembered such a requirement in a time of crisis?

Dialing 9-1-1 should connect with an emergency call center 100 percent of the time, regardless of an individual’s location or the type of phone or phone system used to make the call. Sadly, most MLTSs – like the one in Kari’s hotel – support direct 9-1-1 outbound dialing. They can usually be reconfigured to do so quickly and inexpensively. It turns out that cost, complexity, and technology weren’t standing in the way of safety; awareness was. Kari’s murder lit the spark for change.

In the aftermath of Kari’s death, her father, Hank Hunt, began a crusade to help prevent another person from suffering the consequences of dialing 9-1-1 in vain. He launched a change.org petition to enact a law that essentially said, “9-1-1 means 9-1-1.”

Mark “Fletch” Fletcher, Avaya’s Chief Architect for Worldwide Public Safety Solutions, caught wind of Hank’s endeavor. Fletch spent a significant amount of time on the road and in hotel rooms and often thought about the potential dangers posed by MLTS deployments and the requirement for that extra digit. When he learned that his fears had been realized by the Hunt family, Fletch resolved to help Hank achieve his objective.

Hank’s passion, coupled with Fletch’s telecommunications expertise, connections, and the full corporate support of Avaya, proved to be a winning combination. Lobbying initiatives took off at local and state government levels, leading to the piecemeal passage of legislation that began to save lives.  Shortly after speaking with Hank for the first time, Fletch secured a meeting with Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Ajit Pai, who subsequently became FCC Chairman and a staunch proponent of the cause.  That encounter opened the door to the development of federal legislation, known as Kari’s Law.

While the pendulum of justice can sometimes swing slowly, Hank, Fletch, and supporters of Kari’s Law remained undeterred.  Finally, more than four years after Kari Hunt’s daughter was unable to complete a simple call to 9-1-1, Congress passed the bill approving Kari’s Law on February 9, 2018 – on what would have been her 36th birthday. A week later, President Trump signed the bill into law – on the 50th anniversary of the first 9-1-1 call.

We’re proud of Fletch and all of the other Avaya personnel who played a role in making Hank Hunt’s dream a reality. Their tireless efforts provided a measure of solace to him and his granddaughter and hopefully ensured that the cruel scenario that befell the Hunt family never occurs again.

For the past generation, 9-1-1 systems and operations largely have remained stagnant while communications technology (think Internet, cloud, and mobility, to name a few) has raced ahead – placing many lives at risk.  Now, on the heels of Kari’s Law changing the way we engage with 9-1-1 in commercial spaces like hotels, Avaya is playing a critical role in the deployment of Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG911).

NG911’s infrastructure and systems allow for automated transmission of robust, highly-accurate information (data, audio, and video that convey precise location, nature of distress, and much more) and receipt by 9-1-1 personnel.  The first call using NG911 Additional Data technology took place on February 6th of this year at the Memphis Police Department in Shelby County, Tennessee. This call demonstrated that the integration of groundbreaking location-based discovery capabilities can pinpoint the exact location of a caller or device during an emergency, putting this critical information in front of emergency call takers and first responders. In the near future, NG911 will be operational across the nation.  When that happens, we’ll be better positioned to save lives when emergencies arise and the first 9-1-1 call comes through.

Jerry Dotson

Jerry Dotson is the Vice President for Avaya Public Sector. Dotson oversees the design and implementation of communication services to support the various operations of DoD, Civilian, Intel, and SLED  customers.

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