Recently, I had dinner with a friend who travels a great deal for his job as an academic physician. He mentioned to me that when he gets to a hotel, he calls the front desk to set up a backup wakeup call in case his phone alarm fails to wake him at the right time. Within the past few trips, any time he's tried to accomplish this menial task, he's found that while there is a phone in his room, there is no dial tone when he picks up the receiver. It doesn't matter why there's no dial tone – any phone without a dial tone is a clear violation of Kari’s Law.
One is certainly allowed to think of in-room landline phones as an unwelcome expense in this age of mobile phones, but this expense can save any business – and the entities that insure those businesses – the fallout of failing to meet federal law.
Let’s review the three obligations of Kari’s Law:
- Callers have direct access to 9-1-1 without the need to dial an extra digit
- Contemporaneous on-site notification that a call to 9-1-1 has been made. This would likely be the front or security desk.
- The provision of a valid callback number that is provided by the entity that operates the multiline telephone system.
In the hotel scenario that my friend has experienced, Kari’s Law compliance requires DIRECT ACCESS TO 9-1-1 from behind a multi-line telephone system. If there’s no dial tone, there is simply no way that a call can be made from that room-based device. Period.
To meet the second prong, it is assumed that there is someone on-site to receive that contemporaneous notification. In smaller hotels, for example, where no one may be working at the front or security desk overnight, this staffing decision causes the second prong to fail.
Third, if there’s no one to answer the call made possibly in an off-hour, then the provision of a valid callback number is also not effective, since there’s no one to answer. So the third prong fails in this scenario as well.
Mark Fletcher, ENP, who worked with the Hunt family to create and establish Kari's Law said, “while Kari's Law did not stipulate a requirement that staffing existed 24 hours a day, the RAY BAUM'S Act clearly states that the on-site notification of a 911 call as well as the callback must alert a device that is likely to be heard. If staff is not present on-site, the enterprises has few options to satisfy this requirement.” On-site notification is a requirement defined in both in Kari's Law and RAY BAUM'S Act. “[T]he RAY BAUM'S Act requirement calls for a dispatchable location to be delivered to the 911 ECC/PSAP with matching information delivered contemporaneously to on-site personnel. That appears to be a clear expectation—and obligation--to notify staff 24 hours a day,” Fletcher added.
These vulnerabilities are not limited to the hospitality industry. In fact, it’s critically important to look to any enterprise that operates multiline telephones systems, particularly those who have remote workers with enterprise numbers. “A recent Metrigy research study of 440 organizations found that just 69.1% of IT leaders responsible for business communications believe that their organizations are compliant with Kari's Law,” according to Irwin Lazar, Metrigy’s president. This means that 30.9% are NOT compliant, which creates a huge -- and potentially very costly -- liability problem.
To the best of my knowledge as of date of publication, there has been no litigation (at least that has made it to court) based on failure to comply with Kari’s Law. Simply because I’m not aware of existing litigation doesn’t mean either that there’s nothing pending or that the obligations don’t necessarily apply. Nothing could be further from the truth.
However, it’s worth remembering that a facility that is not compliant with this federal rule, which has been effective for more than three years, creates a liability nightmare for the entity is not compliant, either because it wasn’t aware of the obligation or that decided the safety net provided by Kari’s Law and RAY BAUM’S Act aren’t sufficiently important to warrant the expense to deploy a workable solution. Although there were other factors in the Kari Hunt lawsuit settlement that affected the jury’s financial award to the plaintiffs (Kari Hunt’s family), the dollar figure awarded was over $42 million. No one should ignore that precedent.
Compliance with Kari’s Law has three distinct components, all of which must be met in order to mitigate potential damages if and when an emergency call does not complete. It’s beyond outrageous—and truly life threatening—that an entity, particularly a facility of accommodation like a hotel, hospital or nursing home, for example—would fail, either by neglect or positive action, to provide working dial tone to each viable device on its premises.