Martha Buyer
Martha Buyer is an attorney whose practice is limited to the practice of telecommunications law. In this capacity, she has...
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Martha Buyer | January 27, 2014 |


911? 9911?

911? 9911? On-site alert capabilities could improve emergency communications for hotels and other institutions operating with multiline telephone systems.

On-site alert capabilities could improve emergency communications for hotels and other institutions operating with multiline telephone systems.

On December 1, 2013, Kari Rene Hunt was murdered, allegedly by her estranged husband. The murder took place in a hotel room in Marshall, Texas. One of the many tragic elements of this brutal crime was the fact that the attack on Ms. Hunt was witnessed by her young children. Seeing their mother in grave danger, the eldest tried to call 9-1-1, not just once, but 4 times. But she had no luck reaching first responders, because the way that the hotel's phone system was set up, an extra "9" needed to be dialed before a caller could reach an outside line. This is something that Kari Hunt's young kids would not have known.

Although the need to dial an extra digit before reaching first responders has surely cropped up before, this case has received considerable attention because of the brutality of the crime and the fact that the kids in the room with the victim did precisely what they'd been trained to do. Unfortunately, their actions weren't enough.

NENA (National Emergency Number Association), an organization that represents more than 7,000 members dedicated to saving lives, has long promoted the simple concept of "One Number, Any Device, Anywhere." The phrase is way more than a catchy tagline. With personal communications devices like cellphones and home landlines, an extra digit need not be dialed to reach fire, police or ambulance personnel. However, this is not the case for telephones serviced by multiline telephone systems (MLTS/PBX), such as those that exist in offices, hotels, hospitals and many other locations.

Multiline systems often require a special access code (in most cases a dialed "9") that provides the caller with access to an outside line. An individual who is situated "behind" an MLTS/PBX is likely required to dial 9-9-1-1 in the event of an emergency. As communications system technology has become increasingly sophisticated, the conflict of dialing 9-1-1 and dialing 9-9-1-1 has been recognized and addressed by many vendors in many ways that are internal to the MLTS/PBX, and often at no additional cost to the MLTS/PBX owner/operator.

On May 21, 2012, the Federal Communications Commission's Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau requested industry comments regarding multiline telephone systems pursuant to the Next Generation 9-1-1 Act of 2012. Comments on elements of the feasibility for precise 9-1-1 location information, as well as comments on the NENA model legislation, were included in this request.

The response by NENA, along with other industry players, has been clear. There was then--and is now--no technology gap. There was no financial barrier. Affordable and easily implementable solutions exist in most environments today, and it is merely the lack of education and awareness that remains as a barrier between MLTS/PBX users and Public Safety officials who every day make the difference between life and death.

Certainly the most desirable solution is the on-site alert capability. This internal system process allows for some form of immediate notification between the switch and the front desk once someone has dialed the emergency digits. That is, when a guest in, say, room 624 dials a 9 followed by a 1, rather than immediately assuming it's a long-distance call, the PBX or device that's doing the switching waits for the third digit, and if it's a 1, it notifies someone at the front desk or in an administrative position, while routing the call immediately to outside 911 trunks. This capability increases both local and on-site awareness by both notifying house staff of an emergency and its location within the building, while not impeding the emergency call.

Stickers on phones were once the only way of ensuring that everyone in a building had some form of notice about what to dial. However, by themselves, they're not a good idea because people may see them, but tend not to remember them or benefit from the information that's contained on them. At best, emergency stickers--even if they're printed in fluorescent colors--are an ugly step-sister when compared with the capability that dialing 9-1-1 directly, coupled with on-site notification, provides.

Often, when implementing new technology, customers inquire about the status of the law with respect to E9-1-1 notification and MLTS/PBXs. Unfortunately, that answer is often unclear, particularly when an enterprise has locations in multiple states where no statutes or rules exist on the kind of information that must be provided from a multiline telephone system. Lack of existing rules in a particular state does NOT relieve the enterprise from taking basic steps to ensure employee safety, which is a federal obligation that OSHA is more than happy to enforce with significant penalties for non-compliance.

If you're unsure of what your state requires--or what good business practice dictates (and the maintenance of a safe workplace is an essential element of good business practice)--find out. Not only could it save time and money, but it could also save a life!


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