Dialing 911 getting easier after woman's death spurs FCC investigation

Dialing 911 getting easier after woman's death spurs FCC investigation
Kari's father, Hank, speaks at a press conference with the FCC Commissioner in Marshall, Texas, Jan. 23. (Source: KLTV Staff)
Kari's father, Hank, speaks at a press conference with the FCC Commissioner in Marshall, Texas, Jan. 23. (Source: KLTV Staff)

MARSHALL, TX (KLTV) - It's getting to be easier to dial 911 after one East Texas family lead the charge for a Federal Communications Commission investigation.

The push for change in the way at phone systems at hotels and other businesses operate has resulted in nationwide changes, an official announced Friday during a press conference at the Marshall Police Department headquarters.

The move comes after the death of an East Texas woman. Kari Rene Hunt was murdered in a Marshall hotel room Dec. 1, 2013. Her young daughter tried calling 911 four times that day, but was unable to get help because the phone required her to dial "9" first to get an outside line.

Now, Kari's family is pushing for legislation, dubbed Kari's Law, to change the way the systems operate.

READ MORE: Push for Kari's Law continues one year after her death

The FCC launched an investigation into the issue a year ago after learning that multi-line phone systems used in many hotels and large buildings often require guests to dial "9" or other access codes before dialing the emergency line.

FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai spoke on the changes and the investigation during the conference.

"I gave Hank (Hunt) my commitment that no one would encounter the problem his granddaughter had dialing 911," Pai said. "What happened with the phone system in Marshall wasn't an anomaly, it was indicative of a widespread problem. In nearly all cases, there is no technical reason why every phone in this country cannot be set up to allow direct 911 calling."

Pai said one of his colleagues discovered that the FCC headquarters phone system did not allow direct 911 dialing.

"I tried it before traveling to Texas and still got a recording. This situation is completely unacceptable," he said. He has asked the commission to change the system.

During the conference, Pai released data on the changes:

  • 100 percent of the hotels owned or managed by Carlson, Hyatt, InterContinental, La Quinta, Marriot, Motel 6, Starwood and Wyndham now permit direct 911 calling. The Hilton chain is at 99 percent, up from 50 percent in April of 2014, and the company expects to reach 100 percent this year.
  • 70 percent of the largest hotel chains have required or are in the process of requiring, all franchise locations to have direct 911 dialing to more than 7,800 properties.
  • By the end of 2015, the 911 problem should be solved at all Country Inn & Suites, Crowne Plaza, Doubletree, Embassy Suites, Fairfield Inn, Four Points, Gaylord, Hampton Inn, Hilton, Holiday Inn, Hyatt, InterContinental, La Quinta, Marriott, Motel 6, Park Plaza, Radisson, Residence Inn, Ritz-Carlton, St. Regis, Sheraton, Staybridge, W and Westin properties.

"By and large every hotel we've been in contact with wants to solve this problem," Commissioner Pai said. "They recognize the top priority they have is the safety of their guests."

Prior to the investigation, the FCC said none of the major hotel chains required their franchises to permit direct 911 calling and that at 68 percent of independently-owned hotels, directly dialed 911 calls would not go through. That number was 55 percent at franchised hotels.

Now, the FCC reports that 50 percent of multi-line telephone system vendors ship their products with a default setting of direct 911 dialing.

"Making this change just makes sense," said Hunt, Kari's father.

The past year has not been easy for the Hunt family, but Kari's father, Hank, said getting results is worth it.

"It's been something that's difficult to do," Hunt said. "But when a 9-year-old looks at you and tells you 'I tried but it didn't work' that's your fault, not hers. It wasn't that child's fault it was a responsible adult's fault, and responsible adults are going to fix it."

Congressman Louie Gohmert also spoke during the conference, noting that legislators have been working with other members of Congress and the 911 caucus.

"This has been an issue that has struck a nerve across the country," Gohmert said, adding that the issue is not just Marshall, Texas problem. "Kari would be proud. ... Kari lives on and her legacy lives on."

Congressional offices have also made changes to allow direct calls to 911.

"If you're in my office and you have a problem, 911 will get you out," Gohmert said. "Thank you Kari. I didn't even know or think about it before her."

A State Emergency Communications commission voted to go forward with the law in their September meeting. The rule is open for public comment, before it will be addressed again at the CSEC's March 2015 hearing.

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