Column: Kari’s Law makes calling 9-1-1 easier — and can help save lives
WASHINGTON -- Kari Hunt of Marshall, Texas, was going through a tough time. She was separating from her husband of 10 years, and she had three children under the age of 10 to take care of. On a winter day a few years back, Kari agreed to meet her...
WASHINGTON - Kari Hunt of Marshall, Texas, was going through a tough time. She was separating from her husband of 10 years, and she had three children under the age of 10 to take care of. On a winter day a few years back, Kari agreed to meet her then-husband in a Texas hotel in the neighborhood where they once lived. She wanted to give her kids an opportunity to see their father. But that day her husband turned violent. He pulled out a knife. She called out for her kids to dial 9-1-1.
Kari’s oldest daughter dialed for help. Four times. She never reached an operator. The first responders weren’t alerted in time. And Kari’s life came to a tragic end.
Why weren’t those calls for help answered?
Well, the hotel’s telephone system required that she dial a “9” to reach an outside line. Kari’s young daughter didn’t know this. What 9-year-old would?
The first phone number most kids learn is 9-1-1. Reaching people who can help when emergencies arise should always be that simple- for the college freshman with a new landline, the worker at a big office building, and the family staying in a hotel. Dialing 9-1-1 should always connect us with people who can help.
Kari’s Law, which I introduced earlier this year with Republican Senator Deb Fischer of Nebraska, would enact a national standard, and make sure that any new multi-line phone system put into place across the country would allow a person who dials 9-1-1 to reach an emergency operator without dialing a prefix first. This bipartisan bill recognizes that 9-1-1 is a universal first step in the case of an emergency by making the steps to reach 9-1-1 call centers as easy and common sense as possible. Our bill, which we are working to build support for, also has a bipartisan counterpart in the House of Representatives.
While our bill would create a national standard, many businesses across the country have begun voluntarily implementing these direct dial systems and the effort has widespread support across the hospitality and hotel industry, including the American Hotel and Lodging Association. Minnesota is leading in this area- the major Minnesota-based hotel company Carlson has made great strides in increasing the number of its hotels that permit direct 9-1-1 dialing.
Our bill would also require multi-line phone systems to be configured to notify a central location, like a reception desk, when a 9-1-1 call is placed in order to help emergency personnel pinpoint where in the building a 9-1-1 call was placed from. While this provision is limited to buildings where no additional hardware is required to configure the system, it will help paramedics, firefighters and police officers know exactly where to locate a person needing help in many large hotels and office buildings.
The first responsibility of government is to protect its citizens - not only from foreign and domestic threats to national security, but also from unsafe products and unsafe practices. A dark day for a Texas family drew this problem to the light. Congress should pass my bipartisan bill to make sure that no family’s calls for help go unanswered. We can save lives.