Kari’s Law Signed

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Enactment of the Law Sets Stage for New Requirements on Multi-Line Telephone Systems

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On February 16, 2018, President Trump signed legislation placing new requirements on multi-line telephone systems (MLTSs). The bill, called Kari's Law, requires MLTSs to have a default configuration allowing users to directly dial 911 without additional digits or prefixes. Many MLTSs utilized in locations such as hotels, office buildings, and university campuses require users to dial an additional number or prefix to reach an outside line.

Kari Hunt, the bill’s namesake, was murdered by her estranged husband in a Texas motel room in 2013. Her 9-year-old daughter attempted repeatedly to call 911 from the room during the crime but was unaware the motel required a prefix to reach an outside line. The tragic events led Hank Hunt, Kari’s father, to embark on a national effort advocating for policies at the state, local, and federal levels requiring default MLTS configuration for direct dialing of 911. Various states, including Texas, have already enacted their own versions of Kari’s Law.

Kari’s Law also includes an onsite notification requirement stipulating that MLTSs should be configured to provide a notification to a central location when a user dials 911, if such configuration is achievable without “an improvement to the hardware or software of the system.” Mark Fletcher, chief architect for Avaya Public Safety Solutions, notes that such onsite notification is a relatively simple task for systems, stating that "it just needs to be turned on."

Fletcher has been a leading advocate for Kari’s Law and collaborated closely with Hank Hunt in seeing the bill over the finish line. They worked together to engage the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on the issue, and as a result of their outreach, Ajit Pai, then a commissioner and now FCC chairman, undertook an effort to evaluate the scope of the problem as well as possible solutions. Regarding the latter, Pai worked with MLTS manufacturers and vendors to determine that while not all products are shipped with a default setting for direct dialing of 911, “every single one of their phone systems could be configured to allow for direct dialing of 911” and that reprogramming "would be relatively easy and inexpensive."

The direct dialing requirement will become effective on February 16, 2020 (two years after enactment) and will apply to all MLTS deployments after that date.

Kathryn Branson is an associate with Ulman Public Policy.

© 2018 Kathryn Branson. The text of this work is licensed under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 4.0 International License.