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Time is winding down for organizations to become compliant with a new federal law designed to make it easier to reach 911 emergency services. After Feb. 16, 2020, owners of multi-line telephone systems (MLTSs) must allow users to directly dial 911 without having to first dial an additional digit such as 9 before getting an outside line.
H.R. 582, better known as “Kari’s Law,” was signed into law on Feb. 16, 2018, as an amendment to the Telecommunications Act of 1934. It applies to manufacturers, sellers and operators of MLTS equipment. In August, the Federal Communications Commission approved a set of rules for implementing the law.
The law is named for Kari Hunt Dunn, who was fatally stabbed by her estranged husband in a Marshall, Texas, hotel room in 2013. She had taken her three children for a visit with their father, from whom she had recently separated. During the attack, the couple’s 9-year-old daughter called 911 four times but was unable to reach emergency services because she didn’t know she needed to dial 9 to get an outside line. Following the murder, Kari’s father campaigned to get laws passed at both the federal and state level.
Multi-line systems essentially allow users to a use single phone to host multiple phone numbers. Often used in the hospitality industry, commercial businesses, schools and government facilities, these systems can be traditional PTSN or IP phones using either cloud or on-premises infrastructure.
While MLTS systems deliver a number of operational and budget benefits, they’ve always been problematic for 911 systems. In addition to the need to dial prefixes to get an outside line, they don’t transmit detailed location and call-back information to emergency operators.
Kari’s Law and a companion piece of legislation known as the RAY BAUM Act are meant to resolve these issues.
Kari’s Law mandates that an MLTS must be configured to allow 911 calls without any additional digit — even if the system otherwise requires such a prefix for other calls outside the system. It also prohibits vendors from manufacturing, importing, selling or leasing any system without this capability. Additionally, the law requires systems to be configured to provide a notice to a central location when a user dials 911. This could be a front desk, a security office or the system administrator.
RAY BAUM’s Act requires a “dispatchable location” to be conveyed with 911 calls to eliminate delays and confusion among emergency responders. For years, 911 dispatchers have received information from the telephone company about the street address for incoming calls for landlines. However, that is not enough information for calls coming from hotels, school campuses or office buildings with dozens or hundreds of rooms. The new law requires additional information such as room number or floor number to accurately identify the location of the emergency.
Any business that operates a MLTS is required to comply with Kari’s Law. Non-compliance can result in fines of up to $10,000 along with additional penalties such daily $500 fines until modifications are made. Additionally, individual states can modify the law to require even stricter guidelines.
The good news is that compliance doesn’t have to be particularly burdensome. Hardware changes may be necessary in some instances, but configuration changes or software upgrades will be sufficient in many cases.
If you’re unsure how the law applies to you, give us a call. We can review your system configurations and your dial plan to determine if your MLTS is out of compliance. If it is, we can conduct a more thorough assessment to determine what updates or modifications are required to become compliant.