It’s a situation no company wants to ever imagine: One of your employees suffers a medical episode and is in extreme distress. They phone 911 from their cubicle, and wait eagerly for help. First responders arrive and understand the call was made from your company’s switchboard — but, unfortunately, the precise location of the stricken employee is not recorded, and valuable minutes are wasted while paramedics go from office to office, looking for the ill associate.
Wouldn’t it be nice if your phone system could pinpoint your precise location and communicate that to first responders?
Every year in the United States, 240 million calls are made to 911. But many 911 calls are thwarted because of insufficient location data. In some areas, the likelihood that first responders will be able to respond promptly to a 911 call is as high as 95 percent — but in others involving mobile phones, or extension phones in large office and hotel buildings, that number is as low as 10 percent — because the call provides little information about the location from which it has been made.
Fortunately, a couple of new 911 dialing laws will take effect soon and help minimize some of these issues. Kari’s Law and the Ray Baum Act promise to help expedite needed emergency services to all callers, regardless of location, in a more efficient and effective manner.
What Is Kari’s Law?
Kari’s Law is a law set to go into effect in February 2020 that requires multi-line phone systems (MLTS systems) in the United States — for example, those used in many offices, schools and hotels — to enable direct dialing to 911 centers. The 911 calls must go through without the input of additional trunk prefixes, or digits that callers must dial to route the call correctly.
Under Kari’s Law, multi-line phone systems must also notify designated facility personnel that the call has been made. Kari’s Law makes it so people in distress can easily call 911, and first responders can quickly come to their aid. The law also makes it so that office, school or hotel staff are automatically made aware of the situation and can assist in emergencies as well.
What Is Ray Baum’s Act?
Ray Baum’s Act requires telephone systems to provide critical data about the call’s “dispatchable location” to make the caller easier to find and decrease emergency services’ response times.
According to the FCC, the “dispatchable location” is “the street address of the calling party, and additional information such as room number, floor number, or similar information necessary to adequately identify the location of the calling party.” For a small business, the street address alone is likely to suffice. For large buildings or office complexes, additional information is necessary.
The Kari’s Law Story
The Kari’s Law story begins with the murder of Kari Hunt in a Marshall, Texas, hotel room in 2013. Kari Hunt was estranged from her husband and staying with family. She brought her three children to his hotel so he could see them. When she arrived, she and her husband settled the kids down to watch TV and then went into the bathroom to talk privately. In the bathroom, Brad Dunn stabbed his wife 21 times. He then fled the scene with the middle child but was soon arrested with the help of an Amber Alert.
Kari’s nine-year-old daughter, Brianna, tried four times to call 911. But she did not know she had to dial nine first to reach an outside line, so the multi-line phone system in use in the hotel did not allow the call to go through. Lawyers for the Hunt family believe Kari would have lived if her daughter had been able to contact emergency services in the immediate aftermath of the attack.
Kari’s daughter also told two hotel employees that she needed help, but the employees, who spoke no English, did not come to her aid or inform the hotel manager of the situation. For this reason, Kari’s Law requires phone systems to notify the front desk, security office or other designated authoritative personnel when someone has placed a 911 call from the facility.
Progress of Kari’s Law
Kari’s Law first became Texas state law in the aftermath of the tragedy. Kari’s father, Hank Hunt, mobilized support for the law and worked with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and Congress to help it gain attention on the national stage. One of Consolidated Technologies, Inc.’s partners, Avaya, was also instrumental in bringing national attention to issues the Hunts’ story raised.
Congress introduced Kari’s Law as national legislation in 2017 and passed it in early 2018. The president signed it into law on February 16, 2018 — the 50th anniversary of the first 911 call in the United States. The law would go into effect two years later, so businesses would have time to prepare.
What Are the Requirements Under Kari’s Law?
Kari’s Law and Ray Baum’s Act require all multi-line phone systems in the United States to provide extra safety features. These features are intended to make calling 911 more intuitive and to provide facility staff and emergency responders with necessary information.
Kari’s Law requires these features:
Direct dialing of 911: Many multi-line phone systems require users to dial a trunk prefix, such as nine, to direct a call outside the building. If a user such as a hotel guest does not know the prefix and attempts to dial 911 directly, the call will not go through. Kari’s Law makes it so that 911 calls placed over multi-line phone systems will go through, even if the user does not dial the correct prefix.
Onsite notification of a 911 call: Phone systems must also notify the office, school or hotel that someone in the facility is placing a 911 call. The notifications must occur at the time the person places the call and can include screen popups with audible alarms for security desks, SMS notifications for phones or emails for administrators. This feature allows onsite staff to investigate the situation and provide additional assistance. It has three main benefits: it benefits the caller by speeding up the response time, the facility staff by providing vital information and the first-response teams by reducing confusion and delay when they arrive on the scene.
According to the FCC, under Kari’s Law, VoIP, or voice over internet protocol, is also covered if the VoIP call originates from a fixed location. Fixed VoIP providers must meet the same requirements listed above. Nomadic VoIP is more challenging to regulate because some users — like those with Skype or FaceTime installed on their phones — may not opt in to location-tracking services.
Ray Baum’s Act
Ray Baum’s act requires one additional feature:
Transmission of critical data: Phone systems must transmit critical data directly to 911 centers, including data about the “dispatchable location” from which the call has been placed. This information helps first responders find the callers quickly and easily and allows for invaluable reductions in waiting time.
How Does My Business Become Compliant With Kari’s Law?
Businesses can take a few steps to comply with the requirements of Kari’s Law, including:
1. Evaluate Your Multi-line Phone System
Your business may use a private branch exchange, or PBX, which switches calls between different enterprises and gives users access to shared external phone lines. Or, your business may have a different type of multi-line telephone phone system, with many different lines going to different users or departments.
Either way, your business will need to assess its multi-line phone system to determine whether the system routes calls directly to 911 centers without requiring a prefix. If more steps are necessary than merely dialing 911, you will want to consult with a professional communications service about an upgrade.
2. Install Compliant Phone Equipment or Software and System Upgrades
Under the new federal law, all telephone systems manufactured, imported, sold or leased after February 2020 will have to comply with the regulations outlined above. The law does not require you to purchase new hardware, but if this is an investment you’ve been considering, equipment sold after this date should be compliant.
You can also update your existing hardware with new software and upgrades that make your system compliant with the law. For the most reliable and cost-effective upgrades, you’ll probably want to partner with a trusted communications company.
3. Ensure Your E911 Is Properly Configured
Enhanced 911 (E911) is the technology that automatically provides the call’s location to 911 centers, along with a callback number. According to the FCC, since its implementation, E911 has been a lifesaving tool for conveying critical information in circumstances when the caller cannot communicate the emergency location verbally or when the call suddenly drops.
However, the FCC’s rules about E911 did not historically apply to multi-line phone systems, which typically provided only the system’s contact information. They did not give the specific location of the individual caller, who might be one of tens of thousands of potential callers in a vast and geographically dispersed network.
Businesses must also ensure that any new systems come preconfigured with E911 technology that works to provide individual caller information. Simply having E911 capability is not enough. The technology must be properly configured and working in the new system.
4. Use NG911
To ensure Kari’s Law compliance, businesses will also want to use a next-generation 911 (NG911) system. NG911 is a nationwide operation intended to replace the outdated infrastructure that currently handles emergency communications.
The new technology of NG911 allows for IP-specific functionality that can transmit geospatial data along with voice and multi-media data. This data goes to a national clearinghouse and can then be sent directly to public safety answering points (PSAPs) like 911 call centers. From there, it goes to first responders.
5. Test Your New System’s Data
When you have your new systems up and running, you’ll want to make sure the location that comes up at the 911 center matches your business’s physical location.
Of course, this does not mean you should pick up a phone and dial 911. Instead, find the administrative phone number for your local PSAP. Call that office and inquire about the best way to perform the test. If you have a small business with a single office, the test should be straightforward. If you have hundreds of offices, though, you’ll need to perform this test for each one of them to make sure your phone systems are transmitting the correct geospatial data.
Complying with Kari’s Law is critical for several reasons:
Keeping employees and visitors safe: This is the most crucial reason to make sure your business is compliant with Kari’s Law. In an emergency, your employees, customers or other visitors will be able to reach 911 and get immediate help.
Financial security: Businesses that do not comply with Kari’s Law will be subject to fines and other penalties that increase with each day the business continues its noncompliance. Enhance your financial security by complying with this critical law.
Peace of mind: Complying with Kari’s Law gives you the peace of mind of knowing that in an emergency, people at your business could quickly dial emergency services and receive assistance. It also lets you rest easy in knowing you have reduced your risk of civil liability in the event of a tragedy.
The technology required under Kari’s Law can help save lives. It’s essential for schools, offices and hotels to comply with the law and help prevent needless tragedies.
The good news: If you’re currently a Computers N’ Stuff Hosted VoIP Customer, all of this is already in place.
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