Hotel rooms are safer today thanks to a new law that ensures guests have immediate access to 911 in an emergency. Associations played an important role in shaping Kari’s Law after a high-profile tragedy.
Seven years ago, a tragic incident in a hotel room mobilized the hospitality industry to change the way that its phone systems work.
In 2013, Kari Hunt Dunn, a Texas mother of three, died after she was attacked by her estranged husband during a arranged visit in a hotel room. Making the tragedy even worse was that when Dunn’s 9-year-old daughter tried to call 911 for help, she could not get an outside line, costing emergency workers precious time in responding to the incident.
It was too late for Dunn, but her death led to safer hotel stays for others. Dunn’s father, Hank Hunt, started a Change.org petition seeking a law that would require hotels to maintain phone systems allowing calls to be placed to 911 without dailing a prefix to access an an outside line. That effort quickly gained support among associations.
“The number of people that seem to be taking an interest in getting this done is increasing at a rate that we weren’t expecting,” Hunt said in 2014, as the petition was trending.
The American Hotel & Lodging Association (AH&LA) launched a task force and conducted a survey of its members to investigate the problem. It encouraged its members to make voluntary changes to ensure that guests had “the most direct and immediate access to emergency services.”
Hunt’s petition got the attention of Ajit Pai, then a commissioner at the Federal Communications Commission (now its chairman). Pai became and advocate for the proposal, and Congress passed “Kari’s Law” in 2017.
“We are all taught from a very young age to dial 911 for emergencies. But because hotel phones required guests to dial 9 before calling 911, the calls for help placed by Kari’s daughter never went through,” Pai told Houston’s KHOU earlier this month. “Thanks to Hank’s courage and dedication, Kari’s Law was enacted to change this.”
The law took effect this week. In addition to requiring direct 911 dialing from hotel phones, it mandates that hotel phone systems inform the front desk that a 911 call has been placed so that staff can assist first responders in reaching the emergency scene.
Last month, Hospitality Technology Next Generation, a trade group focused on technology used in hotels, announced the launch of a 911 Location Communication Workgroup in collaboration with AH&LA and the National Emergency Number Association. The workgroup will create resources that help hotels and other entities subject to Kari’s Law (including office buildings and schools) to understand the law’s requirements and ensure compliance.
Speaking to KHOU, Hunt said the law is represents the fulfillment of a promise to his granddaughter, who picked up the phone on that fateful day.
“Aside from the tremendous loss, it was a promise made to a little girl. I had to see it through,” Hunt said. “I wasn’t going to stop until I was successful or it did me in.”