In December, a petition called “Help Enact Kari’s Law” was started following a tragic incident at a Texas hotel. A 9-year-old girl attempted to call 911 after her mother, Kari Hunt Dunn, was fatally stabbed in the bathroom of a Baymont Suites hotel room, but she got no response. The petition requests enactment of a federal law requiring hotels and other businesses to upgrade to “Enhanced 911” systems that allow guests to call for help by dialing 911 (without dialing an additional 9 for an outside line) and would give the operator the caller’s exact location.
In response, AH&LA quickly convened a task force of more than 40 members representing a wide cross-section of the lodging industry, including security and IT experts, chain and state association representatives, and vendors, to address the issue. At the outset, the entire group agreed that one of the industry’s top priorities is the safety of employees and guests, and hoteliers are committed to ensuring guests can access emergency services in a simple and timely fashion. Through the work of our task force and involvement of our members, the industry is developing workable solutions and best practices for emergency dialing procedures and agrees that when 911 is directly dialed from a hotel guestroom, the caller should at least reach a person.
The group’s first step has been to obtain a complete picture of the issues that need to be taken into consideration and reach out to telecom entities and other involved organizations to get their perspective and coordinate on any efforts moving forward. AH&LA recently surveyed our members to gather and compile information on the current emergency dialing procedures at U.S. lodging properties in order to help our industry better understand the current processes in place. Of the 6,000 properties that responded, only 32 percent of independent properties and 45 percent of franchised properties indicated guests can directly dial 911 from all guestrooms. It is clear there are operational challenges for some hotels to ensure a successful direct 911 dial system.
The incredible diversity of the hotel industry also makes devising a one-size-fits-all response a significant challenge. Of the 52,529 hotels across the United States, only a small percentage are actually owned or managed by large, well-known hotel chains; most are franchised by independent owners and operators.
Additionally, there are many types of telephone systems and configurations in use at these lodging properties, with some properties not even having phones in guestrooms. This diversity is further complicated by the varying municipal, county, and state jurisdictions that incentivize or require particular procedures. Moreover, the use of landlines at lodging properties has significantly declined in recent years, with guests increasingly using their personal devices to place calls, including those to emergency services.
Emergency services dialing also triggers potential issues of legal liability. For example, access code dialing was implemented in many properties in an effort to cut down on false 911 calls (often caused by guests attempting to dial international numbers) for which the lodging property and not the end user is liable. Some hotels maintain intermediaries before reaching emergency services because failure of hotel personnel to respond directly to an incident on the property may be perceived as negligence and potentially legally actionable.
Additionally, hotels have varying levels of internal emergency response readiness systems uniquely appropriate for their property and guests. These circumstances may lead to properties adopting non-standard dialing procedures in an effort to best serve their guests. For instance, a remote luxury resort 30 minutes from emergency care certainly requires a different emergency response than a Midtown Manhattan hotel. In the former scenario, the resort likely has trained responders employed at the property who can address the emergency before municipal responders arrive.
On the legislative front, AH&LA’s team is working closely with several groups, including Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), in whose district the incident occurred, as well as the congressional leaders of the 911 Caucus, Reps. Anna Eshoo (D-Texas) and Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ind.) and Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.). All have been supportive of the industry’s proactive efforts thus far and remain interested in working together to find solutions.
Additionally, FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai has publicly expressed his interest in working on this issue and asked the 10 largest U.S. hotel chains to provide his office with further information regarding the capabilities of hotel guests to reach 911 from their hotel rooms and the emergency dialing protocols for in-room telephones. AH&LA and our member companies who received this inquiry letter have been actively working with Commissioner Pai and his staff, and we are hopeful that through the combined efforts of the lodging industry and the FCC, we can raise awareness of the issue and resolve it.
Finally, AH&LA has opened a dialogue with the National Emergency Number Association, APCO International, and other businesses who face a similar issue when dialing out, ranging from office buildings to retirement homes.
AH&LA will continue working with our members to establish best practices for emergency dialing procedures at U.S. hotels. We are committed to a proactive strategy to promote guest and employee safety at every lodging property.
Vanessa Sinders is senior vice president for governmental affairs at AH&LA, and Kathryn Potter is senior vice president of marketing and communications; ahla.com.