REMARKS OF FCC COMMISSIONER AJIT PAI
INTRODUCING THE PANEL ON MULTILINE 911 ISSUES
OF THE CONGRESSIONAL NEXTGEN 9-1-1 CAUCUS
FEBRUARY 7, 2014
Thank you all for coming today. I’d like to start by thanking the leaders of the NG911 caucus—
Congresswoman Eshoo, Congressman Shimkus, Senator Burr, and Senator Klobuchar—for their steadfast
leadership on emergency response issues. I’d also like to thank all the members of the NG911 caucus for
their support on matters of public safety.
At the FCC, we are currently working on several proceedings designed to make Next Generation
911 a reality. Just last week, for example, we adopted a Policy Statement and made some proposals that I
hope will bring us one step closer to text-to-911 functionality. This is an exciting development—one that
holds the potential to save many lives. But as we move forward with cutting-edge technologies, we can’t
afford to neglect the basics.
As you know, Federal law designates 911 as “the universal emergency telephone number within
the United States for reporting an emergency to appropriate authorities and requesting assistance.” When
Americans dial 911, they expect and deserve to reach emergency personnel who can assist them in their
time of need. Unfortunately, a recent tragedy shows that this is not always the case.
On December 1, Kari Rene Hunt Dunn met her estranged husband in a Marshall, Texas hotel
room so that he could visit their three children, ages nine, four, and three. During that encounter, Kari’s
husband forced her into the bathroom and began stabbing her. Kari’s nine-year-old daughter did exactly
what every child is taught to do during an emergency. She picked up the phone and dialed 911. The call
didn’t go through, so she tried again. And again. And again. All in all, she dialed 911 four times—but
she never reached emergency personnel. Why? Because the hotel’s phone system required her to dial 9
to get an outside line. Tragically, Kari died as a result of this vicious attack.
Kari’s daughter behaved heroically under horrific circumstances. But the hotel’s phone system
failed her, her mother, and her entire family.
At first, I was shocked to hear that such a situation could exist. But when you think about it, it’s
probably the case in many places—hotels, motels, office buildings, and schools—that use “multiline
telephone systems” or MLTS. For example, here in the Rayburn Office Building, I’m sure many people
have mistakenly dialed phone numbers and were surprised when they couldn’t get through to a number—
until they got used to remembering the nine, the four, or other code to get an outside line. And this could
be the case in many large buildings across the country.
But the truth of the matter is that we don’t know the extent of the problem. That’s why I
launched an inquiry last month to gather the facts. As a first step, I sent a letter to the CEOs of the ten
largest hotel chains in America. Although their responses aren’t due until February 14th, we do know that
they are actively working to understand how their hotel phone systems work, and if there is a problem,
how it can be fixed. I am also encouraged that the American Hotel and Lodging Association, which
represents nine of the top ten chains and many, many more hotels and motels, has convened an internal
task force to address the issue.
So what is the issue, precisely? In the case of Kari Hunt Dunn, it was what we call the “Direct
Dial” issue—whether somebody picks up on the other end if you dial 911.
But there are a couple of accompanying issues that come along with it.
First is the question of who
should pick up the other end of the line. Should it always be someone
at the Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP)? Or in some buildings, should it be an on-site security
office or front-desk clerk? And if the call does to go the PSAP, how does someone in the building find
out that a call has been placed so that he or she can provide more immediate assistance or guide first
responders to the correct room?
The second question is location
. Do the first responders know where the call is coming from? In
large office buildings or complexes, on college campuses, and in hotels, it’s not enough for first
responders to show up at the front door, if one even exists. Bringing accurate location information to
these emergency personnel is critical. If someone calls 911 in this building, for instance, think about how
long it could take EMTs to find a person in distress if they don’t know exactly where to go.
There’s a lot to discuss with respect to these and other 911-related issues, and we are fortunate to
have with us knowledgeable panelists who will guide the discussion. I would like to thank my FCC
colleague, Rear Admiral David Simpson, Chief of the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau; Trey
Forgety of the National Emergency Number Association; and Jeff Cohen of APCO International for
sharing their expertise and suggestions.
In closing, we can’t erase the tragedy that occurred in a Marshall, Texas hotel room last
December. But we can work to prevent such tragedies from happening again, and that’s what I am
determined to do. I am confident that everyone here shares my belief that when an emergency strikes,
people, whether in a house or a hotel, should be able to reach someone who can help. Let’s join together
to make that vision a reality.