Commentary by Hank Hunt, a father and grandfather from Winona, Texas. His petition to enact Kari’s Law is one of the most popular Change.org petitions of all time, with nearly half a million signatures. He can be reached on Twitter here and Facebook here.
As Americans, we’re all trained to do one basic thing when facing an emergency: dial 911 for help. You trust that no matter where you are, as long as you can get to a phone, you can reach emergency dispatchers.
It’s what my 9-year-old granddaughter was trained to do. Her family always told her that if she was ever in an emergency, all she had to do was dial 911. But sadly, when my granddaughter tried to reach 911 for help last month, it wasn’t so easy.
On Dec. 1, 2013 my daughter, Kari Rene Hunt, was stabbed to death inside a hotel room at the Baymont Inn & Suites in Marshall, Texas. Kari’s daughter — my 9-year-old granddaughter — was in the hotel room at the time, and tried to dial 911 from the hotel phone in order to reach emergency help to save her mother. She tried four times to reach 911, but couldn’t get through to outside help.
The reason? The Baymont Inn & Suites, which is owned by the hotel giant Wyndham, has a phone system that doesn’t allow for easy access to 911. My granddaughter, who was always told to dial 911 in case of an emergency, didn’t know that you had to “dial 9” for an outside line first, before placing a 911 call. Each time she dialed 911 for help, my granddaughter just got static.
There’s no need for roadblocks like this to exist when trying to reach emergency dispatchers. Seconds count in an emergency, and when a 9-year-old little girl is mature and brave enough attempt to dial for help, she should be answered.
Though nothing can bring back my daughter, there is something we can do: we can make sure that all phone systems in the United States are set up to easily reach emergency personnel, without having to dial special buttons for an outside line first. Dialing 911 in times of an emergency should be simple, easy, and fast no matter the phone you’re using.
That’s why I started a Change.org petition to create Kari’s Law, a law in honor of my daughther that would make sure all phone lines in the U.S. can easily dial 911. So far, it’s been signed by more than 420,000 people–from fellow parents, to 911 operators, to everyday people who’ve experienced difficulties in trying to reach emergency help. Together we’re sending the message to our lawmakers and to hotel chains like Wyndham that it’s time to fix antiquated phone systems so that all phones can reach emergency help.
Making this change just makes sense, and is very easy to do with today’s technologies. In fact, one hotel chain in Texas, the StayBridge Suites, already announced that they would proactively make this change so that their phones can all dial 911 easily in order to prevent tragedies like this from happening. It took them all of a few hours to make the change, so that phones in their hotel rooms could all easily dial 911.
It really is that simple. And speaking as the father of Kari Hunt, making this change will save lives.
Already we’ve got support from my Congressperson, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), who said last month that he was directing his staff to research ways we could fix the phone system so that emergency calls to 911 always get put through to dispatchers.
And just this week, Ajit Pai, a Commissioner with the Federal Communications Commission, weighed in to support Kari’s Law. Commissioner Pai echoed so well what my family believes to their core: that Kari’s death will not be in vain “if we can take action to ensure that whenever someone calls 911, they connect with emergency personnel.”
Commissioner Pai then sent a letter to the ten largest hotel chains in the entire country, asking them to inspect what happens when guests dial 911 from their hotel rooms. If a hotel’s phone system isn’t set up for easy access to 911 emergency services, the hotel then has to report back to the FCC with a plan for fixing their phone system.
That’s what change is all about. The 420,000-plus people who’ve signed my petition on Change.org have given my family so much hope that we can turn a terrible tragedy, into something that improves the world for all families. I can’t help but think that Kari is smiling down on us from heaven, knowing that her 9-year-old daughter — my granddaughter — might be the person who helps make sure all people in the United States can reach 911 services whenever they need it.
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