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Test your PBX and phone system for Kari's Law compliance

Starting in 2020, multiline phone systems must comply with Kari's Law. Learn what requirements your phone system must meet and how to test for Kari's Law compliance.

If you're responsible for your company's PBX or multiline telephone systems and haven't heard of Kari's Law, it's time to familiarize yourself with the new regulation. The law requires all new phone systems to allow users to call emergency services without having to dial a prefix or trunk line first. Thus, instead of dialing 9 and then 911, a user must be able simply to dial 911 and reach emergency services.

The law resulted from a tragic situation where Kari Hunt was slain by her estranged husband in a Texas hotel room with her young daughter present. Her daughter dialed 911 but didn't understand the need to dial 9 for an outside line. She was unable to reach emergency services and help her mother. What started out as Texas state law is now U.S. law in all 50 states. The bill, passed by Congress in 2017, was signed into law in February 2018 by President Donald Trump.

Kari's Law compliance requirements and deadline

In addition to mandating direct dial for Enhanced 911 (E911) services, the law mandates a crisis alert notification to a central location at the facility, such as a hotel's front desk, if the system offers such a capability. The alert notification is not required, however, if it would require substantial hardware or software updates to implement.

Vendors need to comply with the new law by early 2020. Equipment made, imported, sold or leased after February 2020 must comply with the law. Existing equipment would require software and system upgrades to comply, but the law does not require replacing hardware or adding phone lines.

So, any new PBX gear you install in 2020 must comply with the law, but check with your vendor to be sure. The law also requires that systems come preconfigured with direct E911 capability -- just having the capability is not enough.

Vendor support for Kari's Law

Phone system vendors that want to sell their products in the U.S. have no choice but to comply with the new law. But a quick scan of some PBX and multiline telephone system (MLTS) vendor websites, such as Avaya, Cisco, Mitel and NEC, shows different levels of visible support for Kari's Law.

Avaya shows the most visible support for Kari's Law, with several dozen blogs on the topic. Avaya executive Mark Fletcher was an advocate for crafting the legislation. Avaya supports Kari's Law compliance and offers the crisis alert feature on its Avaya Definity and Aura product lines.

For its part, Mitel has a few references to Kari's Law but provided no specifics on its website. A search of Cisco's website only found a user community thread where the user was attempting to hack a fix that would enable Kari's Law compliance, which is not what the law intends. With a company like Cisco, you can assume compliance, but I was surprised there was no visible reference. Similarly, a search on the NEC America website for Kari's Law didn't return any results.

It would seem, at least on the surface, Kari's Law is not top of mind for many PBX and MLTS vendors. But both you and vendors need to comply with all future purchases, so make sure to get vendor support on record.

Testing your system for Kari's Law compliance

Something as critical as E911 compliance has to be tested. But you don't just test to make sure the call goes through or someone answers. You also need to confirm the caller's physical location matches what comes up for the emergency services operator.

You can't -- and shouldn't -- just pick up the phone and dial 911. You'll likely need to find the administrative phone number for the 911 call center, also known as a public safety answering point (PSAP), for each of your offices. Call the PSAP, and ask how you should perform the test. Tests may vary by location and office, so you'll need to check separately for each of your offices. For a company with hundreds of offices, simply testing compliance could become a major project.

For its part, Avaya has a testing feature for its customers under its next-generation 911 service. The test simulates a 911 call with a 933 test number. The simulated call reads back caller ID, as well as text to speech of the caller's address. Other vendors may have similar testing services.

With 2020 almost upon us, the time is now to investigate and confirm Kari's Law compliance for any upcoming PBX purchases and determine if existing gear needs to be updated.

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