“Many think they are compliant when they aren’t, or think that they don’t need to be compliant because many have older systems that they think were grandfathered in under the law.”
Why this is important: As educational institutions well understand, identifying and implementing the best mechanisms for emergency response is challenging, even on small a campus. Ensuring that institutional phone, broadcast, and other communication systems provide students, faculty, and staff with quick and accurate information during a threat, and that first responders are swiftly dispatched to the appropriate campus locations, is a significant task. In addition to these essential logistics, schools and colleges must also ensure that their emergency response systems comply with applicable state and federal laws, including Kari’s Law and the RAY BAUM Act.
As highlighted by this article, Kari’s Law arose from the tragic death of a woman in 2013, whose child was unable to reach 911 dispatchers because a motel phone system required users to press “9” before dialing outside lines. Signed into law in 2018, Kari’s Law requires that users making 911 calls from a multi-line telephone system (MLTS), such as those utilized by colleges and school districts, be able to directly dial 911 without any prefix code. Kari’s Law also requires that the MLTS be configured to provide a notification of the 911 call to someone on-site alerting them to the potential incident. Congress incorporated Kari’s Law into the Communications Act of 1934, thereby giving authority for its implementation to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
Similar to Kari’s Law, the RAY BAUM Act also concerns 911 calls. Specifically, the RAY BAUM Act requires all organizations with an MLTS to equip their phone system with functionality that provides a dispatchable location and a call-back number for all 911 calls, unless it would be technologically infeasible.
In January 2020, the FCC adopted regulations for the implementation of Kari’s Law and the RAY BAUM Act and consolidated the FCC’s existing 911 rules into a single rule part (47 CFR §§ 9.1-9.20). Pursuant to 47 CFR § 9.15, the regulations apply to any MLTS “manufactured, imported, offered for first sale or lease, first sold or leased, or installed after February 16, 2020.” As stated in the Preamble to this Final Rule, “Congress intended to balance the benefits of requiring direct dialing before that date against the cost to enterprises of having to implement these requirements with respect to existing, legacy equipment currently in use.”
If you are uncertain whether your institution is complying with these laws, you are not alone. According to this article, some experts predict that less than 10 percent of organizations, including educational institutions, meet these standards. This article also explains the significant risk of liability to any institution for failing to comply, including most importantly the potential for casualties during an emergency, in addition to fines and litigation. Moreover, as the author of this article notes, the absence of these laws in 2013 did not stop a jury from awarding $41 million to the family at the center of the tragic motel death in their wrongful death action.
Though the compliance deadlines for these laws have passed, institutions should nonetheless take appropriate steps to achieve compliance as soon as possible. To support this process, school administrators should confer with their information technology, public safety, campus police, and emergency response personnel to determine whether existing infrastructure has this functionality, particularly if not grandfathered under the law, and to ensure that any new MLTS infrastructure meets these requirements. --- Erin Jones Adams