DALLAS — Tens of thousands of hotels don't allow guests to directly reach emergency services when they dial 911, according to a national survey taken after a 9-year-old girl couldn't call for help while her mother was being stabbed to death in a Texas motel.
The killing of Kari Hunt Dunn spurred a petition that has garnered more than 440,000 signatures demanding hotels and motels be required to enable the direct dialing of 911. Many hotels require callers to dial "9'' before 911 or have some other system, such as calling first to the front desk, which advocates say can lead to panic and confusion in an emergency.
The petition got the attention of Federal Communications Commission member Ajit Pai, whose office on Monday announced the results of a survey done after Dunn's death by the American Hotel & Lodging Association. The industry group found that about 45 percent of franchised hotels and motels and 32 percent of independent hotels have direct 911 dialing.
Independent owners and franchisees comprise the "vast majority" of the estimated 53,000 such properties in the U.S., including hotels using a brand name, Pai said.
"These statistics are alarming. They show that the telephone systems at tens of thousands of lodging properties across this country could fail Americans when it counts," Pai said in a statement released by his office. "My message to the hospitality industry has been straightforward: This is not acceptable."
Pai said he was starting a new round of surveys, this time to vendors of multi-line telephone systems used in hotels and workplaces, to see whether their products could easily be configured to allow dialers to quickly reach 911.
He also noted that the InterContinental, Marriott and Hilton hotel chains were among those now working to change dialing systems and educate franchise owners about the need to do so.