DALLAS – Hank Hunt’s granddaughter tried calling 911 from the East Texas hotel room where she could hear her mother dying, just as she was taught to do in an emergency. She didn’t know she had to dial 9 on the hotel phone first.
“Papa,” Hunt remembers the 9-year-old telling him later. “I tried, but it wouldn’t work.”
Now Hunt has launched a national push to require hotels and other businesses to do away with dialing anything before calling 911. So far, an online petition for a federal law has gotten 390,000 signatures, and one 911 advocacy group says Hunt has hit on a perhaps under-documented issue.
More to the point in that case, his daughter should have been packing heat. Her estranged husband stabbed her to death. Some 9mm equalizer would have been of use. But I digress.
In my career in telecom, I have programmed the dialing plans for many hotels and how the hotel phone system handled 911 was always the choice of the hotel management. By default, I would suggest setting it up so that either 9-911 or 911 by itself directly access the local trunks and call emergency services (911). That meant that if the guest dialed 9 and then 911 it would go through, if they picked up and dialed 911 then I would insert the missing digit (9) to prefix 11 and route the call the same way.
But this was not always the case and if you consider that there are large hotels and there are small motels, there are rural hospitality establishments and there are urban muti-plexes with casinos and convention halls. I’ve even programmed for a hotel associated with large city hospital that catered to the families of sick children. Unlike our current government, I don’t believe in one size fits all.
A small motel or hotel in country or suburbs should go straight through to the local 911, Amen.
However a larger hotel might have 24 hour security, and (as was the case with The Copley Plaza in Boston) specialize in VIP or diplomatic guests. They wanted all emergency calls to be diverted to their own security desk where they have lists of special procedures. In many cases there were procedures listed for individual rooms. In all cases, hotel security could be at the correct room before local police. It is my experience that the local police, getting a call from a hotel, will attempt to contact hotel administration first in all cases.
The next variable is the phone number in the room, in some cases that number will not be a direct dial phone number (i.e. as a home phone number). Direct dial numbers are bought in bulk from the local telecom provider, an unnecessary expense in many cases. So the room number could be part of an internal dialing plan and useless to the police or fire dispatcher in locating the caller within the hotel. The front desk, or hotel operator would immediately be able to determine the location within the hotel, which might not be a room. There are many public access areas within which an emergency might be located; the parking garage, the function halls or the elevators. Again, better to have the 911 calls go to the hotel personnel. That reminds me of a funny story.
The hotel manager called me shortly after the end of the system installation or their new phone system. “John, Can you tell me what the internal phone number is for our #4 elevator in the main lobby?”. I could and did and then he explained,”The elevator is stuck between floors and we don’t know if anyone is inside, if someone is inside we must open an emergency work order with that company but if not we open an normal work order which is much cheaper. With the number we can call the car and ensure it’s empty.” So we hung up and I continued to do what I was doing. Much later that day, Sherif, the manager, called me again. “I have to tell you what happened with that broken elevator.” “OK”. I replied. “We dialed the number and we could hear it ringing through the doors at the next floor. So we opened a normal repair. After the elevator repairman got there we got the car up to the nearest floor and opened the door, to our surprise there was a man in the car. He was short and thin with a tweed three piece suit and thinning hair. We gave him a chair and a glass of water and then I told him that the hotel apologized for the delay in getting him out of the stuck elevator car, I spoke in a loud voice, framing my words as clearly as I could because the realization had struck me that he must be very deaf since he didn’t respond to the ringing phone. He replied to me, “Thank You very much”. In a normal voice I asked him, “Did you hear the phone ringing in your elevator car earlier?”, he replied, “Yes, I did”. Astonished, I asked him, “Why didn’t you answer it?”.
He replied, “I didn’t know it was for me…”. True story, I swear to God!
That is one of the few clean stories about our hotel customers I can repeat.