A Texas grandfather's initiative to let hotel guests dial 911 without having to press 9 first -- spurred by his granddaughter's inability to call for help while her mother was stabbed to death -- has gotten the attention of a federal official who's asking the nation's major hotel chains for more information.
The story of Hank Hunt and his 9-year-old granddaughter motivated Federal Communications Commission member Ajit Pai, one of five commissioners for the agency that regulates telephone communications, to send letters to 10 major American hotel chains about 911 dialing.
The letters ask whether guests dialing 911 are directly connected to an emergency call center or a hotel employee. They also ask in how many hotels would someone dialing 911 not complete a call, and what plan the hotel chain had for "remedying this situation."
Hotels are not required to respond, but Pai's letters request information by Feb. 14.
In an interview Wednesday, Pai called the Hunt family's situation "horrific" and said he wants to know more about the scope of the potential problem before recommending action.
"If it's a `90 percent' problem as opposed to a `5 percent,' obviously the contours of the problem will look very different and the nature of the solution will look very different," Pai told The Associated Press.
Mark Fletcher, chief architect of public safety solutions for communications company Avaya, said he hoped the FCC effort would collect much-needed data.
"The first step is to collect the facts, and understand the issue," Fletcher said in an email. "Once that inquiry is complete, the FCC will be able to determine where the most suitable place for action resides."
Kari Dunn was inside a Baymont Inn in Marshall, Texas, about 150 miles east of Dallas. Authorities and her family say Dunn had brought her three children to visit Brad Dunn, her estranged husband.
Brad Dunn is accused of taking Kari Dunn inside the bathroom and stabbing her. He is accused of murder and being held on $5 million bond. His attorney, Scott Rectenwald, has declined to comment.
Dunn's 9-year-old granddaughter tried to dial 911 four times, but didn't know to press 9 first and got no response. A guest in a nearby room eventually called for help.
Officials at the National Emergency Number Association, a group representing 911 call takers and industry professionals, said the case highlighted longstanding concerns they had about whether people were facing hurdles to calling for help.
Hank Hunt, who spoke to Pai on Tuesday night, said the success of his campaign has far exceeded his expectations. A change.org petition calling for "Kari's Law" in honor of his daughter has more than 400,000 signatures.
But Hunt got a reminder this week he has a long way to go while staying Monday night at a hotel in the Central Texas city of Waco.
"There was a big card on the phone giving you instructions on how to do everything else, except dial 911," Hunt said Wednesday. "It was disheartening."
He said he asked front desk employees how to call 911 from his room. They told him he had to dial 9 first.