Seyfarth Synopsis: The FCC has proposed new rules that would require employers to have compliant phones systems for 911 direct dialing.

Most large employers maintain multi-line phone systems at their workplaces. Along with emergency action plans and evacuation procedures, employers must take affirmative steps to ensure that company hard wired phones provide adequate safety protections in the event of an emergency. Some state jurisdictions already impose numerous regulations on those systems and their ability to dial 911, requiring onerous notifications, procedures, labels, and 911 dialing features. And those requirements are constantly evolving, as 2019 continues to see new 911 laws and regulations.

As we noted in our previous blog on the topic, in recent years, nine states and New York City have adopted rules requiring compliant phones to be able to directly contact 911. This means that any employee/caller who dials 9-1-1 will be connected with emergency services, without a prefix (such as dialing 9 first) or going through an operator. In 2018, President Trump signed a bipartisan new law which requires any phone to be able to directly contact 911, 47 U.S.C. § 623(b). The federal law applies to all types of newly installed multi-line phone systems. State and local laws may require existing systems to be revamped by a compliance date. Accordingly, employers replacing their phone systems or installing new systems will need to comply with these requirements. Employers who operate phone systems that require an operator or dialing to get an outside line should review their systems and ensure that they comply.

Federal E-911 Legislation and Rules

The federal government, as mentioned in our previous blog, passed a new law requiring phones dial 911 directly, and has directed the Federal Communications Commission to undertake a rulemaking on Enhanced 911 regulations, also called “E-911,” location information. These federal developments may require employers to take action to ensure compliance, and revamp their emergency safety equipment and procedures.

E-911 means that the telephone system automatically will transmit phone number information or specific location information ( including building, floor, office number) to emergency services when a caller dials 911.

Since then, the FCC has adopted two proposed rules. In the first, in September 2018, the Agency proposed an “Action to Help the Public Reach 911.” This proposal would “help ensure that people who call 911 from multi-line telephone systems— which commonly serve hotels, office buildings, and campuses—can reach 911 and be quickly located by first responders. Accordingly, this direct dialing obligation will be a federal equivalent to the state direct dialing location rules. Secondly, the FCC proposed to “Adopt a Vertical (Z-axis) Location Accuracy Metric for Indoor Wireless 911 Calls.” These rules would take effect at some undetermined time in the future, as the notice and comment period is still ongoing.

Employers should continue to monitor this progress closely, as it could result in another unfunded federal mandate for employers to comply with E-911. In states where E-911 is state law, this already forces employers to change their multi-line telephone system (MLTS) and voice-over internet protocols (VOIP). New federal regulations will apply to all American employers. Employers should begin work now to ensure that their phone systems comply, and that their employees are properly trained on the new and pending federal and state laws and regulations.