9-1-1 is the three digit telephone number that has
been designated as the Universal Emergency Number
for public use throughout the United States to request emergency assistance. It is intended as a nationwide telephone number giving the public direct access to a Public Safety Answering
Point (PSAP) which will be responsible for taking the appropriate action.
In the United States, the first catalyst for a nationwide emergency telephone number gained momentum in 1957 when the National Association of Fire Chiefs recommended use of a single number for reporting fires nationwide.
In 1967, the President's Commission on Law Enforcement and
Administration of Justice recommended that a single number
should be established nationwide for reporting emergency situations. The use of different telephone numbers for each type
of emergency was determined to be contrary to the purpose of a
single, universal number. Other Federal Government Agencies and various governmental officials also supported and encouraged the
recommendation. As a result of the immense interest in this
issue, the President's Commission on Civil Disorders turned to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for a solution.
In November of 1967, the FCC met with the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T) to find a means of establishing
a universal emergency number that could be implemented quickly. In 1968, AT&T announced that it would establish the digits
9-1-1 (nine-one-one) as the emergency code throughout the United
The code 9-1-1 was chosen because it best fit the needs of all parties involved. First, and most important, it meets public
requirements because it is brief, easily remembered, and can be
dialed quickly. Second, because it is a unique number, never
having been authorized as an office code, area code, or service code, it best meets the long range numbering plans and switching
configurations of the telephone industry.
Congress backed AT&T's proposal and passed legislation allowing use of only the numbers 9-1-1 when creating a single
emergency calling service, thereby making 9-1-1 a standard emergency number nationwide. A Bell System policy was established
to absorb the cost of central office modifications and any
additions necessary to accommodate the 9-1-1 code as part of the general rate base. The E9-1-1 subscriber is responsible for
paying network trunking costs according to tariffed rates, and
for purchasing answering equipment from the vendor of their
On February 16, 1968, Senator Rankin Fite completed the first 9-1-1 call to be made in the United States in Halleyville,
Alabama. The serving telephone company was Alabama Telephone
Company, which later became Contel Corp. This 9-1-1 system is
still in operation today. On February 22, 1968, Nome, Alaska implemented 9-1-1 service.
In March of 1973, the White House's Office of Telecommunications, issued a national policy statement which
recognized the benefits of 9-1-1, encouraged the nationwide adoption of 9-1-1, and provided for the establishment of a
Federal Information Center to assist units of government in
planning and implementation. The intense interest in the concept
of 9-1-1 can be attributed primarily to the recognition of
characteristics of modern society, i.e., increased incidences of crimes, accidents, and medical emergencies, inadequacy of
existing emergency reporting methods, and the continued growth
and mobility of the population.
In the early 1970s, AT&T began the development of sophisticated features for the 9-1-1 with a pilot program in
Alameda County, California. The feature was selective call routing. This pilot program supported the theory behind the
Executive Office of Telecommunication's Policy. By the end of
1976, 9-1-1 was serving about 17% of the population of the United
States. In 1979, approximately 26% of the population of the
United States had 9-1-1 service, and nine states had enacted
9-1-1 legislation. At this time, 9-1-1 service was growing at the
rate of 70 new systems per year.
By the year 1987, those figures had grown to indicate that 50%
of the US population had access to 9-1-1 emergency service
In addition, Canada recognized the advantages of a single emergency number and chose to adopt 9-1-1 rather than use a
different means of emergency reporting service, thus unifying the concept and giving 9-1-1 international stature.
As we come to the close of the 20th century, nearly 85% of the population of the United States is covered by some type of 9-1-1.
Ninety-five percent of that coverage is Enhanced 9-1-1. Approximately 50% of the geographical area is covered by some type of 9-1-1 with the same percentage being Enhanced 9-1-1.