National Emergency Number Association
The three-digit telephone number "9-1-1" has been
designated as the "Universal Emergency Number," for
citizens throughout the United States to request emergency
assistance. It is intended as a nationwide telephone
number and gives the public fast and easy access to
a Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP).
In the United States, the first catalyst for a nationwide
emergency telephone number was in 1957, when the National
Association of Fire Chiefs recommended use of a single
number for reporting fires.
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 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 States.
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 Enhanced 9-1-1, or 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 choice.
On February 16, 1968, Senator Rankin Fite completed
the first 9-1-1 call made in the United States in Haleyville,
Alabama. The serving telephone company was then Alabama
Telephone Company. This Haleyville 9-1-1 system is still
in operation today. On February 22, 1968, Nome, Alaska
implemented 9-1-1 service.
In March 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 1987, those figures had
grown to indicate that 50% of the US population had
access to 9-1-1 emergency service numbers.
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
At the end of the 20th century, nearly 93% of the
population of the United States was covered by some
type of 9-1-1 service. Ninety-five percent of that coverage
was Enhanced 9-1-1. Approximately 96% of the geographic
US is covered by some type of 9-1-1.