From Academic Kids

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Most emergency vehicles in the U.S. display "Emergency 911"

9-1-1 or nine-one-one is the emergency telephone number for the North American Numbering Plan (NANP). It is one of eight N11 codes.


Development of 9-1-1

The push for the development of a nationwide emergency telephone number came in 1957 when the National Association of Fire Chiefs recommended a single number to be used for reporting fires. In 1967 the President's Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice recommended the creation of a single number that can be used nationwide for reporting emergencies. The burden then fell on the Federal Communications Commission, which then met with AT&T in November 1967 in order to come up with a solution.

In 1968, a solution was agreed upon. AT&T had chosen the number 911, which met the requirements that it be brief, easy to remember, dialed easily, and that it worked well with the phone systems in place at the time. How the number 911 itself was chosen is not well known and is subject to much speculation. However, many feel that the number 911 was chosen to be similar to the numbers 4-1-1 (directory assistance) and 6-1-1 (repair service), which had already been in use by AT&T since 1966.

Furthermore, the North American Numbering Plan in use at the time established rules for which numbers can be used for area codes and exchanges. At the time, the middle digit of an area code had to be either a 0 or 1, and the first two digits of an exchange could not be a 1. At the telephone switching station, the second dialed digit was used to determine if the number was long distance or local. If the number had a 0 or 1 as the second digit, it was long distance, and it was a local call if it was any other number. Thus, since the number 911 was detected by the switching equipment as a special number, it could be routed appropriately. Also, since 911 was a unique number, never having been used as an area code or service code (although at one point GTE used test numbers such as 11911), it fit into the phone system easily.

Just 35 days after AT&T's announcement of 9-1-1 as their choice of the three-digit emergency number, the first-ever 9-1-1 call was placed by Alabama Speaker of the House Rankin Fite from Haleyville (Ala.) City Hall to U.S. Rep. Tom Bevill (Dem.) at the city's police station. Bevill reportedly answered the phone with "Hello." Attending with Fite was Haleyville mayor James Whitt. At the police station with Bevill was Gallagher and Alabama Public Service Commission director Eugene "Bull" Connor (formerly the Birmingham police chief involved in federal desegregation of the city's schools). Fitzgerald was at the ATC central office serving Haleyville, and actually observed the call pass through the switching gear, as the mechanical equipment clunked out "9-1-1." The phone used to answer the first 911 call, a bright red model, is now in a museum in Haleyville, while a duplicate phone is still in use at the police station. Some accounts of the event claim that, "Later, the two (Bevill and Fite) said they exchanged greetings, hung up and 'had coffee and doughnuts.'"

In 1973, the White House urged nationwide adoption of 911. In 1999, President Bill Clinton signed the bill that designated 911 as the nationwide emergency number. Even though 9-1-1 was introduced in 1968, the network did not completely cover the United States and Canada until the late 1990s.


In over 93% of locations in the United States and Canada, dialing "911" from any telephone will link the caller to an emergency dispatch center—called a PSAP, or Public Safety Answering Point, by the telecom industry—which can send emergency responders to the caller's location in an emergency. In some areas enhanced 911 is available, which automatically gives dispatch the caller's location, if available.

Dialing 9-1-1 from a mobile phone in the United States originally reached the state police or highway patrol, instead of the local public safety answering point (PSAP). The caller had to describe his/her exact location so that the agency could transfer the call to the correct local emergency services. This happens because the exact location of the cellular phone isn't normally transmitted with the voice call.

In 2000 the FCC issued an Order requiring wireless carriers to determine and transmit the location of callers who dial 9-1-1. They set up a phased program: Phase I transmitted the location of the receiving antenna for 9-1-1 calls, while Phase II transmitted the location of the calling telephone. The Order set up certain accuracy requirements and other technical details, and milestones for completing the implementation of wireless location services. Subsequent to the FCC's Order, many wireless carriers requested waivers of the milestones, and the FCC granted many of them. As of mid-2005, the process of Phase II implementation is generally underway, but limited by the complexity of coordination required between wireless carriers, PSAPs, local telephone companies and other affected government agencies, and the limited funding available to local agencies for the conversion of PSAP equipment to display the location data (usually on computerized maps).

These FCC rules require new mobile phones to provide their latitude and longitude to emergency operators in the event of a 911 call. Carriers may choose whether to implement this via GPS chips in each phone, or via triangulation between cell towers. In addition, the rules require carriers to connect 911 calls from any mobile phone, regardless of whether that phone is currently active.

In the U.S., FCC rules require every telephone that can physically access the network to be able to dial 911, regardless of any reason that normal service may have been disconnected (including non-payment). On wired (land line) phones, this usually is accomplished by a "soft" dial tone, which sounds normal, but will only allow emergency calls. Often, an unused and unpublished phone number will be issued to the line so that it will work properly.

If 911 is dialed from a commercial VoIP service, depending on how the provider handles such calls, the call may not go anywhere at all, or it may go to a non-emergency number at the public safety answering point associated with the billing or service address of the caller. Because a VoIP adapter can be plugged into any broadband internet connection, the caller could actually be hundreds or even thousands of miles away from home, yet if the call goes to an answering point at all, it would be the one associated with the caller's address and not the actual location. It may never be possible to accurately pinpoint the exact location of a VoIP user (even if a GPS receiver is installed in the VoIP adapter, it will likely be indoors, and may not be able to get a signal), so users should be aware of this limitation and make other arrangements for summoning assistance in an emergency.

In March 2005, commercial Internet telephony provider Vonage was sued by the Texas attorney general, who alleged that their website and other sales and service documentation did not make clear enough that Vonage's provision of 911 service was not done in the traditional manner.

In May 2005 the FCC issued an Order requiring VoIP providers to offer 9-1-1 service to all their subscribers within 120 days of the Order being published. The Order has set off anxiety among many VoIP providers, who feel it will be too expensive and require them to adopt solutions that won't support future VoIP products.


There are some problems with the assignment of the number 9-1-1. In particular, it can cause some dialing-pattern problems in hotels and businesses. Some hotels, for example, have been known to require dialling "91+" to make an outside call. This leads to calls that look like 91+1+301+555+2368. Since that's a valid number, which starts with 911, and is *not* a call to an emergency service, a timeout becomes necessary on *actual* calls to 911. Such prefixes are strongly discouraged by telephone companies. This is also part of the reason why no area codes start with a "1": the slightly less troublesome "outside line" prefix of "9+" would then cause the same problem: "9+114+555+2368", for example. Another possible problem is that the international phone code for India is "91", and sometimes calls meant for India end up at the local emergency dispatch office.

The number's close association with emergencies has led to "911" being used as shorthand for "emergency" in text messages sent to pagers and mobile phones—however, this is often used to tag situations which do not have the life-safety implications that an actual call to 911 implies.

Additionally, 911 is used so pervasively in U.S. media that other countries have sometimes had difficulty in educating children not to dial 911 for help. For example, the UK number is 9-9-9, in most of Europe and all GSM systems the number is 1-1-2, the Australian number is 0-0-0, in India number is 100 and the Japanese numbers are 1-1-0 for the police and 1-1-9 for other emergencies. In New Zealand and some spanish GSM operators, although 1-1-1 is the official emergency number, dialling 911 also connects to the emergency operator. Note that many countries do not run one central emergency dispatch service but have separate numbers for police, fire and ambulance services.

9-1-1 Emergency Telephone Number Day

9-1-1 Emergency Telephone Number Day was proclaimed, by President Reagan in 1987, to occur on the 11th day of September, the ninth month, of that year. The proclamation was made to promote the North American universal emergency telephone number 9-1-1.

Until 2001, September 11 was celebrated by many United States communities as "9-1-1 emergency number day" or simply "911 day". The promotional effort was often led by firefighters and the police. After the September 11, 2001 attacks, the reminders of 9-1-1 were merged with or dropped in favor of remembrance of the attacks.

September 11

When the 9-1-1 system was originally introduced, it was advertised as the "nine-eleven" service. This was changed when some panicked individuals tried to find the "eleven" key on their telephones (this may seem bizarre and amusing, but it is important to remember that in emergencies people can easily become extremely confused and irrational). Therefore, all references to the telephone number 9-1-1 are now always made as nine-one-one — never as "nine-eleven" (See September 11, 2001 attacks). Some newspapers and other media require that references to the phone number be formatted as 9-1-1; nine-eleven is still used occasionally but less so since the term came to refer to the September 11 attacks in America, due to their system of writing the date month/day (in reverse to much of the rest of the world).

External links

N11 codes
2-1-1 | 3-1-1 | 4-1-1 | 5-1-1 | 6-1-1 | 7-1-1 | 8-1-1 | 9-1-1


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