where-did-9-1-1-come-from-carlos-gaminoBy Carlos Gamino

We all teach our children to call 9-1-1 during an emergency, but where did the number come from?

It’s the “universal emergency number” for just about everyone in the U.S., and it all started in 1957.

The History of 9-1-1

The National Association of Fire Chiefs recommended the use of a single number—one that would be effective across the board, no matter where you were—for the reporting of fires.

Ten years later, the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice recommended that a nationwide number be implemented for reporting all emergencies. The Federal Communications Commission (the FCC to most of us) met with AT&T to figure out how it could be done.

AT&T came up with the idea to use three digits: 9, 1, and 1 because it met all the requirements of a quality emergency number: it was easy to remember, it was never used as an area code or service code, and it met the long-range numbering plans of the telephone industry. It was quick to dial, too. Remember, there were no push-button phones in 1957.

Congress backed AT&T’s proposal and passed legislation that allowed the use of only those numbers, which made it the standard emergency number nationwide.

On February 16, 1968, Senator Rankin Fite made the first 9-1-1 call in the country from Haleyville, Alabama. The first person to answer a 9-1-1 call was U.S. Representative Tom Beville, who was waiting at the Haleyville Police Department just to answer the call.

By 1976, 9-1-1 was only serving about 17 percent of the U.S.; that number jumped to 26 percent just three years later. By 1987, about half the country had access to 9-1-1 emergency service numbers. Today, about 96 percent of the U.S. is covered by the system.

What Do You Think?

I love little historical facts like these. Did you already know about the inception of 9-1-1 as the U.S.’s emergency number? Share your thoughts—or other interesting facts—on my Facebook page or on Twitter.

Carlos Gamino