The Development of 9-1-1

The three-digit telephone number “9-1-1″ has been designated as the”Universal Emergency Number,” for citizens throughout the UnitedStates to request emergency assistance. It is intended as a nationwide telephonenumber and gives the public fast and easy access to a Public Safety AnsweringPoint (PSAP).

In the United States, the first catalyst for a nationwide emergency telephonenumber was in 1957, when the National Association of Fire Chiefs recommended useof a single number for reporting fires.

In 1967, the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration ofJustice recommended that a “single number should be established”nationwide for reporting emergency situations. The use of different telephonenumbers for each type of emergency was determined to be contrary to the purposeof a single, universal number. Other Federal Government Agencies and variousgovernmental officials also supported and encouraged the recommendation. As aresult of the immense interest in this issue, the President’s Commission onCivil Disorders turned to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for asolution.

In November 1967, the FCC met with the American Telephone and TelegraphCompany (AT&T) to find a means of establishing a universal emergency numberthat could be implemented quickly. In 1968, AT&T announced that it wouldestablish the digits 9-1-1 (nine-one-one) as the emergency code throughout theUnited States.

The code 9-1-1 was chosen because it best fit the needs of all partiesinvolved. First, and most important, it meets public requirements because it isbrief, easily remembered, and can be dialed quickly. Second, because it is aunique number, never having been authorized as an office code, area code, orservice code, it best meets the long range numbering plans and switchingconfigurations of the telephone industry.

Congress backed AT&T’s proposal and passed legislation allowing use ofonly the numbers 9-1-1 when creating a single emergency calling service, therebymaking 9-1-1 a standard emergency number nationwide. A Bell System policy wasestablished to absorb the cost of central office modifications and any additionsnecessary to accommodate the 9-1-1 code as part of the general rate base. TheEnhanced 9-1-1, or E9-1-1, subscriber is responsible for paying network trunkingcosts according to tariffed rates, and for purchasing answering equipment fromthe vendor of their choice.

On February 16, 1968, Senator Rankin Fite completed the first 9-1-1 call madein the United States in Haleyville, Alabama. The serving telephone company wasAlabama Telephone Company, which later became Contel Corp. This 9-1-1 system isstill in operation today. On February 22, 1968, Nome, Alaska implemented 9-1-1service.

In March 1973, the White House’s Office of Telecommunications issued anational policy statement which recognized the benefits of 9-1-1, encouraged thenationwide adoption of 9-1-1, and provided for the establishment of a FederalInformation 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 therecognition of characteristics of modern society, i.e., increased incidences ofcrimes, accidents, and medical emergencies, inadequacy of existing emergencyreporting methods, and the continued growth and mobility of the population.

In the early 1970s, AT&T began the development of sophisticated featuresfor the 9-1-1 with a pilot program in Alameda County, California. The featurewas “selective call routing.” This pilot program supported the theorybehind 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, andnine states had enacted 9-1-1 legislation. At this time, 9-1-1 service wasgrowing at the rate of 70 new systems per year. By 1987, those figures had grownto indicate that 50% of the US population had access to 9-1-1 emergency servicenumbers.

In addition, Canada recognized the advantages of a single emergency numberand chose to adopt 9-1-1 rather than use a different means of emergencyreporting service, thus unifying the concept and giving 9-1-1 internationalstature.

As we approach the end of the 20th century, nearly 93% of the population ofthe United States is covered by some type of 9-1-1 service. Ninety-five percentof that coverage is Enhanced 9-1-1. Approximately 50% of the geographic US iscovered by some type of 9-1-1.

Back to NENA Home Page