International 9-1-1 History

International 911 History - The Beginning

In previous decades in America, before the 1960’s, people who needed emergency help, whether the problem was a fire, vehicle accident, heart attack, poisoning, burglary or a fight, had to remember several different telephone numbers to get help.

There where separate numbers for the fire department, for the ambulance service and for the police. In most cases, the numbers were different, and often all of them differed from town to town. An area such as a township that had several different fire departments might have a separate telephone number for each fire company. Calls would go to each separate fire company.

To make things worse, a person in trouble on the street or anywhere else has plenty on their mind. They are often under a considerable amount of stress. And that makes the prospect of looking up a telephone number - then trying to remember it - a dismal prospect. People in stress situations are often upset, agitated, unable for the moment to concentrate. Time is wasted, and even seconds could cause a life.

America did not come up with the idea of a single emergency number. That happened in England in June 1937, when following a tragic fire, where lives were lost because of delays a new emergency call system was created. They came up with the number 999. It was simple, easily remembered and quick to dial.

It worked so well that 999 remains the emergency number in England, nearly sixty-five years later.

But it wasn’t until the 1960’s that the problem was tackled in America, and after experiments and tests, American Telephone & Telegraph (AT&T) announced that they had settled on a 3-digit number that would someday be nationwide phone number for emergencies. That number was 9-1-1.

The first major 9-1-1 system was installed in New York City, where 9-1-1 became the number for fire, police and ambulance assistance. Phone equipment was altered so those three digits were all that was needed to call the 9-1-1 Center, staffed by phone operators who passed calls along to the correct dispatch points. This happened in the late 1960’s.