9-1-1 History & FAQ's
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HISTORY OF 911
“9-1-1” is the three digit telephone number that has been designated as the “Universal Emergency Number,” for public use throughout the United States to request emergency assistance. It is intended as a nationwide telephone number giving the public direct access to a Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) which will be responsible for taking the appropriate action.
In the United States, the first catalyst for a nationwide emergency telephone number gained momentum in 1957 when the National Association of Fire Chiefs recommended use of a single number for reporting fires nationwide.
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 of 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 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 number 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 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 to be made in the United States in Haleyville, Alabama. The serving telephone company was Alabama Telephone Company, which later became Contel Corporation. This very 9-1-1 system is still in operation today.
In 1981, Pennsylvania along with twelve other states (all with current 911 legislations passed at the time) passed laws requiring public safety agencies to participate in 911 before January 1, 1982.
When should you call 9-1-1?
911 is the number you should dial in an emergency, or immediate threat to life or property, that requires immediate help from police, the fire department, or ambulance. Examples of when to call 911 include: *Remember to stay on the phone until the dispatcher says it is okay to hang up the phone.
- suspicious activity incidents
- fires (vehicle fires, dwelling fires, commercial fires, etc.)
- auto accidents
- medical emergencies
Still unsure on when to call 911 or our non-emergency numbers? Read these Tips for Calling 911 to learn more.
Can I text 9-1-1?
Yes you can! Northampton County 911 has the ability to receive and reply to texts to 911. Please remember to “Call when you can, text when you can’t.” Texting 911 may be used if you are unable to make a voice call to 911.
Can I dial 911 from a wireless phone without a wireless calling plan?
Yes you can. All wireless phones, even those that are not subscribed to or supported by a specific carrier, can call 911. However, calls to 911 on phones without active service do not deliver the caller’s location to the 911 center, and our 911 center will not be able to call the phone back to find out the caller’s information such as: nature of the emergency or location. If disconnected, the 911 center simply no way to call the caller back.
These uninitialized phones are often used to place malicious or fake calls to 911 centers around the country, and can become a burden to the 911 centers since 911 centers are required to find out whether or not an emergency truly exists.
Oftentimes, parents provide these uninitialized wireless phones to young children as toys, unaware that if the child dials 911 (or activates an emergency call feature), a live call will be connected to the 911 center. We recommend that parents remove the phone’s batteries before providing these uninitialized wireless phones to younger children as toys.
What should I do if I accidentally dial 911?
If you dial 911 by mistake, or if a child in your home dials 911 by mistake, do not hang up – that could the 911 center believe that an emergency exists, and would require the dispatch of response agencies to your location to confirm if there is or is not an emergency. Instead of hanging up, please stay on the phone and simply explain to the call-taker what happened. *All 911 open lines, 911 hang-ups and 911 accidental dial type calls are forwarded to the law enforcement agency covering the jurisdiction where they call originated.
How can I prevent my child from accidentally dialing 911?
Teaching children when to call 911 is just as important as teaching them how to place a 911 call. A variety of resources are available to help parents and educators train children when and how to call 911. For more information, visit 911 For Kids. Parents should also be aware that wireless phones without a current calling plan through a wireless provided are still capable of connecting to the 911 center. It is recommended by many professionals that children should be told not to dial 911 from these old or uninitialized phones, and it is recommended that parents remove the phone’s battery before giving these phones to younger children.
How can I register my Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) Phone for 911?
VoIP service allows users to place and receive calls to and from traditional phone numbers using an internet connection and can be used in place of traditional phone service. Because VoIP phones can be used anywhere an internet connection is available, the 911 center cannot locate callers unless the caller has registered the VoIP device to a physical address through the VoIP provider. Anytime the VoIP phone is moved from one location to another, the owner should contact the provider to update the new physical location of the device. Learn more about VoIP devices from the FCC.
For more interesting and educational facts about 911 please visit 911.gov.