Why 9-1-1 is the Emergency Number and 10 Interesting Facts About America's Emergency Telephone Number

Posted in All, NGA911 on Oct 31, 2023

February of this year marked the 55th anniversary of the first 9-1-1 call in the United States. Since then, this number has been the lifeline for millions of Americans needing emergency response. It's the number that we're aware of and know how to call, but why is 9-1-1 the emergency number? 


In this blog from NGA, we'll explore 9-1-1, interesting facts, and why it's the established emergency number in America. We'll also discuss the importance of dialing 9-1-1 and how to use it during an emergency.   


Table of Contents:


  1. Why is 9-1-1 the Emergency Number?
  2. The First 9-1-1 Call
  3. 10 Interesting Facts About America's Emergency Telephone Number
  4. The Importance of Knowing 9-1-1
  5. How to Use 9-1-1
  6. NG911: The Future and Next Generation of 911
  7. Conclusion 


Why is 9-1-1 the Emergency Number?


In 1967, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) created the 9-1-1 phone number as a universal emergency number. The FCC decided on 9-1-1 because it was easy to remember, dial, and unique. 


Before 9-1-1, there were other emergency numbers, such as 0 for the operator, but these numbers were not specific to emergency services. The FCC also recognized that 9-1-1 was not already in use by telephone companies, and they could quickly implement it.


The First 9-1-1 Call


The first 9-1-1 call was made on February 16, 1968, in Haleyville, Alabama. The call was made by Alabama Speaker of the House Rankin Fite, to U.S. Representative Tom Bevill. 


They made the call from Haleyville City Hall, and Congressman Bevill answered the call at the local police station.


10 Interesting Facts About America's Emergency Telephone Number


The 9-1-1 emergency number is a critical component of public safety. But how much do you really know about it? 

Here are ten interesting facts about 9-1-1 that you may not know about:


Dialing 9-1-1 was not always the standard in America - Before the implementation of the nationwide emergency number, different cities and towns had their own emergency telephone numbers. Some rural areas even used fireworks or other loud noises to signal an emergency. It was in the early 1980s that 9-1-1 became the universal emergency number.


9-1-1 works even without service - Believe it or not, you can still call 9-1-1 even if you do not have a service plan. Federal law requires wireless carriers to provide emergency 911 services even if you have no service plan or prepaid minutes remaining on your account.


Do not call 911 for non-emergencies - Calling 9-1-1 should be reserved for true emergencies. Non-emergency calls tie up the line unnecessarily and can prevent operators from answering emergency calls. If you are unsure if your situation constitutes an emergency, contact your local non-emergency number.


Speed is everything - Every second counts in an emergency. 9-1-1 operators are trained to help prompt the caller to give crucial information quickly and calmly. Now, innovative emergency telecommunication systems, such as NG9-1-1, allow dispatchers to locate the caller's location even if they cannot communicate their address.


Specialized 9-1-1 services - Not all emergencies require police or fire departments. There are specialized 9-1-1 services for mental health crises, poison control, and even animal-related emergencies.


Emergency translation services - America is diverse, which means some callers may not speak English. That is why 9-1-1 agencies offer a translation service in over 140 languages so that non-English speakers can also communicate their emergency needs.


Where 9-1-1 is not used in the United States - American Samoa, Guam, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands do not currently have 9-1-1 service. These territories use other emergency numbers, such as 1-1-0 and 2-1-1.


Mobile phones and smart devices are vital to the 911 system - Did you know that over 80% of 911 calls are made from wireless devices? Emergency call centers and wireless carriers work together to use mobile technology to allow for faster and more efficient emergency response. 


More emergency calls than you may think - According to the National Emergency Number Association (NENA), America's 9-1-1 system receives an average of 240 million calls annually. That's an average of over 1,200 calls per minute!


Text-to-911 - Yes! You can text 911. Text-to-911 has become available in certain areas of the United States. This service is designed for people with hearing or speech impairments or in situations where speaking could be life-threatening.


The Importance of Knowing 9-1-1


Knowing the emergency number by heart is essential as it can be the difference between lives saved and tragedy. In times of emergency, panic can cause confusion, and not knowing what to do or who to call can be devastating. 


Teaching children from a young age to memorize the number also helps build an essential habit that can come in handy when faced with any emergency.


How to Use 9-1-1


When calling 9-1-1, stay calm and don't hang up. Explain the emergency without being too detailed, but provide as much basic information as possible. 


Provide the address and phone number where assistance is needed. If in a car, provide a description and location of the accident. 


If it's a medical emergency, provide information on the type of illness or injury. Do not hang up or call back unless instructed by the operator.


NG911: The Future and Next Generation of 911


NG911, also known as Next Generation 911, is the future of emergency response in the United States. This technology allows public safety officials to respond to emergencies with unprecedented speed and efficiency. 


NG911 brings together the latest advancements in technology, such as real-time data sharing and location information, and integrates them into the 911 system. This allows responders to quickly locate and respond to those in need, regardless of their location. 


Improved emergency response can undoubtedly save countless lives and provide a heightened sense of security for individuals and communities. The benefits of NG911 technology are vast, and these advancements are already positively impacting public safety as the implementation of NG911 continues nationwide




9-1-1 is more than just a phone number for receiving help during emergencies. It's an essential tool for society, enabling the provision of timely emergency response services to individuals across the country. 


Understanding how the system operates and its evolution over the years can help us appreciate and respect this crucial number's significance. Whether you're a first responder or a civilian, the information presented above can help you gain a new perspective on the emergency phone system and how it can work to help people in times of crisis.

Connect with our NGA team for more information today!