9-1-1 has rich history

Wednesday, December 8, 2004

(Editor's Note: At the request of its readers, the Tri-City Tribune is publishing a history of 9-1-1. The Quorum Court will vote on the future of the emergency system in its regular meeting this Monday. Information in this article was obtained from Gayland King of West Memphis, www.911dispatch.com and www.newcom911.org)

The three-digit telephone number "9-1-1" has been designated as the "Universal Emergency Number" for citizens throughout the United States who need to request emergency assistance. It is intended as a nationwide telephone number which gives the public fast and easy access to a Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP).

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

In 1967, the President's Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice recommended that a "single number should be established" across the nation 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. Due to 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 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 put into place quickly. In 1968, AT&T announced that it would establish the digits 9-1-1 as the emergency code throughout the United States.

The code 9-1-1 was picked because it best fits the needs of all the 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.

Senator Rankin Fite completed the first 9-1-1 call on February 16, 1968 in Haleyville, Alabama. The serving telephone company was then Alabama Telephone Company.

The town had a population of about 4,500 population back then, and was serviced by the Alabama Telephone Company.

Congress had declared that 911 should be the national emergency number just weeks before. Bob Gallagher, president of ATC, decided to beat AT&T's implementation of 911 among the Bell Telephone companies, and worked with Robert Fitzgerald, inside plant manager for ATC, to pick Haleyville as the location for their "first ever" installation. The 911 telephone was placed at the police department--it was actually a red telephone. There was no ANI/ALI service with this first installation. The first 911 call from Haleyville was made by Fite to Tom Bevill, a U.S. Representative. Later, the two said they exchanged greetings, hung up and, "had coffee and doughnuts."

This Haleyville 9-1-1 system is still in operation today. On February 22, 1968, Nome, Alaska implemented 9-1-1 service.

In March 1973, the White House's Office of Telecommunications issued a national policy statement which recognized the benefits of 9-1-1 , encouraged the nationwide adoption of 9-1-1 , and provided for the establishment of a Federal Information Center to assist governmental units in planning and implementation. The intense interest in the concept of 9-1-1 can be attributed primarily to the recognition of characteristics of modern society, i.e., increased incidences of crimes, accidents, and medical emergencies, inadequacy of existing emergency reporting methods, and the continued growth and mobility of the nation's population.

By the end of 1976, 9-1-1 was serving 17% of the population of the United States. In 1979, approximately 26% of the United States had 9-1-1 service, and nine states had enacted 9-1-1 legislation. At this time, 9-1-1 service was growing at the rate of 70 new systems per year. By 1987, those figures had grown to indicate that 50% of the US population had access to 9-1-1 emergency service numbers. In addition, Canada recognizing the advantages of a single emergency number, chose to adopt 9-1-1 rather than use a different means of emergency reporting services, thus unifying the concept and giving 9-1-1 international status.

At the end of the 20th century, nearly 93% of the United States was covered by some type of 9-1-1 service. Today, approximately 96% of the geographic United States is covered by some type of 9-1-1 .

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