HISTORY OF 9-1-1
The three-digit telephone number 9-1-1 has been designated as the universal emergency number for citizens throughout the United States to request emergency assistance.
The ability to dial a single number to report emergencies was first used in Great Britain, in 1937. The British could dial 9-9-9 to call for police, medical or fire departments from anywhere in the country. The first 9-9-9 call was placed at 4:20 a.m. when the wife of John Stanley Beard dialed 9-9-9 to report a burglar outside her home. The burglar, 24 year old Thomas Duffy, was apprehended.
It is unknown why the number sequence 9-1-1 was selected. According to the Wall Street Journal article AT&T said it used a computer to select the number. The selection probably was based on a combination of factors, including the precedent of Britain using a three-digit number, the ease of dialing two ones on a rotary dial phone, and other technical switching considerations.
In 1958, the American congress first investigated a universal emergency number for the United States and finally passed the legal mandate in 1967. The first-ever 911 call is placed by Alabama Speaker of the House Rankin Fite from Haleyville City Hall to U.S. Rep. Tom Bevill (Dem.) at the city’s police station. Bevill reportedly answered the phone with “Hello.” Some accounts of the event claim that, “Later, the two (Bevill and Fite) said they exchanged greetings, hung up and ‘had coffee and doughnuts.’
In most areas of North America, citizens have basic or enhanced 9-1-1 service from their landline phones in their homes or workplaces. Basic 9-1-1 means that when the three-digit number is dialed, a call taker answers the call. The emergency and its location are communicated by voice between the caller and the call taker.
In areas serviced by Enhanced 9-1-1, the local 9-1-1 center has equipment and database information that allow the call taker to see the caller’s phone number and address on a display within seconds of receiving the call. This lets them quickly dispatch emergency help, even if the caller is unable to communicate where they are or what the emergency is.
This system will automatically route the caller to the correct agency by using the phone number the caller is calling from.
The phone system identifies the phone number the call is originated, the ALI (automatic location identifier) sends the information to a data base in another state (currently in Denver). The data base finds the name and address, grabs it and sends it to the appropriate 9-1-1 dispatch center. This happens in less than one second.
An emergency 9-1-1 charge is included on local telephone bills. It pays for emergency services in each community (i.e. police, fire and rescue). This fee is collected on behalf of the city or county in which a customer lives. The funds are used to pay for emergency services regardless of whether a household has ever made a 9-1-1 call.
There are three phases that are referred to in implementing wireless 9-1-1. The most basic of these, sometimes called PHASE 0, simply means that when 9-1-1 is called from a cell phone the call-taker at a public safety answering point answers. Wireless 9-1-1 calls are to be transmitted to a PSAP regardless of whether being placed by a wireless service subscriber or non-subscriber. In other words, any phone that has power has the ability to call 9-1-1.
PHASE 1 is the first step in providing better emergency response service to wireless 9-1-1 callers. When PHASE 1 is implemented, a wireless 9-1-1 call will come into the PSAP with the wireless call back number and the location of the antenna (or cell site) that received the call. This is important in the event the cell phone call is dropped, and may even allow the call-taker to work with the wireless company to identify the wireless subscriber. However, PHASE 1 still doesn’t help the call-takers locate emergency victims or callers.
PHASE 2 requires wireless carriers to provide far more precise location information, within 50 to 100 meters in most cases. Call-takers will receive both the caller’s wireless phone number and their location using GPS technology.