5 Things You Didn't Know About The 911 Emergency System

On February 16, 1968, the first official "911" call placed in the United States. It would years before the emergency number was widespread and decades before it was uniform. To mark the anniversary of the birth of the 911 number , here are 5 things you didn't know about this vital emergency system.


The Emergency System Before 911 Was Iffy at Best Not that long ago, if you had an emergency, you had to know the number for the nearest police and/or fire department. And the emergency number was often the same as the non-emergency number, meaning a busy signal was always a strong possibility. Needless to say, this made both reporting an emergency and responding to an emergency complicated.

The First 911 Call Was Made in Haleyville, Alabama On February 16, 1968, the first 911 call was made in Alabama. But it wasn’t for an emergency. The Alabama speaker of the House placed the call to the city's police station and gave the Alabama Telephone Company bragging rights as the first telephone service provider to implement the new system. The phone used to answer that call is in a museum in Haleyville, Alabama. 


911 Was Developed by AT&T AT&T worked with the Federal Communications Commission to integrate 911 into their existing systems. AT&T chose the 911 number and integrated the system into the company’s existing systems. The company selected 911 for three reasons: First, it’s short and easy to dial on a rotary phone. Second, the number 9 was not yet used as an extension. Third, the company had already developed numbers like 411, allowing them to use the same basic infrastructure to process and route 911.

Not All Countries Use The Number 911 While North America uses 911 as an emergency number, other countries dial 999. These countries include  Ireland, Poland, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Macau, Bahrain, Qatar, Bangladesh, Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Mauritius, Singapore, Zimbabwe, Kingdom of Swaziland, and Trinidad and Tobago. For all members of the European Union and several other countries, 112 is the emergency number. In the United Kingdom, both 999 and 112 connect to an emergency center. Additionally, in the United States some carriers, such as AT&T, will direct the number 112 to 911.

Not All 911 Calls Are Emergencies Some people phone 911 for non-emergencies such as an overflowing toilet, a barking dog or that the batteries have died in their smoke detector. Usually, the operator will tell them to call someone else, but some cities press charges if 911 is misused. That was the case for a woman in Ohio who was hit with a misdemeanor charge for phoning 911 because she didn’t like her Chinese food. A woman in Deltona, Florida, was arrested after she called 911 four times to complain about a nail technician.