In the United States the three-digit telephone number 9-1-1 has been designated as the "Universal Emergency Number" for reporting emergencies and requesting assistance.
The concept of a common emergency telephone number is not new. Similar systems have been in service in several European countries for many years.
Great Britain was the first country to establish a universal emergency telephone number. Since 1937 any individual in the United Kingdom has been able to dial 9-9-9 and receive a prompt response to his or her request for assistance (police, fire, ems).
Other countries have developed similar systems:
Belgium - 900
Denmark - 000
Sweden - 80000
Japan - 119
Canada recognized the advantages of a single emergency number and chose to adopt 9-1-1 rather than use a different means of emergency reporting service, thus unifying the concept and giving 9-1-1 international stature.
The first catalyst for a nation wide emergency number gained momentum in 1957 when the National Association of Fire Chiefs recommended the use of a single number for reporting fires nation wide.
In 1967, the President’s Commission of Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice recommended that a "single number should be established nation wide, solely for the purpose of reporting emergencies". Other Federal Government Agencies and various government officials also supported and encouraged the recommendation. As a result of the immense interest in the 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 officials of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company to find a means of establishing a universal emergency number that could be implemented quickly. In January of 1968, the American Telephone and Telegraph Company announced that within its serving areas the digits 9-1-1 were available for installation on a national scale as the single emergency telephone number.
The three-digit code 9-1-1 was selected because it was brief, easily remembered and had never been previously authorized as an official code, area code or service code. It also met the long range numbering plans and switching configurations of the telephone industry.
On February 16, 1968, Senator Rankin Fite completed the first 9-1-1 call made in the United States in Haleyville, Alabama.