9-1-1 is the most famous three-digit number in the US. It has been designated as the “Universal Emergency Number” for citizens who need assistance throughout the country, and it gives the general public easy access to a Public Answering Point (PSAP). Let’s get to know its history.
NATIONWIDE EMERGENCY NUMBER
The idea of a nationwide emergency telephone number emerged for the first time in 1957 when the National Association of Fire Chiefs recommended using a single number for reporting fires. At the time, individuals had to dial a local 10-digit number to be able to reach police, fire, or emergency services.
Later, in 1967 the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice recommended that a “single number be established nationwide for reporting emergencies.” From there, other Federal Government Agencies encouraged and supported the initiative, and the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) was called upon for a solution.
In 1967, AT&T (American Telephone and Telegraph Company) and the FCC met to establish a strategy to agree on a number that could be implemented quickly. A year later, AT&T announced that the digits 9-1-1 would be the emergency code for the whole nation. This specific sequence best fitted the needs of all parties involved; it could be dialed quickly, and it had never been used before as an office code, area code, or service code. Also, it was in line with the long-range numbering plans and switching configurations of the industry.
911 IN THE DIGITAL ERA
We already have Enhanced 9-1-1, which automatically provides the caller’s location to dispatchers. This, together with the Master Street Address Guide (MSAG), assigns the corresponding Emergency Service Numbers (ESNs) designated to the Emergency Service Zone that the call is coming from.
For 40 years, the 911 number and the people behind it have been tirelessly serving the public in case of emergencies. Nevertheless, technology has caught up to it in recent years, and people are demanding more from the service. With the evolution of communication technology, the public expects it to be able to include texts and picture messaging, video chat, social media, and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). To this end, a new Grant Program of a total of $109,250,000 has been implemented: Next Generation 911 (NG911).
The new program will enhance emergency number services by creating a faster system allowing for digital information ( e.g., text messages, videos, voice, photos) to be transferred between the public and the 911 network, and in the future, directly to first responders. It will also allow call transfers between call centers to cope with call overload, disasters, and day-to-day transfers to other jurisdictions.
The Grant will provide PSAPs with the necessary funding to help with migration to IP-enabled emergency networks, adoption of the new service and applications, training public safety employees in 911 services, and interconnection with emergency response organizations.