Origin of The 999 and 911 Emergency Numbers

Origin and History of the 911 or 999 Emergency Telephone Number

These three-digit numbers are regarded as the universal emergency numbers in both the United Kingdom and the United States.

Citizens from these two parts of the world count on these numbers whenever they are in distress and require emergency services to their homes or any other place. However, there is a history behind the existence of these emergency numbers.

There are events that if they didn’t happen, we probably wouldn’t have the 999 emergency or the 911 emergency number.

Origin and History of the 911 Emergency Number

Here is the sequence of events that led to the introduction of the 911 emergency number;

  1. The 911 emergency number came into existence due to a recommendation from the National Association of Fire Chiefs in 1957. The organization recommended to the government that there was a need to have one common nationwide emergency number that the citizens could use whenever they were caught up in fires.
  2. The President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice came up with the idea that a single telephone number was needed countrywide to report any emergencies that might occur. The commission stated that using different telephone numbers was both confusing to people and they were also ineffective. The commission recommended the introduction of one universal number.
  3. In 1967, a meeting between Federal Communication Commission (FCC) and the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T) was held. The purpose of the meeting was to develop a unique and universal number that would be used in the event of emergencies. By then, AT&T was viewed as a national monopoly in terms of telephone services, and it was only right for them to come up with the universal emergency number.
  4. After the meeting, the code 911 was selected as the universal emergency. The reasons for this decision include;
    • It was brief, easy to remember, and could be dialed quickly.
    • It had never been used before in any telephone systems by AT&T, nor was it ever used as an office code, area code, or service code.
    • The number was unique so that it couldn’t be accidentally dialed compared to other emergency numbers in use at the time, like 999 and 111 in the United Kingdom.
  1. After congress backed AT&T to use the 911 number, it was integrated into the company’s telephone systems for use by the general public.
  2. On February 16, 1968, Rep. Senator Rankin Fite made the first 911 phone call in Haleyville, Alabama, but it wasn’t because of an emergency. The call was meant to give Alabama Telephone Company the bragging rights as the first telephone company to implement the use of the universal emergency number.
  3. On February 22, 1968, Alaska followed suit by implementing the universal emergency number for public use. Since then, the 911 emergency number has seen gradual implementation among all parts of the country.
  4. In the present day, the 911 phone number is accessible to over 99% of the United States population. The number is used by people to ask for the police, ambulance services, and the fire department.

Origin and History of the 999 Emergency Number

  1. The 999 emergency number holds the title of being the oldest automatic telephone service for emergencies worldwide.
  2. The 999 emergency number was first introduced in the United Kingdom on June 30, 1937, after five women died in a fire accident. A neighbor had tried contacting the fire brigade using the digit 0 as it was custom then but was held in a queue for the longest by the dispatcher.
  3. The delayed response after the neighbor’s phone call was seen as the primary cause of death for the five women, and it prompted a government inquiry on the matter.
  4. When the 999 emergency number was first introduced for public use in London, it could only cover a 12-mile radius from the Oxford Circus in London. After the public has got the hang of the 999 emergency call, it was later developed to cover more areas across the United Kingdom.
  5. In less than a year, the 999 emergency number was implemented in Glasgow, but its use was delayed due to the ongoing Second World War. After the Second World War ended in 1945, the 999 emergency program resumed, and it was later implemented in Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, Bristol, and Newcastle in 1946.
  6. The automation of all British telephone exchanges in 1976 meant that the 999 emergency program could be implemented nationwide. Later in 1986, the 999 emergency number was introduced for all mobile phones.
  7. Ever since its nationwide implementation, the 999 emergency program has seen many developments, and at the present day, there are over 33 million 999 emergency calls made every year.

Final Thoughts

The introduction of both the 911 and 999 emergency numbers has brought a sense of security for the United Kingdom and the United States residents. Nowadays, you can report any medical emergency, crime, or fire accidents in real-time and get help in the shortest time possible.


ICT professional (three decades of experience in a variety of industry and Governmental sectors, including the Emergency Services), Author, Serial Internet Entrepreneur, Investor, Smart Home Enthusiast, and Creator!



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