How did "911" get chosen as an emergency number?

Sorry if there’s already a thread on this - it gets rejected in a search.

So how did 911 get chosen for emergency use? Other countries use different codes - (UK uses 999 I think); it’s a shame it couldn’t have somehow been unified.

I don’t know why 911 was chosen but I remember when it was first introduced, the advertisments said to call nine-eleven. There was some apparent confusion with some folks who claimed that they could not call the number because their phones did not have eleven. Even my grandmother, who used a rotary phone till the day she died in the late 80’s, made that complaint. She said it was a scam to get people to use the recently introduce touch tone phones. The phone companies changed the ads to nine-one-one to avoid the confusion.

In the UK we use “999”.

This was chosen as

  1. it’s the shortest distance to dial on a rotary phone

  2. you can locate the “9” hole in the dark

Can’t help with “911” but maybe you just wanted to be different from the brits :slight_smile:

Wouldn’t the shortest distance to dial on a rotary phone be “111”?

The way I understand it, 911 was chosen because it was similar to other service numbers. That is, such numbers followed the X11 model: dial 411 for directory assistance, dial 611 to report a telephone problem, and so on.

I cannpt provide a cite for this, but perhaps somebody else can confirm it. And perhaps also explain why 9 was chosen for emergency use; over, say, 7.

Are your phones reversed from every other rotary phone I’ve seen? Here in America, in order from closest to farthest to dial, it’s 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-0.

IIRC, in some places, 711 is used for lesser emergencies, like if your cat got stuck in a tree. This way they can send the appropriate help ambling your way (in this case, probably a fireman or an animal control officer) but without the immediate urgency (or, presumably, tying up the emergency dispatchers) of a 911 call.

Hmm… think you’re right

Scratch my explanation then!

IIRC, x11 exchanges were reserved specifically as service exchanges. Thus no non-service phone numbers began with 911 when introduced. I presume either no, or very few phone companies were already using 911 that it was the best possible choice.

That was what I heard at the time also.
AT&T picked it:

I was about to say “kudos” for what is really an excellent use of language and technology, but while waiting for the server to respond, I decided to nominate a new word for such usage: SCITE

112 is also used as an emergency number in Europe and other places. At NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, you dial 112 for emergency services, not 911.

Sort of.
You are right about 9 being easy to find, so is 1. I recall seeing an old programme on TV where they said 111 was rejected because it was possible to generate that accidentally on the old pulse analog pulse phones by rattling the receiver hook (e.g. while trying to clear a bad line).
So 999 = easy to find, easy to rember, hard to accidentally call, but takes 3 seconds longer to dial.

Whereas in Europe 112 is the universal code for emergency when dialling from a mobile phone :dubious:

I think I am Whooshed: What do you mean?

Not at all. People link to “cites” or citations all the time. It’s pretty clever to link to a “site” because the site provides the site. So I’m thinking that in this day and age we can invent the new word “scite” (pronounced the same, as in “science”) to refer to a site with a cite.

Cool, I like it.

I have a lesser emergency than that. What number do I call for minor nuisances? Like, oh, dropping a quarter into a rain sewer drain?

You call 1-800-Mur-phys as in Murphy’s Law

Here in Baltimore, the non-emergency number for the police etc. is 311.

In Australia, where i grew up, the emergency number is 000.

The specific reason for 911 may have been lost in history, but the general explaination is at the time, ATT or whoever was responsible would have had to change their scheme of code assignments or pick from a very few numbers.

ATT started the area code thing in the late 40s and for whatever reason wanted the first digit of all area codes to be one of two numbers(2 and 9, IIRK) and the second digit had to be like 1 or zero or something. When they started assigning local codes that looked like area codes they had established another rule or two, which dropped the number of possible numbers to just a handful.(I don’t know if these were the original rules set in the 40s, but that was the scheme of things before 911 was selected.)