Have you ever wondered who came up with the idea to call the numbers 9-1-1 on your telephone if you have an emergency? What kind of emergency does a person have to have before they should call 911? Why 911? Who not 999 to match Britain’s emergency number? Or maybe 111 so we can be the same as New Zealand? Or 777 because that’s my favorite number?
Who Came Up With the Idea?
Well, the idea for an emergency number didn’t originate in the United States. Britain started its 999 emergency calling system in 1937. New Zealand began its 111 number in 1958. And Australia started its 000 number in 1961. It wasn’t until 1968 that the city of Haleyville, Alabama, became the first place in the United States to start its own emergency calling system with the numbers 911. The first 911 emergency call was answered on a bright red telephone!

Why 911?
Well, some people think a computer selected these numbers. But a man by the name of Thomas Norling, who has done a lot of research on this topic, says that’s not the real reason. He says that the emergency number had to have three digits. The first one couldn’t be a 1 or a 0, and needed to be easy to find in the dark. The second and third digits had to be 1. Since finding the number 9 is easy to do on a telephone with a rotary (turning) dial such as the ones used at that time, they chose 911.
What’s an Emergency?
In order to call 911 and not have the police be very angry at us, we need to have a real emergency taking place. That means something serious happening, such as someone trying to break in to your home, or a fire having started because someone forgot to blow out a candle, or your little brother or sister having eaten or drunk something that might hurt them. You can even call 911 from a cell phone.
Some people have called 911 as a joke and have gone to jail for misusing the emergency number. It is really important that the number is available when there is a real emergency. Ask your parents to help you think of other things that you might need to call 911 about. Practice the information you might need to give if you have to call.

Read more at www.911dispatch.com/911_file/history/911history.html.


Bonita Shields was one of the founding editors of KidsView.