9-1-1 History

History of 911 When was 911 “invented?” The simple answer is: 46 years ago. However, the development of the three-digit number in the United States is slightly more complex than a single date. Here is a summary of how it was implemented for the first time in the United States, and events leading up to that historic event. This collection of material was prompted by Reba Fitzgerald, who contacted me after the death of her husband Robert on June 30, 2001. It was Robert E. “Bob” Fitzgerald and his colleagues named below who implemented the first 911 system in Haleyville (Ala.) in 1968 while they worked for the Alabama Telephone Company. Ms. Fitzgerald spent the last year of her life sending me stories, papers and other materials to set the record straight about how the nation’s first 911 installation was implemented. No doubt satisfied that she had accomplished some measure of success in memorializing her husband’s work, she died in August 2002. There is no debate on where the first 911 call was placed. However, prior to 2000 there was considerable unverified information about who was involved and how 911 was developed. Starting in 2000 I began to investigate the genesis of the first 911 system, and after considerable research was able to find original participants and verified information. Here is the first accurate, documented history of 911, including key dates, whether I’ve confirmed the event with documentation from the time (not from later recollections), and the details of the event. E-mail me if you have confirming documentation for events without a check mark, or if you have corrections/updates–check below for the missing information I need verified. I hope this account finally gives credit to those whose imagination and spirit helped create the invaluable resource of 9-1-1. — Gary Allen Date Conf? Details Friday,
March 10, 1876 OK, this may be pushing history a bit too far, but…..Alexander Graham Bell made the first telephone call for help during testing of his gear. Bell reportedly dropped some battery acid on his clothes and said those famous words, “Mr. Watson, come here — I want to see you!” His assistant, Thomas A. Watson, heard the words over the set-up they were testing and came to his aid. The “spill” part of the story is unlikely to be true. However, Bell’s own notebook confirms the first call. Thursday,
July 8, 1937 Britain implemented its 999 emergency telephone system serving police, fire and EMS after phone calls were delayed reporting 5-fatality fire on Wimpole Street. The first 999 call was placed at 4:20 a.m. when the wife of John Stanley Beard (33 Elsworthy Rd., Hampstead, London) dialed 999 to report a burglar outside her home. The burglary, 24 year-old Thomas Duffys, was apprehended. [read a history] 1957   The National Association of Fire Chiefs reportedly suggested a single number for reporting fires. Sept. 1957   Sydney (Australia) implements 999 service Dec. 1957   The California Highway Patrol debuts traffic emergency number ZEnith 1-2000 Sept. 1958   New Zealand debuted their 111 emergency number. June 21, 1959 According to the Winnipeg (Man.) Police Department Web site, North America’s first three-digit (999) emergency telephone system was introduced in that city at the urging of mayor Stephen Juba, and the operation’s first supervisor was Helen Aizita Woollard, who went on to become an officer. There were initially eight Emergency Telephone Operators, of which Lucienne Galinas was one of the original hires. Women were hired because the system’s budget was too small to pay men ($200 vs. $345 a month). Canada converted its three-digit emergency number to 911 in 1972. Check this CBC video about the center, and read thisaccount. Aug. 1959   Winnipeg (Man.) had 999 service 1961   Australia introduced its 000 emergency number in metropolitan areas of the country. Jan. 25, 1966 verified A Pacific Northwest Bell executive wrote a letter to then-volunteer firefighter Ronald Becker of the Mercer Island (Wash.) Fire Dept. explaining why a universal emergency telephone number was not “economically feasible nor practical.” Don K. Gavin also explained to Becker why that was so. Download (pdf) the letter. February, 1967 President Lyndon Johnson’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice issued its report, recommending that police departments have a single number to call, and that eventually that single number should be used nationwide. (see Alan Burton’s account.). The report stated, “The Commission recommends: Wherever practical, a single police telephone number should be established, at least within a metropolitan area and eventually over the entire United States, comparable to the telephone company’s long-distance information number.” The recommendation was based on input from the Commission’s Task Force on Science and Technology [see June 3, 1967 entry] May 23, 1967   Indiana Rep. Ed Roush attended House sub-committee hearings on the Comprehensive Fire Research and Safety Act of 1967. When firefigher Leonard Kershner, representing the International Association of Firefighters, is asked why the U.S. suffered so many fire deaths compared to other countries, he mentioned response time as one consideration. According to Roush, he immediately suggested a single, nationwide telephone number for reporting fires. June 3, 1967 The LBJ Commission’s Task Force on Science and Technology publicly released its final report upon which the full Commission’s recommendation was based. Nov. 1967   Based on talks, memos and other correspondence between the Commission and the White House, the concept of a single emergency telephone number worked its way to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and then to AT&T, which was the major telephone carrier at the time. The FCC and AT&T met during Nov. to work out details of the system. Nov. 8, 1967 The FCC sent Congress its comments on House Concurrent Resolution 361, which supported the concept of a single nationwide emergency number. Dec. 21, 1967 Presidential aide Dennis Flannery sent a memo to aide Matt Nimetz about two recommendations made in the Task Force’s report (see June 3, 1967 above)–additional radio spectrum and a single emergency number. In it, Flannery writes, “The telephone industry has consistently argued that the telephone operator is an adequate emergency number.” Friday,
Jan. 12, 1968 AT&T announced their designation of 911 as a universal emergency number at a press conference in the Washington (DC) office of Indiana Rep. Ed Roush, who had championed for Congressional support for “one number.” AT&T’s plan affected only the Bell companies, and not any of the independent telephone companies. Up to this point, the number “911” wasn’t mentioned in any literature, and apparently wasn’t identified until the press conference. In fact, a Wall Street Journal article written the day before the press conference didn’t mention “911” as the number that AT&T selected.   There is rampant speculation on why the number sequence “9-1-1” was selected. I’ve not uncovered any documents that outline the exact reasons those numbers were selected. According to the Wall Street Journal article (see below), “AT&T said it used a computer” to select the number, although that sounds somewhat misleading. The selection probably was based on a combination of factors, including the precedent of Britain using a three-digit number, the North American use of three-digits numbers (4-1-1, 6-1-1, etc.), the ease of dialing two “ones” on a rotary dial phone, and other technical switching considerations. See Mr. Norling’s recollections below and our Alternate History page for more on why the digits 9-1-1 were selected—or why AT&T implemented the number in the first place. Jan. 12, 1968 In Alabama, Bob Gallagher, president of the independent Alabama Telephone Co. read anarticle in the Wall Street Journal revealing that AT&T intended to announce its emergency number plan that same day. Another WSJ article on Monday Jan. 15 documented AT&T’s press conference that announced the selection of 911 as the emergency number. Interestingly, AT&T’s concept was much broader than just a single emergency number—they foresaw a consolidation of public safety answering services, including the FBI and Secret Service. Also note there was never any mention in AT&T’s description of the service about ANI or ALI service as a future upgrade of 911.   After reading the Wall Street Journal story, Gallagher decided he would beat AT&T to the punch and implement 911 first, somewhere within the Alabama Telephone Co. territory—it was his competitive spirit. He contacted Robert Fitzgerald, who was Inside State Plant Manager for ATC, who in turn identified Haleyville as the perfect site because of technical considerations. Fitzgerald then designed the circuitry and directed the effort to implement 911 in the town, in the northwest portion of the state.   Fitzgerald worked with technicians Jimmy WhiteGlenn JohnstonAl Bush and Pete Gosato quickly complete the necessary central office work and to install the red 911 phone. Feb. 7, 1968 President Johnson sent a “Special Message to the Congress” with several proposals “to meet the challenge of crime to our society,” all generally based on his Commission’s recommendations. Among his proposals was one, “to develop methods to make the ordinary telephone more effective for summoning police aid…” Feb. 9, 1968 Gallagher issued a press release announcing that 911 service will begin in Haleyville on Feb. 16. 2 p.m., Friday,
Feb. 16, 1968 Just 35 days after AT&T’s announcement of 911, the first-ever 911 call is placed by Alabama Speaker of the House Rankin Fite from Haleyville City Hall to U.S. Rep. Tom Bevill(Dem.) at the city’s police station. Bevill reportedly answered the phone with “Hello.” Attending with Fite was Haleyville mayor James Whitt. At the police station with Bevill was Gallagher and Alabama Public Service Commission director Eugene “Bull” Connor(formerly the Birmingham, Ala. police chief). Fitzgerald was at the ATC of the central office serving Haleyville, and actually observed the call pass through the switching gear, as the mechanical equipment clunked out “9-1-1.” The phone used to answer the first 911 call, a bright red model, is now in a museum in Haleyville, while a duplicate phone is at the police station. Some accounts of the event claim that, “Later, the two (Bevill and Fite) said they exchanged greetings, hung up and ‘had coffee and doughnuts.'” Check our photo album of Haleyville’s accomplishment! [Trivia: Haleyville had just one exchange in 1968: 486- ) Thursday,
Feb. 22, 1968   Nome (Alaska) reportedly implemented their 911 system, after legislative support of 911 by then-U.S. Senator Ernest Gruening, formerly Governor of the Territory of Alaska before its statehood in 1959. Feb. 27, 1968 FCC Defense Commissioner Lee Loevinger wrote an 11-page memo outlining the issues of implementing the 911 system, and sends it to the White House for review. Friday,
March 1, 1968   AT&T implemented 911 in Huntington (Ind., pop. 16,000). Why Huntington? It was the home town of Democratic U.S. Rep. J. Edward Roush (served 1959-1969, 1971-1977), who sponsored legislation to adopt the three-digit number. This was the first Bell Telephone-related installation of 911. March 1, 1968 President Johnson’s Commission on Civil Disturbance issued its report on riots that had occurred the previous year in several U.S. cities. Although the report focused on mostly social issues that led to the events, it also heightened awareness of the law enforcement response and the need for a single emergency number. May 2, 1968 FBI Defense Comissioner Lee Loevinger sent a letter to the “State Industry Advisory Committees” that the FBI does not have any authority or responsibility for 911, although it was mentioned as a participating agency in earlier FCC documents. Apparently J. Edgar Hoover didn’t want the Bureau receiving hundreds (back then!) of 911 calls reporting emergencies. [Check the other images and links on Andrew Dart’s Web page about the Emergency Broadcast System—very interesting!] July 1, 1968   New York City implements 911 for the police department only. It cost $1.3 million to build under Mayor John Lindsay’s administration. After the cut-over the total telephone calls to the comm center rose from 12,000 a day to 18,000. Previously, the “main” number for the police department was 440-1234. late 1968 –
early 1969   The town of Puyallup (Wash.) reportedly was the “first 911 center west of the Mississippi,” and was a test site for the technology by AT&T. [But see Nome’s claim of Feb. 22, 1968.] March, 1970   The first California 911 system was installed in the city of Gustine in Merced County, in the state’s central valley. April 1, 1970 The first Texas 911 system was installed in the city of Odessa, according to a local newspaper article. 1972   The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recommended that 911 be implemented nationwide. March, 1973   The White House’s Office of Telecommunications issued National Policy Bulletin Number 73-1, which recognized the benefits of 911 and encouraging its nationwide adoption. The statement also provided for the establishment of a Federal Information Center to assist jurisdictions in planning and implementing 911 systems. In part, the policy said, “”it is the policy of the Federal Government to encourage local authorities to adopt and establish 9-1-1 emergency telephone systems in all metropolitan areas and throughout the United States. Whenever practicable, efforts should be initiated in both urban and rural areas at the same time.” Oct. 14, 1973   New York City expanded its 911 service to include police, fire and EMS mid 1970s Alameda County (Calif.) was the first national pilot project for selective routing of 911 calls. Up to this point, 911 calls were routed according to “hard-wired” switching instructions. Alameda County became operational in mid-July, 1978. The original installation provided only ANI (not ALI) to the county’s PSAPs. Check this anniversary e-mail sent in 2003. 1974 The federal Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA) funded a $150,000 program to test the cost and benefits of an Enhanced 911 program in Alameda County (N. Calif.). [article from “True Detective” magazine on the program] Jan. 19, 1974 B911 service began in Sheboygan County (Wisc.), first in the state. Five lines answered at cord-type PBX board. ANI/ALI service implemented in 1986. April 29, 1975 The U.S. Patent Office granted Patent 3,881,060 to Joseph Bernard ConnellAlfred Zarouni (NJ) as inventors, and Bell Telephone Laboratories Inc. (NJ) as assignee for, “Anemergency reporting system for selectively inter-connecting ones of a plurality of telephone stations, each assigned a directory number, through the telephone communications switching network to designated emergency service centers.” That is, the modern selective routing and ANI 911 system. Download (pdf) a copy of the patent and diagrams. Sept. 16, 1976   Chicago claims to have had “the first enhanced 911 system of any major city” in the United States. [see Government Technology article] Oct. 4, 1977 The U.S. Patent Office granted patent 4,052,569 for an Emergency Call Answering System to Robert M. Pirnie, III of Montgomery (Ala.) that, “provides specialized console controlled emergency call handling capabilities for 911 answer locations. Download (pdf) the patent here. July 9, 1978 The federally-financed trial of the first selective routing E911 system went on-line Sunday inAlameda County (Calif.), across the bay from San Francisco. The first phase of the system provide ANI only, and not the phone number and location of the caller as later systems.[Thanks, Scott Hovey, Alameda County 911 Trial Project Director at the time, who provided a press release on the anniversary.] Feb. 12, 1979 Dade County (Fla.) was the second agency to go live with selective routing, but providing only ANI (no ALI). The third selective routing E911 system was in St. Louis (Mo.) By the way, The definition of “Enhanced” 911, either now or at the time, makes comparing system features difficult, and also complicates determining which E911 system was “first.” [Read more of programmer Bill Milam’s recollections on the first E911 systems.] January, 1980 AT&T began working on two full Enhanced 911 systems: one in Orange County (Fla.), which they called the “trial” system, and another in St. Louis (Mo.), which they called the “first application.” These systems had the full array of features that we now associate with “Enhanced” 911: ANI, ALI, selective routing and selective transfer. The Orange County system was the first system to go live. [Thanks to software programmer Bill Milam for this info.] ??   Dr. Phil Shaenman, head of the U.S. Fire Administration’s research department, authored a paper explaining that children should be taught to dial “nine-one-one,” and not “nine-eleven.” He pointed out that a child’s conceptual abilities prevent them from recognizing the difference between “11” and “1-1.” December, 1982   The metro Minneapolis-St. Paul area implemented an E911 system that was reportedly the first multi-county Enhanced system in the country. It served seven surrounding counties. Dec. 1985   Humboldt County (Calif.) implemented 911, making California the second state to have universal 911 availability July 23, 1990 College student Craig Neidorf went on trial for publishing an allegedly confidential 911 document downloaded by a hacker from a BellSouth computer system. After four days of testimony, all charges are dropped against him.   Many other countries around the world have implemented three-digit telephone numbers for emergency services. Feb. 16, 1993 Alabama Gov. Guy Hunt issued Proclamation for Emergency Personnel Day in honor of Haleyville’s accomplisment as the first 911 system in the nation. 1995 Web master Nick Lawrence petitioned Internet administrators to register several all-number Web domains–previously an address had to contain at least one or more alphabetic characters. Lawrence succeeds and is issued 911.com, which is now operated at “911 Crime Reporters.” He was also issued 411.com, 611.com and many others. Dec. 12, 1995 U.S. Patent Office granted patent 5,474,484 for 911 training doll (male and female) to Julie A. Lemelle, California Storybook Publishing, (Calif.). Download (pdf) the patent here. Jan. 15, 1996 Swedish telephone system hacker called from London, made multiple, simultaneous 911 calls to various west-central Florida PSAPs, tying up their trunks for legitimate callers. He is caught and prosecuted. Feb. 4, 1997   Australia completed Enhanced 000 service when it converts the Northern Territories to the service, which sends calling line identification (CLI) and service address to the emergency operator. March 31, 1998 According to NENA, the first Phase I system (wireless calls display caller’s phone number and address of receiving antenna tower) in the U.S. was in Allen County (Ind.), involving wireless carrier Centennial Communications, location company XYPOINT, and phone provider GTE Network Services. May 27, 1999 Rep. Robert Anderholt (R-Ala.) honored Haleyville in the U.S. Congress for the nation’s for 911 system. [Congressional Record] October 26, 1999 President Clinton signed Senate Bill 800, which designates 911 as the nationwide emergency telephone number. [remarks on the bill by Clinton, APCO & NENA] April 3, 2000 The so-called “bat.chode” virus is unleased by an unknown hacker; is spread by e-mail and instructs computer to dial 911 on any connected modem. The hacker is never ID’d, but no PSAPs report being affected by false calls. Oct. 20, 2001 St. Clair County (Ill.) was the first comm center in the country to provide Phase II wireless E911 service, but only for Verizon Wireless customers. Lake County (Ind.) began Phase II service shortly after that, and the state of Rhode Island 911 began state-wide Phase II on Dec. 21, 2001 from Sprint PCS customers with assisted-GPS handsets. April, 2002 Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman issued updated Commendation for the team that conceived of and implemented the nation’s first 911 system in Haleyville. According to several, in the pre-1970 era the U.S. military was using the number 1-1-7 to report fires on U.S. bases. Also, check these Web sites for more 911 history information: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services study on heart attacks [Acrobat, pdf, 383k] The state of New Mexico state has posted a summary (Acrobat pdf) document with more detailed information on national and state 911 history. Check this NENA Web page of information about the history of 911. In December 2001 Robert Gallagher returned to Haleyville to re-explore the 911 system that he helped create..here’s his photo album. This private Web site has an excellent general history of the telephone and the nation’s telecom system. We’re fudging a little bit: the IEEE Web site has information on police radio history, including the first one-way, first two-way, and first FM radio systems. [Berkeley (Calif.) also claims to have installed the first one-way police radio system, in 1921]. The Australian Communications Agency (ACA) has posted a page of history for their ‘000’ emergency number. A compilation of U.S. patents related to emergency reporting systems, including 911. The Good Ole Days by Thomas B. Norling As a historian and retired communication engineer with over 40 years of experience in the telephone field, I have been asked by DISPATCH Monthly Magazine publisher Alan Burton to provide the readers with a short history and background in the subject of 911 reporting systems. Your editor was looking for someone involved with the development of 911 systems. That has been a major part of my life. Not only have I been involved in this field, but I have documented much of the early 911 history in a book I have been writing on this subject. It has been a real challenge to document the history of the telephone part of dispatch systems because there is so much there. What I’ll provide you is the ten most-asked questions. Where did it all start? This is hard to define, and much harder to answer. We humans, when we found we were in distress, will call out for help using our voices. Or to put it another way, we humans communicate, whether it’s by voice, drums, fire or electrical or electronic means. In so doing, we are letting others know that we need help or other services. With the advent of the invention of both the telegraph and telephone systems, emergency communication became a very important part of these systems; to a point where our telephone operators became our first real dispatchers and they became known as Central. These people knew almost every person connected with the system where they worked. They had the knowledge of who to contact for almost any emergency, whether it be fire, police or medical needs. As these telephone systems began to expand, the task of providing this type of service also expanded. So where did it all start? It started with the local telephone company. [Editor: And that telephone company was in Haleyville, Alabama.] Who started emergency reporting systems? This can be answered by looking into the history of telephony. There one will find the beginning of most all telephone operations was a need to provide emergency communications. And with this need in mind, the people involved put into operation a telephone system that provided that service. The fact remains that local people formed their own telephone net works, and these companies (or co-ops) became some of the very large telephone companies known today. Who started emergency reporting systems? Telephone people and telephone co-ops to meet a need. Why are telephone companies not as much involved with the dispatching operation today? Look again at the history of the telephone industry. But to state that the telephone industry is less-involved would not be a true statement. As we go on into this subject, one will find the telephone industry is very much involved, and will be as long as there is a need for dispatching systems. Telephone operations are not providing the dispatching and handling of emergency calling today because the ever-expanding companies reached a point where it was much better handled by local dispatching systems who were part of the serving area. The advent of national toll dialing and the central operator operations made it too much of an undertaking for the telephone system for these very companies to provide this type of service. The telephone industry set out to develop and put into operation the Emergency Service Dispatch systems and to make the telephone systems function for this service. When the telephone operations set up for emergency calling systems, what were the major changes made to telephone operations? This question should be divided into a number of answers, for to put it into one lumped answer would not serve to answer what the reader would wish to know. Let us look at some of the major changes that took place, without going into too much detail. First, equipment changes on the part of the telephone system. The telephone company equipment had to provide the means to hold the originating calling line so the call could be checked should the calling party hang up or be disconnected. This was the same type of service that was provided when local telephone operator provided this service. (Sometimes called CLR holding.) Second, equipment changes on the part of the telephone system so that the calling party could be rung back when the calling party went back on hook. This feature was limited where party lines were involved but still could be done if and when required. Third, equipment changes to the public telephone (pay station) methods of operation. This did provide a major problem for the telephone companies in that the change required a standard method of operation throughout the country. (a) The public telephones had to provide dial-tone first. Telephones that required a coin deposit before the call originator would hear dial tone had to he changed to provide dial-tone-first. (b) The public telephones had to be coin-free when dialing service codes and emergency service dispatch. (c) The public telephones had to return any coin deposited when the call originator called emergency service codes. These changes were a major hardship to both large and small operating telephone companies. Each of these changes involved much development and the need for new methods of handling public telephones and emergency call handling. [Editor: The technology of 911 hasn’t changed much in the intervening years.] Why the dialing code 9-1-1? This is a real hard question to answer and my first response is: Why not? Everyone has his or her own access code and I have heard most of them. But the truth is that AT&T and USITA had to come up with one for the telephone system–for the total system. I was an engineer for AECO Gen Tel Labs when I became part of this task force. And believe me, this was no snap; it took much time to resolve. No one wanted to give in, but as time went on, we all came to the same understanding. The access code had to be three digits. The first digit had to be an N digit, meaning it had to be one of the digits 2 through 9. The digit 1 or 0 could not be used. The second and third digits had to be 1. So the real problem was what was the first digit going to be and the task force set out to resolve this problem. It came down to the fact that the digit 9 was the easiest to clear for access, because in many systems it was already clear; in others, equipment changes were small. With this, 9-1-1 was selected and work started to make this an access code back as far as the late ’50s. There was one other factor that helped resolve this, and it was the location of this digit on the dial or keypad. If one had to dial 9-1-1 in the dark, all one had to do was place the finger in the dial, slide the finger from the one position all the way around to the zero position, back up one step and this would be the ninth position or digit 9. Then the call originator would again place the finger into the 1st position; this would he the digit one–and dial it two times. The outcome would he 9-1-1. With the keypad, the call originator would locate the lower right hand key position (the # or pound key) and move straight up to the next position, which is the digit 9. Then move the finger so the upper-most left hand side, which is the digit one. With this method, one could easily dial 9-1-1 in the dark. How did the telephone number and address play a part in emergency reporting systems? From the emergency reporting dispatch center of operation, the answer is self explanatory. This was the means to complete the call-handling. From the operating telephone company directing the call, it was used to provide the emergency service center with much-needed information. The telephone companies made use of their automatic number identification used in toll billing to provide the directory number, and with this, the billing address from the billing computer. Backup came from the outside plant records computers to provide additional information where the billing address may have been a post office box. There were other methods used where the originating call came from a telephone service at two or more locations. Here, secondary class marking determined the originating party location. In any event, an originating party address was found in most applications and forwarded to the emergency service dispatch center. How did the very early emergency service center receive the information from the operating telephone companies? The voice part of the call was via telephone circuits where as many as were needed were provided to meet the service needs. As to the very early systems, Model 28 and 33 Teletype equipment was used. In time, these were replaced with computer equipment with printers and then CRTs. This was and is now an on going process. Who knows what the future will bring? Is there any reason why anyone with telephone service should be denied 911 service today? Being an ex-telephone engineer, I don’t like to answer this question. But to be fair to both sides, I can only say No–every telephone user in this country should and could have access to 911 service.. The telephone industry already has developed equipment. The local governments have the means now to provide the services. There can be no real reason to keep people from having access to 91 1 Why has there been little or no published information on how and why the development of emergency dispatch systems? My answer is there has been much documentation on this subject, but one has to know where to look. Many people do not really wish to go into that much detail. The real answer is that the information is out there, but a real demand for this information is not. For those who want this type of documentation, it’s there; but it requires real effort to locate it. . . What do you see in the future of emergency dispatching systems? As an old timer who has designed and helped with the development of these systems, I .see a very big future using computer software and the newer hard ware. The dispatchers and responders are going to have many new tools. There are many new features where everyone involved will soon have much of the same information at the same time. The need to call up information from the past will also be provided. I have now provided you, the readers, my input into this subject. I know those involved in the dispatching side know that we old-timers look up to you for the fine job you are doing.