Times have certainly changed over the past fifty years. In fact, in the year 1962 (exactly fifty years ago), dialing 9-1-1 on your telephone would only result in an error busy signal. If you needed “help”, you dialed 0 and relayed your problem to a third party – the operator.
The need for an easy access to securing emergency assistance had been recognized years before the Great Depression and while the idea to utilize the telephone service materialized immediately, the concept of an easy to remember number to call for “help” developed slowly. As late as 1957, California Highway Patrol introduced the Zenith 1-2000 number which served as a designated number reserved for emergency calls. The National Association of Fire Chiefs likewise utilized the idea of calling for help with a designated single number dialed.
Nearly a decade later, Lyndon B. Johnson’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice suggested utilizing a single set of numbers for the purpose of emergency calls on a national level. Study proved the need for a standard, particularly with the high numbers of fire-related deaths statistically. Reports indicated delay in response as one major reason and studies supported the idea of the designated number as more efficient than “calling the operator” (the standard procedure for securing help in an emergency).
On January 12, 1968, AT&T announced a randomly chosen set of numbers as the designated call sequence for emergency calls. Trained healthcare professional, proficient in Advanced Cardiac Life Support and other protocols were able to respond rapidly and lives otherwise lost waiting for help were now spared. Utilized almost a half century later, this system has provided decreased response time for life-saving pre-hospital rescue.
This month, be grateful that almost fifty years ago, a call for “help” was created and 9-1-1 was born.
*Data obtained from Dispatch Magazine Online, History of 911