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The History of 911

Celebrating More Than 50 Years of Emergency Calling

The first call to 911 was placed in February of 1968. Thanks to 911, throughout the country, a call to 911 can quickly connect you with the help you need.

Before that first call, citizens needed to dial local 7-digit phone numbers to reach police, fire or emergency services. In 1966, the National Academy of Sciences published "Accidental Death and Disability: The Neglected Disease of Modern Society,” a landmark report highlighting how accidental death and injury, particularly from motor vehicle crashes, had become an epidemic in the U.S. The report urged a series of steps to reduce these needless deaths and injuries, including exploring the “feasibility of designating a single, nationwide, telephone number to summon an ambulance.”

Two years later, a Senator in Haleyville, Alabama placed the first 911 call. It wasn’t long before other cities followed. Only six days later, the second 911 call was placed in Nome, Alaska. Since then, the system expanded nationwide and is continuously improving to keep pace with advancing technology.

Today, many states and regions are implementing Next Generation 911, an Internet Protocol-based system that will allow 911 to easily transfer calls to other call centers, re-route calls if a PSAP experiences call overload, and eventually receive photos and videos of caller events.

Since the 1960s, NHTSA has supported public safety efforts to connect communities with emergency services. Since its inception in 2004, the National 911 Program has focused on supporting state efforts to continually improve 911 services by creating resources and disseminating grant funding for 911 technology and operations.

In 2018, the country recognized 50 years of answered calls and lives saved and celebrated the 911 system and its advancement over the last several decades while also looking to the future of Next Generation 911 and improved emergency communication across the country.

NHTSA Recognizes 50 Years of Dedication

Deputy Administrator, Heidi King, participated in a number of events celebrating the 50th anniversary of 911 in Washington D.C. in February 2018, including the presidential signing of Kari’s Law and the NG911 Institute’s 15th Annual 9-1-1 Honor Awards.Learn more about her history in public safety as she shared some of her personal experiences as a 911 dispatcher.

Last Updated: 08/07/2023