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WEB EXTRA: A brief history of 9-1-1


The coordinated 9-1-1 system has grown up in fits and starts in different parts of the country.

Up until the late 1960s, you had to dial “0” or a 7-digit number to reach an emergency switchboard, and those numbers varied city to city.

The first 9-1-1 call wasn’t dialed until 1968, in Haleyville, Alabama. It was at the height of the Civil Rights Movement and Vietnam, so President Lyndon Johnson had requested a three-digit number in order to coordinate official response to protests and riots.

Over the course of many years, 9-1-1 systems were set up in cities and counties across the country. Until 1999, when President Bill Clinton declared 9-1-1 the nationwide number to dial for emergencies – from landlines and cell phones.

But still, even today, the way 911 works depends on where you live and whether you call from a landline or a cell phone.

Thanks to Union County Emergency Services for compiling this information about the history of 911.

Advisory note: If you’re calling from a cell phone, to bypass the CHP dispatch center and reach police or medical services directly in Oakland, dial the following numbers:

Direct line to OPD: (510) 777-3211

All medical emergencies: (510) 444-1616