MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Every day, 650,000 people call 911. For some of us, it is the first phone number we learn.

It has become such a part of our lives that we even hear stories of 3-year-olds using it to get help.

So, that had Kendal and her great-aunt Cathe wondering: Why do we use the numbers 911?

According to the National Emergency Number Association, the 1967 President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice recommended a “single number should be established” for emergency situations. Before that, people had to know the phone numbers of their local police and fire departments.

In 1968, the Federal Trade Commission and AT&T came up with the three-number sequence. First, it was required to be short and easy to remember. Second, 911 didn’t interfere with any current or planned future area codes. Third, a three-digit code (999) had already been in place in Great Britain.

“American soldiers had been exposed to three-digit dialing,” National Emergency Number Association PSAP Operations Director Chris Carver said.

Ultimately, it was decided 911 was shorter to dial than 999. At the time, rotary dials were the primary phone technology.

The 911 system didn’t catch on right away. A handful of cities incorporated its use, but it wasn’t until 1973 that the White House’s Office of Telecommunications issued a policy encouraging nationwide adoption.

In 1979, 26 percent of people had access to 911. By 1987, it was 50 percent, and it’s 98.8 percent in 2015.

The Federal Communications Commission says 70 percent of 911 calls made today come from cellphones.

Heather Brown

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