The concept of a universal emergency phone number originated in Europe, and Great Britain was the first country to establish a universal emergency telephone number. Since 1937 any individual in the United Kingdom has been able to dial 9-9-9 and have their request for assistance directed to the appropriate agency, be it law enforcement, fire or medical. Several other countries have also adopted universal emergency numbers.

9-1-1 is the three digit telephone number that has been designated as the "Universal Emergency Number" for public use throughout the United States to request emergency assistance. The three digits, 9-1-1, were selected because they are brief, easily remembered, and have never been previously assigned as an official code, area code or service code in the United States. 9-1-1 is intended to give the general public direct access to a Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) or emergency dispatch center, which identifies the proper response and either transfers the call to the appropriate agency or dispatches assistance directly.

The first call was placed to 9-1-1 on February 16, 1968 by Alabama State Senator Rankin Fite. By the end of 1976,  9-1-1 was serving approximately 17% of the population of the United States. As we enter the 21st century, more than 85% of the population now has access to 9-1-1 service.

The use of 9-1-1 eliminates the need for citizens in an emergency situation to identify which agency to contact and locate or remember its telephone number, saving valuable time in life threatening situations. Calling 9-1-1 helps ensure you reach the emergency services you require as quickly as possible.