Residents of the United States know that in the event of an emergency, they can dial 911 to summon an ambulance, the police, the fire department, or other emergency services. However, while most every country in the world utilizes a similar system, very few use the specific number 911. Additionally, many countries have separate emergency numbers for police, ambulance, and fire, as well as for other services like a domestic abuse hotline. Several countries also utilize one emergency number for landlines and a different number for mobile phones.
Most public telephone networks utilize a single emergency telephone number that enables callers to contact local emergency services for assistance in emergencies. Emergency calls are answered by either a telephone operator or an emergency service dispatcher, who determines the nature of the emergency and connects the caller to the appropriate emergency service. Dispatchers are often also trained to give urgent advice and assist the caller in life-threatening situations while emergency personnel are on the way.
History of the 911 emergency call system
The first emergency number system anywhere in the world was deployed in London on July 1, 1937. The number was 999. In the United States, the first emergency number appeared in 1946. The number was 116, which was an emergency line for Los Angeles, California. The first 911 emergency phone service first went into use in Alabama in 1968 and 911 systems became widespread during the 1980s.
Tips for utilizing emergency numbers when traveling internationally
Conventional wisdom advises international travelers to save the emergency numbers of the countries they plan to visit to their phones ahead of time, so as to remove the need to remember the numbers during the stress of an emergency. This is especially important because many countries use separate numbers for police, fire, and medical emergencies. Like the United States, most countries utilize three digit numbers for emergencies, but a few countries utilize extended numbers. Chad and Comoros both use longer numbers for medical emergencies (2251-4242 and 772-03-73 respectively) and Guinea uses a six-digit emergency number for fire (442-020).
On a simpler note, several nations have joined the United States in utilizing 911 as their emergency phone number. These nations include American Samoa, Aruba, Barbados, Canada, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru, the Philippines, and many more. For a full list of the emergency police, ambulance, and fire numbers for more than 230 countries and territories, see the table below.