Dispatchers and fire-department personnel at a Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) in Los Angeles, California, answer and track 911 calls.
Photograph by Jason Pack, courtesy FEMA

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    On February 16, 1968, politicians in Haleyville, Alabama, made a test call of the nation’s new emergency telephone number, 9-1-1. An emergency telephone number is an easy-to-remember (usually three-digit) number that allows a caller to quickly report the need for local emergency services, such as ambulances, the fire department, or the police.
    Calling 9-1-1 does not contact the emergency services directly. Instead, the number is answered by a trained emergency dispatcher at a Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP). This dispatcher directs the information to the most appropriate, available emergency service.
    Today, most places in the U.S. have “enhanced 9-1-1,” a system that helps provide a dispatcher with the caller’s location.
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    ambulance Noun

    motor vehicle with special equipment used to transport sick people.

    appropriate Adjective


    dispatcher Noun person responsible for receiving and transmitting messages, tracking vehicles and equipment, and recording other important information.
    enhance Verb

    to add to or increase in worth.

    location Noun

    position of a particular point on the surface of the Earth.

    Encyclopedic Entry: location
    politician Noun

    person who serves as a representative of the citizens of a geographic area to the local, state, or national government.