The 411 on 911: A Brief and Incomplete Timeline

Pre-1869 A HEARSE WITH NO NAME




Long before ambulances hit the scene, hearses served as the first responders to emergencies. The people who decide if a critically-injured patient goes to the hospital or the morgue are, for the most part, funeral directors and morticians.

1869 DOCTORS GET ON BOARD




New York City's Bellevue Hospital becomes the first hospital to put doctors in ambulances, which also come equipped with tourniquets, bandages, handcuffs, a straitjacket, and a quart of brandy.

1966 THE UNITED STATES BECOMES LESS DANGEROUS THAN VIETNAM

The National Academy of Sciences publishes a landmark study, "Accidental Death and Disability: The Neglected Disease of Modern Society," which shows that U.S. Soldiers in Vietnam are more likely to survive an injury than drivers on American highways. The study prompts Congress to create the Department of Transportation, to regulate mobile emergency services across the country.

1968 AMERICANS LEARN TO DIAL 911

(Image credit: Wikipedia user Dhscommtech)

In conjunction with the Federal Communications Commission, AT&T announces that 9-1-1 will be the new number for emergency services everywhere in the United States. The digits are chosen because they're easy to memorize, and because 9 and 1 are far apart on the dial of a rotary phone, making misdials less likely.

1970 HELP FROM ABOVE

(Image source: FH1100 manufacturing Corp.)

As part of a new government program, critically ill patients in remote areas of the United States are transported to hospitals in military helicopters. Many of the pilots are returning Vietnam vets, some of whom can't get enough action. After dropping off patients, a few pilots pull dangerous stunts, such as landing in football stadiums, flying under bridges, and buzzing neighborhood pools.

2001 MAN TAKES DIRECTIONS FROM MACHINE, WITH MIXED RESULTS

(Image source: TeleNav)

Global Positioning Systems quickly become standard in ambulances across the country. But during the next few years, the novelty of GPS fades. Several accounts emerge of the devices giving faulty directions, leading ambulance drivers minutes-or even hours-off course. (Although GPS is still widely used today, most ambulances also keep good, old-fashioned neighborhood maps in the front seat, just in case.)

2005 TRULY MOBILE UPLOADS

More and more ambulances begin using cell phones to transmit their patients' EKG heart-monitor readings to ER doctors before they reach the hospital. The new technology significantly improves the time it takes to diagnose and treat heart attack patients, but unfortunately, it's also vulnerable to the ill-timed dropped call.

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The above article by Maggie Koerth-Baker is reprinted with permission from the Scatterbrained section of the September-October 2010 issue of mental_floss magazine.

Be sure to visit mental_floss' entertaining website and blog for more fun stuff!



 

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"In conjunction with the Federal Communications Commission, AT&T announces that 9-1-1 will be the new number for emergency services everywhere in the United States. The digits are chosen because they’re easy to memorize, and because 9 and 1 are far apart on the dial of a rotary phone, making misdials less likely."

They were not close on the dial, but because many business used dial 9 to get an outside line and a 1 was dialed for long distance without operator assistance, there were many modem software/connection utilities that had checkboxes to set a dial 9 and dial 1 that were set by default to on. This meant every call made by the software would be prefixed with 9-1 and if the BBS the user connecting to was in another area code the user would often type 1 in from of the number not realizing the software had added the 9-1 already and so every call attempted would start with 9-1-1. Ooops.
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