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9-1-1 is the emergency telephone number for the North American Numbering Plan (NANP). It is one of eight N11 codes. The use of this number is for emergency circumstances only, and to use it for any other purpose (including non-emergency situations and prank calls) can be a crime.
An N11 code or N11 number (said as "N-one-one") is a special abbreviated dialing telephone number within the North American Numbering Plan, which allows access to special services. Each of these eight numbers prevents 10,000 telephone numbers (from N11-0000 to N11-9999) from being used. Only non-geographic area codes, such as toll-free 800/888/877/866/855 numbers and 900 numbers may use N11 as the telephone exchange prefix, since the area code must always be dialed for these numbers.
Usage is generally assigned as follows:
- 2-1-1: community services, United Way
- 3-1-1: municipal government services, non-emergency
- 4-1-1: directory assistance
- 5-1-1: traffic information or police non-emergency services
- 6-1-1: telephone company (telco) customer service and repair
- 7-1-1: TDD relay for the deaf
- 8-1-1: underground public utility location, in Canada 8-1-1 is assigned for non-emergency health information and services
- 9-1-1: emergency services
Another consideration is that most phones of the time used the pulse dialing system, which could be misdirected if the dial did not spin freely, either from sticky mechanism or a user keeping the finger in the dial. Using 9-1-1 forced the user to remove the dialing finger after the first number (whether using pulse or DTMF dialing) and go to the opposite end of the dial or keypad, thus reducing both accidental failure to dial the number and accidental dialing of the emergency number. Accidental dialing of 9-1-1 has become an increasing problem, as an increasing number of cellular phones are carried in pockets, purses or other places where objects may rest against the keys and repeatedly press them.