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Collections Cameo, November 2015

911 Flyer, November 1, 1990

This flyer was mailed out to all Lake Forest residents in the fall of 1990, reminding them that starting on November 1, the number to call for all Lake Forest Emergency Services would be 911. Before that date, people would call the 7-digit number for the police or fire departments.

Use of the number 9-1-1 for emergency calls first began in the U.S. in 1968. Demand for a universal, short emergency number had been building over the previous decade, after the National Association of Fire Chiefs in 1957 recommended establishing a single number for reporting fires. The code “9-1-1” was chosen in part because of brevity and ease of dialing; it was also unique, having never been authorized anywhere as an area code.

The number did not become widely known or adopted across the U.S. until the 1970s. Chicago began using the system in 1976, but according to the Chicago Tribune, “most suburbs…resisted it because of the cost and confusion they say the system creates.”

By the late 1980s, with the rise of enhanced computerized systems that streamlined the 911 process, that began to change. Local emergency officials urged suburban communities to adopt 911 service, emphasizing that while it generally took nearly 90 seconds for callers to dial the seven digit number for the police or fire station, which most had not memorized, they could call 911 in seconds.

In 1988 and 1989, DuPage County, Lake County, and several individual municipalities voted on 911 referenda. It passed in Lake Forest and Lake Bluff in April 1989; Lake Forest’s system was in place by November 1, 1990.