Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2012 | 2 a.m.
Everyone knows to call 911 in an emergency. In the midst of a desperate search to find a stranger’s phone number, eventually, you might dial 411 for help. But when should you call 811? 211?
Shortened phone numbers like the ‘N11’ sequences are called abbreviated dialing codes. Telephone networks are programmed to recognize the three digits and translate them into the seven- or 10-digit number they represent.
The Federal Communications Commission oversees U.S. abbreviated dialing codes and has the authority to assign them.
“Six of these codes are recognized by the FCC,” said John Manning, director of the North American Numbering Plan, which set the original direct dialing standards for 20 North American countries.
The officially recognized numbers are 211, 311, 511, 711, 811 and 911, all of which are assigned to provide access to state and national resources.
As for 011 and 111, don’t hold your breath waiting for services to scoop up the numbers.
“Zero and one have unique meaning in a dialing sequence,” Manning said.
Phone numbers aren’t just a randomly thrown-together sequence. Under the North American plan, the first three digits indicate area code, while the next three represent a switch within the area code. The next four numbers act as a station code that helps route calls to a line number.
Dialing zero on any phone directs a caller to the operator, and pressing one gives instructions on which switches to follow.
Because of that, 011 and 111 are off limits as abbreviated dialing codes.
And though there may not be an official requirement for the numbers to stay with their FCC-designated purpose, carriers straying from uses already established in a jurisdiction could face some backlash.
“Any other use of that code,” Manning said, “would not put them in the good graces of the regulatory agency.”
Groups can petition the FCC to create new N11 numbers, but there is no requirement for those numbers to correspond to the assigned uses.
“Implementation of these is really up to the individual jurisdictions,” Manning said.
Here’s a look at the N11 numbers:
Calling 211 will refer a Las Vegan – and many other Americans – to a referral service for health and community resources. How 211 is set up is left to individual states. In Nevada, the Reno and Las Vegas centers offer health and employment resources, support for seniors and people with disabilities, disaster recovery programs and more. “211 pretty much provides resources on anything you can imagine,” said Kathy Jacobs, executive director of the Crisis Call Center.
Calling 311 connects Las Vegans to a non-emergency response service overseen by the Metro Police. The service can be used to report incidents that are not immediately threatening to life or property, like loud music and vandalism.
The only N11 number with a per call charge, 411 is a directory service for local and long-distance numbers. The FCC doesn’t officially recognize the number, but it is available in Las Vegas. According to John Manning, director of the North American Numbering Plan, 411 is probably one of the two most well-known N11 numbers.
For Nevadans seeking reports on roadway conditions, 511 offers updates on traffic across the state. Road warriors can stay posted on weather conditions and highway construction by calling the automated service.
Most telephone companies use 611 as an assistance line. Carriers often reserve the number for users to easily contact them about repairs, but the number is not officially assigned.
711 is a service that relays calls made by hearing- or speech-impaired people to those without the equipment those individuals use to make calls. Las Vegans can use this service, in which an operator relays the call to the appropriate recipient.
A national effort established the “Call Before You Dig” hotline, otherwise known as 811. The service provides excavators, homeowners and others with information on underground utility lines that could be damaged during digging. A Las Vegan’s call to an 811 center can solicit a locating crew to come out to a property and mark utility lines.
The most well-known N11 belongs to 911, which handles emergency calls and is standardized across the country.