The 9-1-1 emergency response system has become a taken-for-granted part of everyday American life to the extent that it is virtually invisible to scholarship and social discourse. This project presents a joint historical and ethnographic study of the 9-1-1 system that follows common threads that run through the creation of the 9-1-1 system and the daily routines of dispatchers today. Chapter 1 demonstrates how the widespread fear of crime made a universal emergency number possible in the 1960s despite objections from emergency service leaders. Chapter 2 describes on the social and environmental organization of modern dispatch practices based on observations at 5 dispatch centers in southern California. Finally chapter 3 focuses on the increasing integration of visual information into dispatch practices that have traditionally been accomplished through verbal communications. These chapters are united by common themes as social and political discourse continues to shape the 9-1-1 system as a whole and the day-to-day experiences of emergency dispatchers.