While Baltimore was the first city to use 311 as a police non-emergency number, in January 1999, Chicago initiated the first comprehensive 3-1-1 system, by providing information and tracking city services from intake to resolution, in addition to taking non-emergency police calls.

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In the United States, 311 was sometimes used as a fictitious area code in Bell System advertisements depicting telephones; often the phone in the advertisement would bear the specific number Area Code 311 555-2368.

This fictitious phone number was used in the 1979 horror film When a Stranger Calls; in the opening of the television series The Rockford Files; in the 1984 film Ghostbusters; and on two episodes of the second season of the TV series Mission: Impossible: episode 22 titled "The Killing" (on the killer's phone) and, fourth season, episode 12, titled "Time Bomb" (on a phone at a nuclear plant in a fictitious country).

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A promotional website for 3-1-1 in Akron described the distinction as follows: "Burning building? This system is intended to extend the system such that true emergency callers are answered quickly with highest priority.

The largest 3-1-1 operation in North America operates in Toronto, which was implemented in 2009. The first Canadian 3-1-1 service opened in Calgary, Alberta on .This also supplanted the need to remember or find the number (312) 744-5000, which, until then, acted as a switching station for reaching various city departments and employees, as well as Chicago Police non-emergency (dialing this number today directs you to a 3-1-1 center operator from any area code).Since its launch, Chicago 3-1-1 has won numerous national awards, including the Innovations in American Government Award from the Ash Institute for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard University's John F. In addition to providing seamless delivery of city services to residents, the call center serves as a backup to the City's 911 call center.This number is also seen on the phone in Mister Ed during shots where the talking horse dials the phone using a pencil in his mouth.This number was also used in the 1985 movie "Once Bitten." It is on the phone in the dating night club that hangs on the wall behind Jim Carey and Lauren Hutton when they first meet.3-1-1 creates a central hub for constituents to be able to access a variety of city services.