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988 Joins the North American Numbering Plan

by Margaret Joy

The FCC created a new 3-digit calling code for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Here's everything you need to know about it.

Published: July 19, 2022

As of July 16, 2022, there’s a new 3-digit national number in the mix. 988 is the new N11 code set up by the FCC and directs to the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline

North American Numbering Plan: N11 Codes

We’re all familiar with existing N11 codes—the group of specialized short numbers designated in the North American Numbering Plan. The most obvious of these is of course 911, but there’s also 311 for non-emergency services, 411 for directory assistance, heck you may even know that 211 is for health and human services information. With the exception of 011 and 111, which are kept separate, every single digit is assigned as an N11 code. 

Since all the X11’s are in use, the newest addition is using “8” as the double digit. It’s 988, newly designated as the short code for the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline (the Lifeline). 

The FCC voted to create the new N11 code for the Lifeline back in July 2020 because the full number is rather hard to remember, even for a vanity number. You can still dial 1-800-273-8255 (TALK), but 988 is much simpler. 

How Did I Reach the Suicide Prevention Lifeline Before?

The Lifeline isn’t new, if you’re confused about all the news over the “new” number. But given its purpose, it makes perfect sense to create an N11 code for swift and easy dialing. 

If you read our NG911 explainer, you might be feeling some deja vu: 911 wasn’t always the number for emergency services. Until the 1960s, you also had to dial the full local number or reach an operator to direct you if you didn’t know it. The same reasons behind 911’s launch apply to 988’s establishment: When in crisis, a short code is much better than having to find a full 10-digit number. 

The Lifeline was previously (and still is) available via the full number and online chats, including a separate texting number dedicated to veterans’ use (838255). Additionally, pressing "1" directly after calling 988 will route your call straight to the Veterans Crisis Lifeline.

Why Did 988 Take So Long?

When the FCC voted on creating 988, they set the deadline for nationwide rollout to be exactly two years later, on July 16, 2022. 

You may wonder why such an important update—particularly one decided on during the wild time* that was life in 2020—needed two full years to take effect, you’re not alone. And we have the answer! With any major change such as this, a new nationwide code, the FCC always banks in plenty of time (typically two years) to allow the numerous networks and related telecom platforms operating across the country time to implement any necessary updates. It’s not that it actually takes that long to set up a new number—here at OnSIP we knocked it out fairly quickly—it’s that the FCC wants to err on the side of extra buffer time. You never know what other projects and maintenance are already on the docket for telecom teams. The extended timeline ensures that everyone will be able to plan for and handle any necessary network changes by the deadline. That way when the switch is flipped so to speak, the FCC knows that it’s functional everywhere.

*extreme understatement.

What Does 988 Mean for Me?

In terms of your business phone system? Very little! Here’s what we’ve done at OnSIP:

  1. From now on, every new account automatically has the 988 extension pointed towards the Lifeline. No work on your end required!

  2. We checked every existing customer for any current use of the 988 extension. It turns out there were only a handful, and we reached out to them directly. In a couple of cases, the customers had already provisioned the number to direct to the Lifeline—we love that proactive energy AND that they were already aware of the number’s launch. 

So in short, if you’re an OnSIP customer and are reading this, you’re good! We handled the network updates on the back end and blocked off 988 from any potential use other than its new purpose. 

As with any emergency, we truly hope you never need it, but we ensured it’s there and working if you do—just like E911

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