Question of the Week: Why dial '9' to get out?

This question has been floating around the office all week after one of our colleagues accidently dialed 9-1-1 and had the police show up. (I've done the same thing at home thinking I need to dial 9 to "get out" while making a work-related call). Why on earth do we have to dial 9 to get an outside line? With the advent of 9-1-1, couldn't it be a different number or even the '#' or '*' key? Couldn't '7' be the get out key? My admittedly limited Google searches on the topic couldn't find the answer either. Others are wondering the same thing. Wikipedia's 911 entry even talks about the dial 9 pattern as being problematic for 9-1-1. If it's some hold-over from older phone systems, can't we do it way with it now given all of our modern technology? Drop a comment or send me an e-mail if you know the answer.

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