ST. PAUL — In a move that’s been long-awaited and much-anticipated, Minnesotans can now send a text to 911 during an emergency when calling isn’t possible or safe.
The Department of Public Safety Emergency Communication Networks developed the service, called Text-to-911, and it’s now available throughout the state.
“Imagine having to hide from an intruder in your bedroom closet or witnessing a domestic violence situation,” said DPS-ECN Director Jackie Mines.
“Text-to-911 is a lifeline for people who would put themselves in harm’s way if they called 911,” she said. “Speaking with a dispatcher is still the fastest way to receive help, so call if you can, text if you can’t.”
The addition of Text-to-911 also means people who have some form of hearing loss will now be able to use the service as a first-contact option.
Until Tuesday, deaf Minnesotans have gone without a direct way to communicate with 911 call centers.
“Twenty percent of Minnesotans have some form of hearing loss,” said Marie Koehler, regional manager of the Minnesota Department of Human Services, Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services division.
“The communication barriers they experience are frightening, when seconds matter most in an emergency,” Koehler said.
ECN worked to train dispatchers and test the equipment for the Text-to-911 system. The deployment in the state is fully funded by 911 fees collected from all devices capable of originating a 911 emergency phone call.
If there is an emergency and you can’t call 911, follow these steps:
• Enter the numbers 911 into the “To” field.
• Text your exact address and type of emergency.
• Send the message.
• Use simple words, but do not use abbreviations, emojis, photos or slang.
• Promptly answer questions and follow instructions.
The texting system comes with challenges, however, including a longer response time because of the time it takes for a text to be written and sent.
Delivery of texts — and the speed of delivery — are also not guaranteed.
The text service should only be used in emergencies, officials warn. Texting 911 with a false report is a crime.
If you accidentally send a text to 911, send another text, or call 911 to let the dispatcher know there is no emergency.