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Text-to-911 is six months old and going strong

June 7, 2018

A 911 dispatcher responds to a text
A 911 dispatcher responds to a text. When texting 911, be ready to answer questions promptly, use simple words, and avoid emojis and pictures. And remember: Call if you can, text if you can’t.

An estimated 10 to 14 percent of Minnesotans have hearing loss, and when you look at the over-65 crowd, that number jumps to nearly one third. That’s a lot of people who need to be able to contact 911 via nontraditional methods. So when Text-to-911 was launched six months ago, it was a direct benefit to the deaf and hard of hearing community.

What’s surprising, though, is how many other groups have benefited from being able to summon emergency services via text. So far, 911 dispatchers have received texts from people unable to speak because of panic attacks, asthma attacks and domestic disputes, as well as suicidal people and those whose microphones are disabled or inoperable.

Another circumstance in which Text-to-911 is beneficial is when you don’t have enough of a signal to make a call, but a text will go through. This scenario played out in Beltrami County, when a hunter got lost in the woods on a cold night. His remote location didn’t allow him to get a call out, but he could text, and rescuers were able to pinpoint his phone signal, find him in the woods, and get him to safety.

Children have used the new service, as well. Several have already texted 911 when their parents were in verbal or physical conflict and they knew making a call would put them in danger. And in a recent hostage situation that spanned several counties, a kidnapped woman texted 911, leading to her alleged captor’s arrest.

These and other situations account for the more than 2,054 texts to 911 dispatch centers since the service’s launch in December of 2017. That’s an average of 342 texts to 911 per month.

Unfortunately, some of those texts were about non-emergency situations, and worse, pranks. Use Text-to-911 the same way you’d use traditional 911: to report actual emergencies, not erratic drivers, downed trees or poor road conditions (and this seems like a good time to remind you that, even in an emergency, you should never text while driving). And where pranks are concerned, it’s important to remember that texting 911 with a false report is against the law. A teenage prankster in southwest Minnesota learned this when he dared dispatchers to find him after he texted 911 as a prank. They did exactly that.

And although texting 911 is a great resource, remember that calling should always be your first option. The background noise and vocal inflections dispatchers hear when you call can help them help you. Always call if you can, text if you can’t. And be ready to answer questions promptly, use simple words, and avoid emojis and pictures.

If the first six months are any indicator, Text-to-911 will help Minnesotans get help in emergencies for years to come.