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An innovation that keeps Minnesotans safe

Aug. 13, 2018

Emergency Communication Networks representatives with a Minnesota State Government Innovation Award for text-to-911
Dan Craigie (from left), Dustin Leslie, Dana Wahlberg, Cathy Anderson, Carol Schmidt and Jackie Mines accepted a Minnesota State Government Innovation Award last week for ECN’s Text-to-911 campaign.

Text-to-911 is a bit precocious. It’s only eight months old, and it has already won an award. Emergency Communication Networks (ECN) received a Minnesota State Government Innovation Award (SGIA) for it at a ceremony last week. The judges reviewed 62 applicants and ECN’s Text-to-911 campaign was among the top 10 programs to receive recognition.

Criteria for winning the award include proving that the work took place within the last two years and demonstrating growth beyond its conceptual state. Text-to-911 certainly fits the bill: It’s brand-new, and it has progressed quickly and made quite the impact on the safety of Minnesotans. From December through June, there were 2,500 Text-to-911 messages sent to 911 dispatch centers across the state. There were 450 texts sent in June alone.

Judges from the Public and Nonprofit Leadership Center at the University of Minnesota Humphrey School of Public Affairs selected the winners, including ECN, the Minnesota Department of Transportation and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, which, like ECN, is a division of the Department of Public Safety, won an SGIA last year for their electronic search warrant application system called eSearch Warrants.

The SGIAs provide a formal recognition of something Minnesotans have already begun to realize: that by bringing this vital, life-saving service to Minnesotans, many of them from underserved populations, ECN is solving a problem in an innovative way. Text-to-911 technology allows people who are deaf, deafblind, hard of hearing or speech impaired to get the help they need when they need it. And if for any reason a person can’t breathe or speak, or the microphone on their device doesn’t work, they can still contact 911.

What’s more, ECN is blazing a trail. The majority of the U.S. has not deployed Text-to-911. Those states that have, have done so one agency at a time. But ECN felt that all Minnesotans deserved to have text-capable emergency services available all at once, instead of one region or county at a time. And Minnesota’s implementation of Text-to-911 is so innovative, it’s being used as a model by other states, as well as the National Association of State 911 Administrators.

ECN’s new award is a good reminder that Text-to-911 is available statewide – but remember, only use it if you can’t make a voice call: Call if you can, text if you can’t.