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​Text-to-911 turns one

Dec. 6, 2018

Text to 911. Call if you can. Text if you can't

Imagine taking your pontoon on the lake with your friends for the final cruise of the season. But the motor gives out, and you’re stranded. The sun is setting and it’s getting chilly. No big deal — you just call 911, right? But what if you and your friends are deaf? A group of friends on Lower Spunk Lake found themselves in this very situation. Fortunately, they remembered that Text-to-911 is available in Minnesota. DNR Conservation Officers were dispatched to the lake, where they towed the pontoon to shore and brought all four people to safety.

Now that Minnesota’s Text-to-911 system is a year old – Emergency Communication Networks (ECN) launched it on December 5, 2017 – there are dozens of stories about the ways it has helped the deaf and hard-of-hearing community. One woman saw the driver ahead of her lose control on the ice. Before Text-to-911, she would have had to hope that a hearing person would call for help. But this time, she was able to pull over to the side of the road and do so herself. “I was proud to be able to make a contribution to society after years of not being able to reach out to 911 to assist fellow citizens when away from a videophone,” she said.

Text-to-911 isn’t only helping the deaf and hard-of-hearing community, though. There have been a lot of people over the past year who needed to be able to contact 911 via nontraditional methods. Here are some examples:

  • A hunter got lost in the woods on a cold night and didn’t have enough signal strength to call 911, but did have enough to text 911.
  • A kidnapped woman texted 911, leading to her captor’s arrest.
  • Children who were fearful of being overhead when calling 911 have texted 911 when their parents were in verbal or physical conflict.

These and other situations account for more than 4,500 texts to Minnesota 911 dispatch centers from the service’s launch until the end of November. That’s an average of about 375 texts to 911 per month, and is consistent with what was predicted. The public is heeding the slogan to call if you can and text if you can’t.

If you do have to text, dispatchers have some tips to share about how Text-to-911 can work better: The more details you can provide about the exact location where help is needed and the more promptly you answer their questions, the more quickly they can send help.

ECN has made 911 available for both voice and text throughout Minnesota. So rest assured that the next time you’re in an emergency and need to call 911, you can get help even if you can’t speak. Remember: Call if you can, text if you can’t.