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What to do during a 911 service disruption

Feb. 3, 2020

Graphic that says 10 digit 911 dispatch numbers


Emergencies can be scary and overwhelming. Fortunately, you’ve probably had the numbers “911” drilled into you from a very young age. That way, even if your brain can do nothing else, it can remember to dial those three numbers. But what happens when there’s a temporary service disruption and those three numbers don’t work?

As the managers of the 911 system in Minnesota, the Department of Public Safety division of Emergency Communication Networks (DPS-ECN) expects it to be reliable and dependable, just like you do. So when a 911 outage happens – like it did for a few hours on the night of Jan. 19 in southeastern Minnesota – DPS-ECN works with our state’s contracted 911 service provider, CenturyLink, to resolve it and find out why it happened.

The outage directly affected public safety answering points (PSAPs) of at least nine counties: Dodge, Freeborn, Goodhue, Mower, Olmsted, Rice, Steele, Wabasha and Winona. CenturyLink says there were 369 missed calls to 911, and their initial review shows an issue with a connection to a 911 router in Rochester. DPS-ECN is still working to obtain the official reason for the outage from CenturyLink.

As you know, technology is constantly advancing, and DPS-ECN works to keep Minnesota’s 911 system advancing right along with it. The goal of DPS-ECN’s Next Generation 911 project is to maintain a robust, secure, state-of-the-art 911 system you can depend on. Fully understanding the reason for this recent disruption can help achieve this goal.

It’s important to remember that if there is a 911 outage, there are alternatives so that you can still get the help you need in an emergency. If you call 911 and hear a fast busy signal or if the phone keeps ringing without an answer, it’s likely due to a 911 service disruption. Fortunately, there are a few other things you can try:

  • Your county has a 10-digit, 24-hour emergency number. Find it here and put it in your cell phone or write it down near your landline. If you can’t get through on 911, use the 10-digit number instead.

  • Try Text-to-911. In the most recent service disruption, Text-to-911 was operational when voice calls weren’t. (But remember, always call if you can and text if you can’t.)

  • If you’re with someone whose cell phone has a different carrier, try dialing 911 on it instead. Similarly, if you can get to a landline phone, try that.

Although things occasionally go wrong, 911 is still a number you can trust in an emergency and should always be the first thing you try.