ST. PAUL — The first year of Minnesota’s statewide Text-to-911 system is showing that the service is saving lives and making it easier to contact first responders.
The Department of Public Safety Emergency Communication Networks division (DPS-ECN) reports that dispatchers received more than 4,500 texts since the program’s deployment in December 2017, an average of 375 texts per month.
Text-to-911 provides a direct lifeline for the 20 percent of Minnesotans who have some form of hearing loss. DPS-ECN has worked closely with the Minnesota Commission of Deaf, Deafblind and Hard of Hearing Minnesotans to educate the public about the service.
“Text-to-911 is an alternative lifeline for people who would put themselves in harm’s way if they called 911,” said DPS-ECN Director Dana Wahlberg. “But it’s also clear that Text-to-911 is solution to the communication barrier that deaf and hard of hearing Minnesotans experience in an emergency.”
Here are three ways deaf Minnesotans utilized Text-to-911 in the first year:
“It was a snowy and slippery day when I was traveling behind a vehicle on a ramp going downhill to the highway when the driver lost control and went down into the ditch and then into the highway where the driver pulled over to the side. I was able to pull over and send a text to 911 with the location and color of vehicle and to ask an officer to check on the individual. If it was not for being able to text 911, I would have just driven away and hoped someone would contact 911. This time it was not the case, and 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.”
- Tracy Bell
“I really appreciate the ability to text to 911, and being able to have it communicated. I felt human, equal to my peers who can hear. Thank you!”
- Chelsea Paulson
“My Sorenson videophone stopped working so luckily a friend of mine said (we) can text 911… I’m grateful for text to 911… (it) literally saved us!”
- Mande Andrews
(Rescued from Lower Spunk Lake after a boat motor became disabled.)
Text-to-911 is a valuable alternative for hearing individuals who must remain quiet to stay safe or who can’t speak in an emergency. People have also utilized the service when signal strength was lacking or when their microphones/speakers were inoperable. The following are examples of how Text-to-911 was used to seek help:
- A suicidal individual did not feel comfortable talking to someone, so they texted for help instead.
- An abducted woman texted 911, leading to her captor’s arrest.
- Children who were fearful of being overhead when calling 911 have texted when their parents were in a verbal or physical conflict.
- A hunter became 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 person had difficulty breathing from a panic attack and could not speak, so they texted 911.
Text-to-911 should only be used in emergencies and when speaking is not an option.
“Dispatchers report receiving texts for non-emergencies or in situations where it would be preferable to speak to 911,” said Wahlberg. “Text-to-911 users should be ready to answer follow-up questions promptly as delayed replies will also delay response times.”
Remember: Call if you can, text if you can’t.
- Provide an accurate location, cross street or well-known landmark in your initial text. Dispatchers cannot send help if they don’t know where you are.
- 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 that there is no emergency.
If there is an emergency and you cannot call 911, take these steps:
- Enter the numbers 911 in the “To” field.
- Text your exact address and type of emergency.
- Send the message.
- Use simple words, but do not include abbreviations, emojis, pictures or slang.
- Promptly answer questions and follow instructions.
About the Minnesota Department Public Safety
The Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS) comprises 11 divisions where 2,100 employees operate programs in the areas of law enforcement, crime victim assistance, traffic safety, alcohol and gambling, emergency communications, fire safety, pipeline safety, driver licensing, vehicle registration and emergency management. DPS activity is anchored by three core principles: education, enforcement and prevention.
About the Emergency Communication Networks
The Emergency Communication Networks Division oversees the Statewide 911 Program, which provides immediate access from all telephones to critical public safety services. ECN also oversees the Allied Radio Matrix for Emergency Response (ARMER) radio communications network, the Interoperability Program, Integrated Public Alert and Warning Systems (IPAWS), and a statewide Wireless Broadband initiative in coordination with FirstNet.