Trouble speaking to 911? Try texting
Recognizing that not everyone is in a position to speak during the time of an emergency, 911 centers across the state will now accept text messages to get help rolling in the right direction.
Minnesota began Text-to-911 as an alternative to calling in an emergency when it may be unsafe for someone to speak last week.
All emergency text messages sent in Dodge County, as well as other counties throughout southeastern Minnesota, will be funneled into the Olmsted County/Rochester 911 Center, according to Mike Burton, dispatch supervisor for Dodge County. There are seven centers across Minnesota accepting the 911 text messages.
Burton said that, when the Olmsted center receives 911 texts, dispatchers will get all the necessary information and contact the appropriate agency, which will send emergency responders to the crisis.
“They will relay all the information to us via radio or phone,” he explained.
Unlike many centers around the state, the Dodge County center is currently equipped to handle text messages. The technology for text messages was added when the county installed a new phone system about two years ago, Burton said. But the texts will go to the Olmsted County center for the time being.
Burton said he expects that 911 texts will be received at the Dodge Center within six months or less.
Text-to-911 will be a direct line to help for those with hearing loss. Twenty percent of Minnesotans have some form hearing loss.
“The communication barriers they experience are frightening when seconds matter most in an emergency,” said Marie Koehler, regional manager with the Minnesota Department of Human Services Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services division. “Text-to-911 offers a solution to that overwhelming problem.”
In the past, hearing-impaired callers were connected to an interpreter through Minnesota Relay, Burton said. The interpreter, in turn, would call 911, and the three would be linked together to go back and forth with the emergency information.
Burton said the Dodge center has averaged one or two hearing impaired 911 calls each month.
The 911 texting service will also serve as an alternative when the reporting party must remain quiet to stay safe.
“Imagine having to hide from an intruder in your bedroom closet or witnessing a domestic violence situation,” said Jackie Mines, director with the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. “Text-to-911 is a lifeline for people who would put themselves in harm’s way if they called 911.”
Added Dodge County’s Burton: “Text-to-911 is a good idea for situations where a voice isn’t the best scenario. It will be a great tool.”
Even with the new texting system, Burton said, the most efficient and best way to communicate with 911 is to call via phone.
“Call if you can, text if you can’t,” he said.
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, emoji’s, pictures or slang.
- Promptly answer questions and follow instructions.
Text-to-911 comes with some challenges. For instance, emergency response may be lengthened due to the time it takes for a text to 911 to be typed and sent. Delivery of texts and speed of delivery are also not guaranteed.
Nearly 3 million 911 calls are made in Minnesota each year.