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Text-to-911

Minnesotans who are deaf, deafblind or hard of hearing have often gone without a direct way to call 911 dispatchers if they experience an emergency. They were not without total access to contacting emergency services. For example, 911 call centers have TTYs. However, not many people use TTYs anymore. A TTY user might use a relay service with an operator to type and voice the communication. A videophone user might use Video Relay Services (VRS) with a professional sign language interpreter to sign and voice the communication. Or a person might use an amplified phone or a captioned phone to call for help. Or a person might ask a friend, family member, neighbor or even a stranger call for them. In an emergency, timing is critical. Community members needed the ability to text 911 for help for improved access to emergency services.

Who this impacts

  • Minnesotans and visitors who are deaf, deafblind, hard of hearing or have a speech disability.
  • Minnesotans and visitors who are in a situation where it is unsafe to talk.

Solution

As of December 5, 2017, Text-to-911 has been deployed statewide in Minnesota! Text-to-911 is an alternative option to calling 911 in an emergency and should only be used when individuals are unable to make a voice call. Individuals who are deaf, deafblind, hard of hearing, or speech impaired may use Text-to-911 as a first contact option. Remember, "Call if you can, text if you can't."

A PSA video will be released shortly. There will be several in-person events to help explain Text-to-911 to the community. To inquire about community events, contact anne.sittner-anderson@state.mn.us or marie.koehler@state.mn.us for more information. In the meantime, here is important information about using Text-to-911 from the Emergency Communication Networks website:

When Should Text-to-911 be Used? 

  • The reporting party cannot speak while a crime is in progress.
  • The reporting party must remain quiet to stay safe.
  • If speaking may cause harm, such as in a home invasion, domestic violence, or human trafficking situation.
  • If the reporting party encounters a suicidal or agitated person.
  • If peer pressure is strong.
  • If the reporting party is deaf, deafblind, hard of hearing, or has a speech impairment.

How to text 911 

  • Enter the numbers 911 in the "To" field.
  • Text message should include your location and type of emergency.
  • Send the message.
  • Be ready to answer questions and follow instructions.
  • Use simple words.
  • Do not use abbreviations, emojis, pictures or slang. (BRB, IDK, THX, 2day and BTW, for example)
  • Do not text and drive.

It is a crime to text 911 with a false report. If you accidentally send a text to 911, send another text or place a call to let the dispatcher know that there is no emergency.

What Dispatchers Need to Know 

  • Dispatchers prefer to speak with reporting parties whenever possible.  
  • Upon receiving a text, dispatchers will ask if they can call the reporting party.
  • People who are deaf, deafblind, hard of hearing, or have a speech impairment
  • should inform the dispatcher right away.  
  • Be ready to give the dispatcher your location.
  • Be ready to describe the type of emergency.

Did You Know?: Challenges and Limitations 

911 dispatchers will process texts with the same priority as voice calls. However, public safety response time may be lengthened due to the time it takes for a text message to be typed and transmitted between a dispatcher and a reporting party. There is no guarantee on the speed of delivery for texts to 911.

  • Location is not as accurate with text as it can be with a call.
  • If customers are outside of Minnesota or along a neighboring border, texts to 911 may not be received by a dispatcher.
  • Texts to 911 will get a bounce back if a customer is roaming.
  • Wireless customers must have mobile phones that are capable of sending text messages.
  • Usual charges will apply to texts made to 911.
  • Texts to 911 have the same 160 character limit as other text messages.
  • Texts to 911 can get out of order or may not be received at all.
  • There is currently no language translation service for texts to 911

Visit the Minnesota Department of Public Safety's Text-to-911 website for additional information.

Who was involved

  • Minnesota Department of Public Safety Department of Communications
  • Minnesota Department of Public Safety Emergency Communication Networks
  • Minnesota Commission of the Deaf, DeafBlind & Hard of Hearing (MNCDHH)
  • Minnesota Department of Human Services Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services Division

Testimonials

My husband and I are both senior citizens. I have Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT). It is wonderful to know that if we ever need urgent medical attention, we now have the option of using Text-to-911 to get help.” - Lea Bourassa

“When I am at home, I have a pull cord to use if I need emergency services. When texting on my iPhone 6s Plus, I have the background black and the letters white, then I enlarge the font as much as I can. I also insert magnifiers on my glasses, which helps me read my text. Text-to-911 when I am out would be the best way for me.” - Ridge Euler 

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