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How and When to Use Text-to-911

The basics of texting emergency services

5/28/2019 8:59:44 AM

ASL version

If you are DeafBlind or prefer to watch the video in a slow-paced, high contrast format, watch the DeafBlind friendly ASL version instead.

English version

Text-to-911 is now available statewide. It is an important alternative to calling 911.

When to use Text-to-911.

Here is a list of when Text-to-911 could be used. 1. When it is too dangerous to call while a crime is in progress. 2. When someone must remain quiet to stay safe. 3. If peer pressure is strong. 4. When a person is deaf, deafblind, or hard of hearing.

How to use Text-to-911.

First, in the “To” space, enter 911.

Then, in the text message, text your exact address or describe your location. Explain the type of emergency. You can also choose to self-identify as someone who is deaf, deafblind, or hard of hearing.

Press “send.”

When you text 911, dispatch will ask if they can (voice) call you. If you haven’t already, you can let them know that you are deaf, deafblind, or hard of hearing and that text is the best way for you to get help.

You are not required to self-identify as deaf, deafblind, or hard of hearing if you do not want to. However, be aware that the dispatcher will ask you to call if you are not in immediate danger. This is because the technology for calling is faster and more reliable than texting.

When you get a message back, promptly answer any questions and follow instructions.

Do not use emojis, slang, GIFs, or photos. No shorthand texting (BRB, IDK, BTW, THX, etc.)

Does it really work? Can I test it?

Yes, it works! Several people who are deaf, deafblind, or hard of hearing were part of the pre-arranged testing process during the rollout back in late 2017 and early 2018.

Please do not try to test it yourself! That will take away the dispatcher’s ability to help people who are experiencing a real-life emergency.

Can I text 911 anywhere in Minnesota?

Yes, as long as you have text and cell service.

However, if you are using roaming service, the 911 text will bounce back to you. So make sure you have good cell service.

If you are not in Minnesota, or along the border of Minnesota, dispatch may not receive your 911 text.

Do I need to use an area code when I text 911? 

No, you do not need to use an area code.

Why is "Call if you can, text if you can't" the slogan? Why can't it just be "Call or text 911?"

Dispatchers prefer to receive a call instead of text because 1. They can track your location better, 2. It is faster to exchange information and 3. They can listen to background noise and get an idea of what’s going on. However, you as a deaf, deafblind, or hard of hearing person can choose between texting or calling. Use your best judgment.

What do I do if I experience barriers while trying to text 911 in Minnesota?

First, concentrate on the emergency at hand. Do what you need to do to get help. Second, save the text conversation. When the emergency is over, contact Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services Division (DHHSD) and describe what kind of barrier you experienced, as well as the date, time, and where you were located. In the past, there have been some instances where the dispatcher insisted that the person call instead of text, even after self-identifying as deaf, deafblind, or hard of hearing. However, this should be less of an issue since there has been additional training for dispatchers.

Are there other ways to contact 911 besides text?

Yes, there are several ways you can contact 911 in Minnesota. You can use your preferred device, whether it is a voice phone, captioned phone, IP relay, text, or videophone. If you use a videophone, make sure that the address linked to your videophone is correct. If you happen to use a TTY, 911 call centers are still required to have a TTY at their center.

Additional information

  • Keep your text messages short. There is a 160 character limit. Learn more at the Minnesota Department of Public Safety's Text-to-911 fact sheet (PDF).
  • The Minnesota Commission of the Deaf, DeafBlind & Hard of Hearing thanks: The Minnesota Department of Public Safety Emergency Communication Networks Division for the original content. James Paul Beldon for ASL talent. Mark Zangara for voiceover. Keystone Interpreting Solutions for film production.
  • Special thanks to the Minnesota Department of Human Services Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services Division (DHHSD) for their input.
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  • Do you have a question for MNCDHH? Send us your questions!


An earlier version of this announcement mentioned Real-Time Text (RTT) as an option. However, RTT is not yet an option for texting to 9-1-1. If you are using a cellphone with RTT compatibility, you might want to turn that feature off while texting 9-1-1.  

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