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You can text 911 now in Minnesota – but it's not as safe as calling

What Minnesotans need to know about Text-to-911.
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The Essentials

– Minnesotans are now able to text 911 during an emergency, thanks to a new development from the Department of Public Safety (DPS) called "Text-to-911." All of Minnesota's 104 emergency dispatch centers have been trained on the new technology.

– You can text 911 by entering the numbers in the "To" field and sending a message that includes your location and type of emergency. Just like a fake phone call, it's a crime to text 911 with a false report.

– It comes with challenges, such as a 160 character limit, so calling 911 is still the best way to reach emergency dispatchers. The DPS says "Call if you can, text if you can't."

The Big Picture

It's hard to believe this doesn't exist everywhere already, considering how useful it could be in certain situations. But according to the Star Tribune, of the 6,400 emergency call centers nationwide, only about 20 percent have the capability to respond to texts

It's a solution for people who must remain quiet during a dangerous situation, and can't make a phone call safely.

It's also a breakthrough for the 20 percent of Minnesotans who have some form of hearing loss. Until now, deaf Minnesotans haven't had a direct way to communicate with 911 centers.

That being said, Text-to-911 has some limitations:

  • Typing and sending texts takes time. A dispatcher and a reporting party could be delayed.
  • Location is not as accurate with text as it is with a call. Officials stress the importance of texting your exact address.
  • A text or data plan is required.
  • Texts to 911 will bounce back if you are roaming.
  • Texts to 911 have a 160 character limit and can get out of order.
  • There is no language translation service.
  • If customers are outside of Minnesota or along a neighboring border, texts to 911 may not be received by a dispatcher.
  • There's no guarantee on the speed of delivery, or whether the text will be received.

Officials say the new texting service should be used only when a person has hearing loss or cannot safely make a voice call.

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