Minnesota completes statewide 911 system upgrade

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More than two years after the transformation began, Minnesota is completely connected to an upgraded 911 system, WCCO Radio reports.

Carver County became the first county in the state to convert to the Next Generation 911 network (NG911) in November 2011, and Red Lake County finished its conversation last week, which completed the connection.

Minnesota’s 911 program manager, Dana Wahlberg, told WCCO Radio that the current 911 system is "working just fine." However, it's been in place since the mid-1960s, "when everybody used a land line," Wahlberg says.

The new system will eventually be able to accommodate smart phones, the station says, but can't accept 911 texts just yet.

To make that message clear, the Minnesota Department of Public Safety last June coordinated an effort with AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile had send an automated reply telling 911 texters to make a voice call instead, Minnesota Public Radio reported.

"Make a voice call to 911 for help. Text to 911 is not available," the message reads.

According to WCCO Radio, Minnesota is one of eight states in the nation to upgrade its 911 system with new technology.

CBS News said Waterloo, Iowa, in 2009 became the first place in nation where emergency operators could receive and reply to text messages.

The Federal Communications Commission has a list of all the states in the country that can receive 911 texts. Currently, Iowa is the only place where emergency texts can be received statewide.

In January, the FCC voted unanimously that the use of 911 texting should be widespread, the Los Angeles Times said.

"Access to 911 just simply has to keep pace with technological change," FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said.

In Minnesota, Wahlberg says the current benefits of the NG911 system includes better voice clarity. In addition, call centers are reportedly getting calls six to seven seconds faster.

In addition to text messages, the upgraded 911 system in Minnesota will someday be able to receive photos and video, WCCO Radio reports.

The blog Emergency Management says experts support the FCC's idea of 911 texting but are concerned the impact it may have to people whose area 911 call centers don't have the technology in place to accept the emergency texts.

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