After years in the works, Minnesota's 911 system is close to accepting text messages.
Carver County became the first county in the state to make the move to Next Generation 911 back in 2011. Then in 2014, Minnesota was completely connected to the system.
But even with the entire state on the new emergency system that promises better coverage and more safety opportunities, there are still several roadblocks that need to be worked out.
Director of Communications for Allina Health EMS, Chris Kaufman, told BringMeTheNews for about five years they've been working on a system that will allow people to reach help by simply texting 911, but there are "a lot of pieces to the puzzle."
Some delays were caused by the fact that not all 911 centers in the state have the capability to receive text messages.
But Kaufman says enough have made the upgrade and he believes the texting capabilities will roll out by the end of 2016. It will start in the Twin Cities area and expand from there.
Metaphorically, he says the "freeway" to the system has been built. Now they just need to work on getting everyone on it.
According to Kaufman, the hope is that text messages will allow people to call for help when they need to be quiet. For example, if someone is hiding from a burglar, he or she can silently send a text message rather than talk into the phone and risk being found by the criminal.
The director of communications says he's very excited for the new update, adding it will be another milestone for Minnesota safety, like caller ID and cell phones.
Photo and video to follow
The Next Generation 911 system won't stop at text messaging.
According to Kaufman, photo and video capabilities are coming too.
He says the upgrade will allow people to take a photo or video of the situation and send it to a 911 center. The center will then be able to transfer it to first responders.
This will give first responders a better idea of the situation before they arrive. For example, if there's a bad car crash, first responders can use the photo or video to determine the best route to approach the accident and whether or not they'll need additional crews or a helicopter.
He expects those capabilities to roll out about a year after text messaging.
Emergency call center outages
Kaufman told BringMeTheNews these new upgrades are also a step towards stopping 911 outages that occur throughout the state, especially in Greater Minnesota.
In 2014, an outage caused 911 to miss about 6,600 calls, the Star Tribune Reports. Last October, there was an outage that affected parts of St. Louis County. And just last month, Forum News Service says an outage hit Felton.
Market Place has said that's a result of transitioning between old and new technology.
According to Kaufman, Minnesota is well on its way to getting past those outages. As the new systems rolls out, he says 911 call centers will even be able to pinpoint exactly where people are calling from.
Right now, not all areas – particularly those in northern parts of the state – have that capability.