Text-to-911 launched statewide

By Sophie Keefe, News Editor

An alternative to calling 911 in the case of an emergency was set forth on Dec. 5, according to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.

This service, named Text-to-911, will come in handy during situations where an individual is unable to call 911. If the reporting party will be put in further danger by speaking aloud, such as in cases of active shooter incidents, home invasion, domestic violence or human trafficking, the victim can use this more discreet method to seek help. Additionally, about 1 million Minnesotans who are deaf, are hard of hearing or have a speech impairment now have a first contact option if they find themselves in trouble.

“This will save lives,” said Aaron Gutzke in an interview for the “Star Tribune.” Gutzke is the executive director of ThinkSelf Inc., a non profit organization based in St. Paul that provides advocacy and education for deaf adults. “Imagine someone broke into your house in the middle of the night. You would want to be able to text 911 and say, ‘Someone is in my house.’”

This kind of alternative has been anticipated for a long time. It has been 49 years since the 911 system was launched nationwide, and since then people who are deaf have relied on faulty alternatives, from asking other people to call for them to the limited access of an online video relay service which connects callers to an interpreter at a call center. According to the “Star Tribune,” this could take minutes, putting the caller at higher risk.

The steps listed by the Department are as follows:

1) Enter the numbers 911 in the “To” field.

2) Text your exact address and type of emergency.

3) Send the message.

4) Use simple words, but do not include abbreviations, emojis, pictures or slang.

5) Promptly answer questions and follow instructions.

Although this is great news for people unable to call 911, dispatchers don’t want this to become the new primary method for reaching their call centers. It takes more time for text messages to send than for a call to connect. In addition, calls allow dispatchers to gather cues from vocal inflection and background noises.

“Speaking with a dispatcher is still the fastest way to receive help, so call if you can, text if you can’t,” said DPS-ECN Director Jackie Mines during a press release from the DPS Office of Communications.

This article first appeared in the Friday, December 15, 2017, Edition of The Echo.