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911 Callers Will One Day Send Photos, Text Messages To Dispatchers

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(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS) Edgar Linares
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – It took more than two years to upgrade Minnesota’s 911 system, but work just wrapped up. Now, all emergency call centers across the state are connected to the Next Generation 911 network (NG911).

Last week, Red Lake County finished its connection to NG911, completing its statewide link. In November 2011, Carver County was first to use NG911.

“The current system is working just fine,” said Dana Wahlberg, Minnesota’s 911 program manager. “But, it’s been in place since the mid-1960s, when everybody used a land line.”

Now, with many people using smartphones, NG911 will help call centers handle loads of data in the future.

Wahlberg says that to this day many people in Minnesota still think they can text to 911. Unfortunately, they can’t.

Last June, the Minnesota Department of Public Safety announced AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile had committed to sending an automated reply instructing senders to make a voice call. The message reads: “Make a voice call to 911 for help. Text to 911 is not available.”

“This is a network that is going to be robust enough to manage data as well as voice,” Wahlberg said.

Eventually, NG911 will give dispatchers the ability to not only exchange text messages but photos and videos with callers.

Minnesota is one of eight states in the nation to upgrade its 911 system and only a few of those states can reply to 911 texts, Iowa being one of them.

The benefits of the new system are already noticeable.

“Many of our call centers have commented on improved clarity in the quality of the voice,” Wahlberg said.

Call centers also report getting calls six to seven seconds faster, which is essential when every second counts.

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