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911 Upgrade Changing Way Emergencies are Reported

Updated: 03/07/2014 7:31 PM
Created: 03/07/2014 3:03 PM KAALtv.com
By: Hannah Tran

(ABC 6 News) -- For decades, an emergency response comes after a phone call, but that will change.

"Taking a quick photo and being able to send that out is something that a lot of people are used to these days," said Ken Jones, Emergency Management Director for the Rochester Fire Department.

Photos or text messages can be preferred or convenient ways to communicate. Nationwide some emergency crews are acknowledging this.

"We're recognizing the fact that digital communication has fundamentally changed the way we communicate," said Timothy Heroff, Captain at Rochester's Police Department.

Minnesota is among 8 states in the nation that are completing a new system called the "next Generation 911 network, or NG911. It's still in the works, but the wiring and equipment to go from analog to digital is in place.

"It will expand the ways people can call for help," said Jones.

Old analog systems from the 1960's have been replaced with a new internet based system. Calls are now clearer and faster, but other features will come later. As one official put it... "they have all the wiring, now they just need to turn on the lights.  

"Eventually we will be able to accept incoming calls via text message or streaming video for instance," said Heroff.

Dispatchers will get text messages when a voice call to 911 is not possible or safe, or if the caller has a hearing impairment. Callers can also send pictures or videos that can provide crucial details of an emergency.

"If we get more accurate information about what's going on, that will only help us," said Jones.