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Ask the Chief: Be aware of cellular limitations with 911

Red Wing Police Chief Roger Pohlman

"Ask The Chief" is a weekly post allowing readers access to useful information about law enforcement issues in the city of Red Wing. This communication tool has been developed to enhance our community policing efforts by providing residents and visitors with the opportunity to ask questions about local laws, programs, and the Department in general.

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Q: When calling 911 from a residence in Wisconsin we get answered by Red Wing 911 operators and then are transferred to Pierce County, where the reason for the call has to be explained again. One instance was a fire. Isn't there a way to communicate across the border without transferring and losing valuable time in response?

A: Thank you for your question. This situation happens quite often along borders, as cellular phones transmit through the nearest tower, which may be in the neighboring state. This is also the reason why we recommend, that when calling 911 from a cellular phone, provide your address/location in case the call is disconnected/lost.

In checking with our local Goodhue County Sheriff's Office Dispatch supervisor, the following was confirmed: If the call was made from a landline phone, it would go directly to the correct answering point. Currently, there is no data exchange between Minnesota and Wisconsin 911 systems (caller phone number, call location, etc.).

One of the first questions a dispatcher will ask, what is your emergency and what is the location of your emergency. Based on that information the call could be handled by the answering PSAP (dispatch) or transferred to the PSAP in the location of the emergency. As a general rule, the transferring agency will update the receiving agency with the information they have gathered. Each PSAP has its own procedures for handling calls in their service area.

As the call is being dispatched, the dispatcher is also asking more detailed questions about the incident which can be relayed to the responding agencies.

The short answer to your question, until technology allows for automatic forwarding of you cellular phone call to the appropriate jurisdiction, we will have to rely on transferring or relaying your emergency information.

Also, in case you were not aware, Minnesota (and most other states) has a statute that requires cellular carriers to provide free 911 calling services. In most cases this will also allow cellular phones without a subscriber contract to still be able to contact 911.

It is important to be aware of these cellular limitations and capabilities can be critical in an emergency situation. Stay aware, stay safe!


1. Federal Communication Commission, Understanding Wireless Telephone Communications. Located on-line at:

2. Minnesota Statute #403.025, 911Emergency Telecommunications System Required. Located on-line at: