Metro area 911 leaders are boosting their communication and buying additional equipment in hopes of avoiding problems that hampered their response during riots last year.

Minneapolis officials said Thursday that they have been holding weekly meetings with regional 911 leaders, bought two additional sets of backup equipment, and are creating a dedicated line of communication should more unrest happen during the murder trial of former officer Derek Chauvin.

"This is a plan that we're working on not just within Minneapolis, but how will this work if something happens in another city," Minneapolis interim 911 director Joni Hodne said during a news conference Thursday morning.

During the riots after George Floyd's death last year, many residents complained that they couldn't get through to 911 or responses were slow.

When cell towers flooded with traffic, some calls got automatically transferred to other counties, which lacked the technology to share information as phone lines jammed and emergency radios crowded with traffic.

"If the cell towers become overloaded and we have calls routing into partner agencies, we've developed a dedicated radio channel that can be used to communicate between the [911 centers] so they're not having to call into our already overloaded telephone lines," Hodne said.

"Should our 911 calls roll to another dispatch center, they can communicate to us on that 911 radio line as well or transfer medical emergency calls directly to our medical partners."

The metro area has 25 911 centers. Each has a computer-aided dispatch system, which allows workers to send call information to officers in the field, often by pinging it to computers in their cars.

An after-action review conducted by the Metropolitan Emergency Services Board recommended buying technology that would connect those systems, allowing them to share information electronically when other communication lines jam. That solution is far off. Before they can buy a new system, regional 911 centers first need to develop funding plans and legal agreements governing how they would share information.

"This is an interim" solution, City Coordinator Mark Ruff said of the dedicated radio channel for 911 centers.

In addition, Hodne said they are working with other 911 centers in the area to boost staffing if needed.

Ruff said the city has also purchased additional backup 911 equipment and placed it in two publicly owned buildings "so that we have redundancy in our system."

The city's previous backup 911 equipment had been in the city's Third Precinct police station, which burned during the riots last year.

In hopes of reducing call volume, the city is also releasing guidance to help residents determine when they should call 911 or another city office.

Hodne said people should call 911 for emergencies when someone's life or safety is at risk and a police officer, firefighter or medic is needed immediately. People can call the MPD tip line (612-692-8477) to report suspicious activity, and should use 311 for nonemergency calls, Hodne said.

Liz Navratil • 612-673-4994