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MnDOT's new emergency alert system: What you need to know

MnDOT introduces new text alerts ahead of treacherous winter driving season
MnDOT introduces new text alerts ahead of treacherous winter driving season 02:59

MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Department of Transportation has a new way of alerting drivers whenever certain highways or interstates close because of poor weather conditions or significant crashes.

MnDOT started incorporating a wireless emergency alert system in August. It has yet to issue an alert, but it comes just in time as Minnesotans prepare for winter to cause some major issues on the roads.

The new messages use the same system that sends out AMBER Alerts or tornado alerts to mobile phones. The audible tone will be included as well as a message about the road closure and a link to 511 for more information.  

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MnDOT has the ability to set parameters around the road closure alerting everyone within a certain radius automatically.

The alerts can also be tied to geolocations to notify drivers coming within a certain distance of a closure even hours after the closure has begun.

These alerts are also not for every single road closure as it has to be a big event that meets certain criteria for MnDOT to push an alert.

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For starters, it has to be an incident that shuts down a major roadway for at least four hours. Secondly, MnDOT is only focusing on issues that shutdown parts of major highways and interstates in Greater Minnesota — the ones that have four lanes of traffic and see a significant amount of cars and trucks traveling on them at any given time of day.

The notifications will not be used in the metro because there are multiple alternate routes drivers can take to get around a crash or closed road, unlike parts of Greater Minnesota.  

A map of the major roads where MnDOT would issue an alert WCCO

MnDOT leaders said they hope the alerts will not only save your time, but also save your life.

"Know that these roadways are closed for a reason, that traveling in these roadways would be unsafe at that time because of the fact that our maintenance crews just can't keep up with the snow fall and the blowing snow," said Brian Kary, MnDOT's transportation system management and operations director. "So it's really recommended to either, you know, stay home or if you're already on the road, you know, seek some sort of place that you can take shelter."

Anyone can opt out of the alerts, but MnDOT cautions in doing that because it could be really helpful information when you need it most. Opting out would also mean opting out in other alerts like AMBER, tornado and shelter in place alerts. 

Texas, Pennsylvania and Georgia also use similar wireless emergency alert systems.

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