Community Emergency Services and Supports Act (CESSA) FAQ


Last updated 06/03/2022 - for further updates please see the CESSA - Myth Buster: Communications Regarding CESSA Misinformation (updated 11/14/2022)

What is CESSA?

On August 25, 2021, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker signed into law the Community Emergency Services and Supports Act (CESSA), also known as the Stephon Watts Act. This new legislation requires emergency response operators such as those at 911 centers, to refer calls seeking mental and behavioral health support to a new service that can dispatch a team of mental health professionals instead of police. This marks a significant change in policy. The implementation details for this new law have been tasked to the Secretary of the Department of Human Services, who will work in concert with the 911 Administrator at the Illinois State Police, the EMS administrators under the purview of the Illinois Department of Public Health, and Statewide and Regional Advisory Committees to be established through appointment by the Secretary.

Work to implement CESSA will occur over the next year and is expected to be complete by January 1, 2023.

No procedures should change until there have been changes in protocols and standards, those changes are fully approved by all governing bodies, and critical staff are fully trained.

Official notice concerning when these changes will become "operational" will be made by the 911 Administrator and the Illinois State Police, the EMS Administrators and the Illinois Department of Public Health, and the Illinois Department of Human Services, Division of Mental Health.

What changes does the CESSA legislation require in Illinois?

By January 1, 2023:

  1. Public Safety Access Points (PSAPs) must coordinate with Mobile Crisis Response (MCR) teams DMH has developed through its Program 590 to provide a "community-based" response to low-level and low-risk behavioral health crises.
  2. Coordination will be required across 180 911 PSAPs and dispatched emergency service providers and 68 Mobile Crisis Team program grantees so mobile crisis response can be dispatched whether 988 or 911 is called.
  3. Specified training will be required for all DMH responders and 911 dispatchers.
  4. Regional best practices will be developed by the Regional Advisory Committees consistent with the physical realities of various locations.
  5. Law enforcement must be integrated into processes so that individuals involved in low-level non-violent misdemeanors can be diverted to the mental health system.
  6. The DHS Secretary shall establish of 12 Advisory Committees: one (1) Statewide Advisory Committee and eleven (11) Regional Advisory Committees to assist with the execution of this legislation.

What is the CESSA Statewide Advisory Committee?

The CESSA Act creates the Statewide Advisory Committee "to review and make recommendations for aspects of coordinating 911 and the 988 MCR system most appropriately addressed on a State level" to achieve the intent of the legislation. The Statewide Advisory Committee will serve as the oversight and governance structure for the implementation of this legislation under the auspice of the Secretary of the Department of Human Services. The Statewide Advisory Committee will consist of the following appointments to be made by the Secretary of the Illinois Department of Human Services:

  • Representative of the Secretary of DHS, Director of DMH (Non-voting Chair)
  • Statewide 911 Administrator, ex officio (Co-Chair)
  • One representative from the Illinois Department of Public Health (Co-Chair)
  • One representative from the Division of Mental Health (DMH)
  • One representative designated by the Illinois Chapter of the National Emergency Number Association (NENA)
  • One representative designated by the Illinois Chapter of the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials
  • One representative of a statewide organization of EMS responders
  • One representative of a statewide organization of fire chiefs
  • Two representatives of statewide organizations of law enforcement
  • Two representatives of mental health, behavioral health, or substance use disorder providers
  • Four representatives of advocacy organizations either led by or consisting primarily of individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities, individuals with behavioral disabilities, or individuals with lived experience.

What are the Regional Advisory Committees?

Regional Advisory Committees, utilizing the pre-existing EMS Medical Directors Committee structures under the Department of Public Health's eleven (11) EMS regions, will be charged with the development of regional best practices and protocols consistent with the realities of the locale. Once approved at the regional level, these protocols and best practices will be presented to the Statewide Advisory Group for review and approval prior to submission to the Illinois Department of Public Health for final approval pursuant to the EMS Act. The Regional Advisory Committees will consist of the following appointments to be made by the Secretary of the Illinois Department of Human Services:

  • Representatives of the 911 PSAPs in the region
  • Representatives of the EMS Medical Directors Committee, as constituted by the EMS Systems Act or other similar committee serving the medical needs of the jurisdiction
  • Representatives of law enforcement
  • Representatives of EMS providers
  • Representatives of EMS provider unions
  • Representatives of mental and behavioral health providers
  • Advocates from the mental health, behavioral health, Intellectual Disability and Developmental Disability communities (the majority of whom either have "lived" experience or from organizations composed of such individuals and reflect the racial demographics of the community).

Who were the ILGA sponsors of CESSA?

State Sen. Robert Peters (D-District 13) and Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-District 14).

The bill was organized by Access Living of Metropolitan Chicago and supported by the ACLU, the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, Answers, Inc., the Arc of Illinois, Asian Pacific American Advocates - Greater Chicago Chapter, Black Lives Matter Chicago, Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression (CAARPR), Chicagoland Autism Connection, Chicago Torture Justice Center, Chicago Women Take Action, Community Counseling Centers of Chicago (C4), Decarcerate BloNo, Equip for Equality, Family to Family, Family Health Center, First Defense Legal Aid, Howard Brown Health Center, Indivisible, Institute on Disability and Human Development - University of Illinois Chicago, Mental Health Summit, ONE Northside, RAMP CIL, Sinai Health System, STOP and SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice) Chicago.

How can I participate in the CESSA work?

All proceedings of the Advisory Committees are open to the public and meetings will be held in accordance with the Illinois Public Meetings Act (OMA) (5 ILCS 120/1). Copies of records will be posted to the Illinois Department of Human Services/Division of Mental Health (IDHS/DMH) Open Meetings page at: Further, each meeting will set aside time on the agenda for public comment.

If your agency or organization is listed as official members of these Advisory Committees, you may contact that representative to receive or offer information relevant to the proceedings.

The IDHS/DMH has established a 988 Planning Page that includes a link to subscribe to an email list that will be utilized to share information as well. 

Return to 988 Planning Page here:

To sign up for Communications from the Division of Mental Health regarding 988 and/or the Community Emergency Services and Support Act (CESSA) please complete the request form at:

To submit further questions related to 988/CESSA to the Division of Mental Health please fill out this request form:

Finally, Access Living offers ways you can get involved. Please see their website link at:

Additional Questions and Answers- 04/27/2022

  • I had heard that there is work on messaging and flyers to address public awareness.  Are there tools being created that will be provided to local communities to distribute about the new crisis response with 988 and mobile crisis teams?  How will marketing and advertising be provided to raise awareness and educate the people of availability of 988 line in Illinois?  We have discussed this locally but if there is we don't want to create redundancies.
    • There will be two sources of information regarding the transition to 988 nationally and in Illinois. Nationally, the messaging hub at will provide up to date information relevant to the nation, states and localities.  In Illinois, the 988 Planning page hosted by the Division of Mental Health will be maintained with the latest available information on both 988 and CESSA.  The Illinois page also includes a link to sign up for announcements regarding 988, CESSA, and the crisis care continuum (
    • There will be many important messages to communicate, but perhaps none more important than the idea that nothing specific will change on July 16, except that dialing 9-8-8 will connect callers to the existing National Suicide Prevention Hotline, and those calls will be routed to the Lifeline Call Centers in Illinois in the same way that calls have always been distributed.

Have all the appointments for the CESSA Statewide Advisory Committee and Regional Committees been completed?  Are there possible dates for the initial Statewide and Regional Advisory Boards meetings?  Will those be recorded and posted like the 988 Coalition Meetings?  Will the meetings be posted on the Open Meetings page?

    • The Division of Mental Health within the Illinois Department of Human Services is completing a rigorous process to appoint members to the CESSA Statewide Advisory Committee as required by the Act.  Once that process is complete, the first SAC meeting will be held.  At that point, DMH staff will begin the process of planning for the regional CESSA meetings.  It has not yet been determined if the SAC or regional meetings will be recorded and available publicly, nor if they will be subject to the state's Open Meetings Act.
  • Are there any volunteer opportunities available to assist in the planning and execution of the 988 line and CESSA?  I would like to be considered for a position on the regional CESSA committees.  Please let me know what I would need to do.
    • The Illinois Division of Mental Health is responsible for both 988 and CESSA planning and implementation.  This includes an opportunity to participate in shaping the work at the regional level as a member of the eleven CESSA regional sub-committees.  While the process to constitute those sub-committees is currently underway, interested parties can sign up for updates ( at the state's 988/CESSA information page (  Eventually, a process to create the regional sub-committees will be announced there.
  • Is there a mandate for collaboration between 911 and 988?  How will the relationship develop over time?  Will 911 operators divert calls to 988?
    • CESSA requires coordination across the many responders within Illinois crisis system, including 911 and 988.  The State's Division of Mental Health has developed an initial questions and answers document regarding CESSA, and the specific nature of the coordination of responses and services will be the subject of the CESSA Statewide Advisory Committee and the regional subcommittees.  CESSA currently calls for recommendations regarding that coordination to be developed by the end of 2022, with implementation in 2023.  Exactly how calls and callers will be handled is still to be determined.
  • How many members are on each planning council for 988 and CESSA?  Who is in charge of deciding who gets on each planning committee across the state?
    • The CESSA legislation defines what groups of people must be invited to participate on the CESSA Statewide Advisory Committee.  The Division of Mental Health is charged with leading and staffing the SAC and the regional subcommittees.
  • How will my 911 center be notified of changes and what is needed to be in compliance?
    • The process envisioned for the CESSA implementation is wide and varied, involving a statewide advisory process, subcommittees to address the technical requirements of Illinois crisis care continuum, and local processes for eleven regions across the state.  All partners in the crisis response system are identified participants within the mandate, including 911 centers and other public safety answering points (PSAPs).  The regional sub-committees have not yet been announced.  Please sign up at to receive announcements regarding aspects of 988, CESSA and associated initiatives.

    • Additional Questions and Answers- 06/03/2022

    • Are all 911 centers across Illinois required to implement CESSA?
      • Each 911 center in Illinois will be subject to the decisions of the EMS System Medical Directors, who make final recommendations regarding emergency medical response throughout the 11 EMS regions of Illinois and within their 62 individual EMS Systems, with final approval coming from the Illinois Department of Public Health which supports these regional structures. These 911 centers that dispatch an ambulance and their emergency medical response partners will be encouraged to be a part of the regional conversations regarding CESSA implementation that will be kicking off early this Summer. These regional conversations are designed to embrace the diversity of each region and develop recommendations that are responsive to local conditions and organizational relationships. Many jurisdictions in Illinois are already piloting or implementing innovative responses to community mental health crises. It is the intention of DHS/DMH and our state partners that these existing efforts be recognized and included as a part of the regional and statewide strategies to fulfill the CESSA requirements.
    • CESSA represents a significant change to the procedures that 911 operators and the police follow in terms of their work. What changes are happening now and what other changes are still to come?
      • There are no current changes to policies or procedures required by CESSA. The legislation is clear that the work required by CESSA occur through 2022, with recommendations due by January 1, 2023. Even after January 1, 2023, no procedures will change until the recommendations have been converted to protocols and standards, those protocols and standards have been fully approved by all governing bodies, and critical staff are fully trained. Until all of these implementation steps have been fulfilled, current standards and policies regarding emergency response should continue to be followed.