Frederick County Citizens Can Now Text 911 Operators
WFMD-AM - Online

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It's now a little easier for some Frederick County residents to contact a 911 operator in the event of an emergency. County officials on Thursday afternoon unveiled a system where Verizon Wireless customers can text their requests for police, fire and ambulance services to the Emergency Communications Center.

"As we look forward to the promise of next generation of 911, no one has been a more tireless advocate then the hearing-impaired community for making that service available so that access to emergency services has less barriers for all citizens," said Jack Markey, Director of the County's Division of Emergency Management.

The announcement of this new service was made at the Law Enforcement Complex, where the county's Emergency Communications Center is housed.

The system was developed due to a partnership with the county, Verizon Wireless, TeleCommunications Systems, Inc., and the Maryland Emergency Number Systems Board. It formally began operations Thursday evening, Markey says.

Frederick County is only jurisdictions in Maryland to have this service, and one of six in the country, according to officials.

While a lot was made of the benefit to the hearing-impaired who use this service, it isn't exclusively for them, says Drew Morin, the Chief Technical Officer for TeleCommunications Systems, Inc. "Whether it's somebody whose not able to make a phone call at that point in time, they can't get through because the phone lines are congested, or they just don't have the ability, or if they are hearing impaired or speech impaired," says Morin. "So this technology is really for all of us."

While this system will help those who, for some reason, can't call 911 by phone, it can't precisely locate the person needing help. "This is a wireless, phase one, location, which means we know what cell phone tower it orginated from, what segment it's coming from. But we still do not yet have full GPS capabilities in the system as it's deployed now," says Markey.

With all this technology, Markey says using the telephone to call 911 is still the most efficient way to reach emergency services. "We still encourage all citizens with the capability to call 911, to make a voice call," he says. "Critically, important, we can get additional location information based on location when we have a voice call that's not currently available in the text to the 911 environment."

County officials say customers must be within the range of a cell tower in Frederick County in order to text a 911 message, and each text can have no more than 160 characters. Verizon Wireless customers who have Usage Controls on their phones should remove that feature in order to ensure full text to 911 capability.