Frederick County, Md. expands text-to-911 service

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FREDERICK, Md. — Emergency communications in Frederick County, Md. just became more accessible to all of its residents.

On the 50th anniversary of centralized emergency communications services in the county, officials announced that anyone with one of the four major cell phone carriers will now be able to text 911 in an emergency.

“Frederick County is the only center in Maryland and in the Baltimore-Washington D.C.-Northern Virginia-D.C. region that has text to 911 at all,” said Jack Markey, director for the division of emergency management in Frederick County.

When the service first launched in March 2013, only Verizon Wireless customers were eligible. As of June 2015, the service is open to all Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint customers.

The enhanced accessibility is a reminder of how much Frederick County emergency communications have grown, as they celebrate 50 years of centralized emergency services.

“You used to have to call your local fire company for assistance 50 years ago. With the creation of centralized emergency communications, there became one number to call and then they would dispatch the appropriate fire department based on where that number was,” Markey said.

The Frederick County call center processed around 107,000 emergency calls last year, 83 percent of which were from cell phones. Officials said expanding the service made sense, and with the Maryland School for the Deaf located in Frederick, they saw a population that relies on this capability.

“I feel blessed to actually live in Frederick County for this reason, and I know that the deaf community in Frederick definitely feels appreciated by all [emergency personnel] as well,” said Lori Bonheyo, dean of students at the Maryland School for the Deaf.

But it also has its challenges, phone calls provide an exact location and background noise helps dispatchers assess the situation. Texting 911 provides emergency responders with the cell tower, but not the exact location, and the only correspondence is whatever message is sent from the person in distress.

However, officials said to still use the texting service if you must, and to know that their primary goal is to connect anyone who needs help with the right people or agency.

“As a citizen of Frederick County, if you call 911, we will do everything in our power to get you help,” said John Woelfel, director for the department of emergency communications in Frederick County.

Less than five percent of 911 centers in the country have this kind of service. Frederick County emergency services said they received 51 911 calls via text message last month.

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