Requesting help for people who can't speak -- or are in a situation where it's too too dangerous for someone to hear their voice -- is becoming easier.
Frederick County, Md. on Thursday became the sixth jurisdiction in the country to offer residents the ability to text its 911 center.
Dispatchers are standing by ready to take text requests from Verizon wireless customers for police, fire or EMS services.
In December, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski announced that the nation’s four largest
wireless carriers -- AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile -- agreed to accelerate the availability of text-to-911.
The FCC put a nationwide deadline on the texting capability of May 15, 2014.
York County, Va., the first communications center to accept 911 texts, receives several hundred a month, officials noted.
Next Generaton 911 is especially important in Frederick County because that's where the Maryland School for the Deaf is located, Jack Markey, county director of emergency management.
Right now, the techology is only available to Verizon wireless customers. People with other companies should receive a message that 911 texting service won't go through.
TeleCommunication Systems, the company that provided the technology for the service, were on hand for the debut Thursday afternoon.
Drew Morin, TCS chief technology officer, said his company is proud to be part of solution.
"This technology is for all of us," he said, adding that SMS is just the first step in the process.
When a Verizon caller texts '911' on their cellphone in Frederick County, someone at the ECC will type a message back acknowledging it, and asking for the address of the emergency.
They also will inquire if the person can make a regular or voice call.
If not, they will continue typing following a script to ask questions of the caller.
ECC Director Chip Jewell said he learned from hearing impaired folks attending the press conference that certain words may have to be modified to assist the deaf population.
"They told me that 'exactly' doesn't exist in their language," he said, adding that the county will be modifying protocols as the project moves along.
He added that once a text message is initiated, the dispatchers will hold it open to ensure the information is garnered before releasing it.
"This is another tool for us to better serve the public," he added.
Anthony Myers, who heads the state's Emergency Numbers Systems Board, lauded Frederick County for stepping up to be the pilot program.
Myers said the rest of the state will be anxious to hear how it works.