FREDERICK, Md. (WJZ) — The way one Maryland county handles 911 calls is getting an upgrade. Frederick County is the first in Maryland to let people text 911.

Monique Griego has more on how it works.

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It’s a new way to dial in an emergency.

“It’s a critical next step in how does a citizen in distress contact 911,” said Jack Markey, director of emergency management.

Frederick County’s emergency center can now take in calls via text message. The service is only available in a couple dozen counties nationwide. Frederick is the first in Maryland.

“Frederick is home of the Maryland School for the Deaf, so we have a large deaf and hearing impaired community,” said Chip Jewell. “We felt we’re really obligated to provide service to all the community.”

The process is as simple as it sounds. A person in distress texts to the number 911 and the call is routed to emergency communications, where an operator responds through their computer.

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“We communicate back and forth with the caller same as would a 911 call,” Jewell said.

Right now in Frederick, the service only works for Verizon Wireless customers. But by the end of the year, it will also be available on all four major carriers, which include AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint.

“One of the things that people quite often think is, well, if I can text to 911, they’ll know exactly where I am,” Markey said. “And in some cases, that’s still a limited capability depending on the phone.”

In addition to helping the hearing impaired, authorities believe text-to-911 is a life-saving alternative for when a voice call could jeopardize someone’s safety.

“There have been situations where there’s an intruder in the house or under a stressful condition,” said Jewell.

While text-to-911 is now available, authorities say if you can make a voice call, that is always the best option.

The F.C.C.’s goal is to expand the program nationwide after it’s been tried and tested in these pilot counties.

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