MD to implement text-to-911 system


Cartoon by Jenny Lu.

By Hannah Feuer

The Maryland Board of Public Works voted in February to approve a 2.4 million dollar program providing first responders the technology and equipment to receive and respond to text messages. Individual counties will choose whether or not to implement the program locally and are expected to have the texts operating next month.

The ability to text is primarily meant to provide the deaf and those with hearing and speaking disabilities with access to first responders, but texts can also aid in situations where being overheard may create more danger. Counties that choose to participate will join approximately one third of U.S. counties that already have systems allowing residents to text 911.

Everyone should have the ability to contact police, fire or ambulance in an emergency situation,” Renata Seergae, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services said.

People are still advised to call 911 when they can; the texting system doesn’t permit messages over 160 characters, photos or videos. In addition, unlike calling, texting doesn’t automatically send first responders the location of the person in need.

Frederick County implemented the system as part of a five-year pilot study, and the program has been running smoothly, the Baltimore Sun reports. The texts aren’t overused; first responders received an average of only two to three dozen texts per month in the county.

In this day and age, there are going to be times when texting is more efficient than calling,” junior Callia Chuang said. “If texting 911 will help more people in an emergency, we should by all means implement it.”