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School for deaf testing Frederick Co. text to 911 system

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WASHINGTON — Contacting 911 via text is ideal for the hearing impaired, but being deaf can make it more difficult to learn when something new like that is available.

Frederick County Emergency Communications is working with the Maryland School for the Deaf and its emergency management division to introduce its roughly 230 students and staff to the text to 911 system.

“We’re starting with the employees and working with them to be able to test the 911 and for them to be able to see how it works,” said Kristie Dutrow, administrator of Quality Assurance and Training for Frederick County Emergency Communications.

Frederick County’s text to 911 program began in 2013. It expanded to include AT&T, Sprint, Verizon and T-Mobile about a year ago. But Dutrow said the message about its availability wasn’t getting to some of the people most in need of the information.

“The Maryland School for the Deaf [located in Frederick City] is one of the main reasons Frederick County was chosen for the text to 911 pilot program,” said Dutrow.

The county’s text to 911 program receives about 45 messages a month — predominantly people testing the system to see how it works.

Providing an example of a real-life situation, Dutrow said a boy texted for help while hiding in a safe location after someone entered his home.

Responding police learned the person was not an intruder, but an unexpected member of the extended family.

First responders prefer people make phone calls to 911 if at all possible. That allows dispatchers to hear background noise and continue listening even if the caller drops the phone.

Also, text to 911 isn’t a perfect system because of the nature of how it functions.

“We all know how texting can be delayed because of the service,” Dutrow said. “You know when we’re texting one another sometimes it takes a while to get a text to go through.”

Some circumstances though make texting particularly advantageous.

“With, for example, an active shooter. If you’re in the same room with that person. [Or] a domestic violence situation,” Dutrow said.

Right now, Frederick County’s text to 911 system is web based and not integrated into the county’s Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) so all exchanges have to be typed twice.

The person responding to an audible alarm indicating there’s a text for help has to type back to the texter and also quickly transcribe into the CAD system information for radio dispatchers to provide to first responders.

“We’re hoping to integrate it into our [CAD] phone system soon,” Dutrow said.

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