Camden County is to become the first in New Jersey to accept 911 requests by text message.

Authorities hope the service will be available by July.   

County freeholder Scot McCray said the changes will allow people to get help even when they can't talk on the phone -- as may be the case in a home robbery. 

“They may need to be quiet, they may need to find covering or hiding somewhere,” McCray said. “The traditional method of dialing 911 or trying to find a phone may not be that easy."
 
Texting will also allow those who are deaf or hard of hearing to communicate with dispatchers without special equipment.

"There are roughly 34 million Americans who are deaf or hard of hearing who have speech impairments, “ said Brian Fontes, head of the National Emergency Number Association.  “Americans who rely almost exclusively on texting. This is good news."

The move is part of an emerging nationwide trend.  Fontes said 911 texting services are available in a handful of states and municipalities, but he believes Camden will be the first in this region.

The county’s dispatchers will be able to read and answer texts, and pinpoint the sender's location if the phone has GPS technology.

The text messaging capabilities, which will cost about $600,000, are part of a larger $35 million overhaul of the county's emergency communication systems.