Frequently Asked Questions - Department of Public Safety

Frequently Asked Questions - Department of Public Safety

"Can I text 9-1-1?"

Customers of the four major wireless carriers (AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon) who are enrolled in their carriers’ text messaging and/or data plan can send text messages to 911 in an emergency when they are unable to place a phone call. This includes those who are deaf, hard of hearing, or speech impaired, those who may find themselves in a situation where placing a voice call could put them in danger, or those who are experiencing a medical emergency and are unable to speak.

If you need emergency services and are unable to place a phone call, you can enter 911 in the “To” line of a new text message and begin your message with the location of the emergency and the type of help needed—police, fire, or emergency medical services. Once the message has been received at the 911 call center, a 9-1-1 specialist will respond. You should be prepared to answer questions and follow instructions.

Additional tips for using text-to-911 service:

  • Call if you can, text if you can’t.
  • As with all text messages, messages to 911 may take longer to receive, may be received out of order, and/or may not be received at all.
  • If text-to-911 service is not available, you will receive a bounce-back message from your carrier telling you to place a phone or relay call instead.
  • Photos and videos cannot be received by 911 call centers.
  • English is the preferred language for text messaging, though some limited translation services may be available in your area.
  • Keep text messages short and simple and avoid using slang or abbreviations.
  • Including an additional contact on your text message may prevent it from being received by 911.
  • Do not text and drive.
"What does a State of Emergency Mean?"

First and foremost, a State of Emergency is an official tool for letting citizens know that an emergency is happening or will happen soon (for example, a large snowstorm we know will be arriving the next morning). If you learn that a State of Emergency has been declared, it’s a reminder to stay alert, monitor local news stations and weather forecasts, check for any watches or warnings, and watch for any special instructions from your local officials.

A State of Emergency may be declared at the local level by the Board of County Commissioners, at the state level by the Governor, or both, depending upon the situation.

At the local level, a State of Emergency means that the Board of County Commissioners has determined that a situation exists that requires a significant response from the emergency organization of the County to protect lives and property. During a State of Emergency, additional resources may be needed from the state or Federal levels of government to be able to effectively respond. The Carroll County Emergency Operations Plan is activated any time a local state of emergency is declared by the Commissioners.

The main job of a state level State of Emergency is to enable the Governor to call on extra resources to boost Maryland’s response to the situation that is happening. Certain resources, like the National Guard, cannot be called in to help or are only allowed to undertake certain limited actions under normal conditions. Once a State of Emergency is declared, they can be called upon to provide much more comprehensive help.

Example: You might see a State of Emergency declared just before a large winter storm, so that the National Guard can be called in to help support local snow plowing efforts. Once the worst is over, the State of Emergency ends, the National Guard deactivates, and the local crews carry on until the storm is past.

"Will schools be closed if a State of Emergency is declared?"

Not automatically. An emergency might be accompanied by school closures, but each emergency is different and has different needs. Typically, the decision on whether to close schools, even in an emergency, is made solely by the local school district. 

Be sure to monitor official school communications, sign up for alert texts/emails if your child’s school offers them, and follow local media. These are your best sources of information regarding school closures in any emergency.

"Will stores and businesses be open in a State of Emergency?"

In most cases, yes. Businesses can always make the individual choice to close if they are concerned for the safety of their employees, customers, or products, but a State of Emergency does not typically require any business to close that does not want to do so.

"Are the roads closed during a State of Emergency?"

Generally, no. Every emergency is different, but most States of Emergency do not prohibit anyone from driving, or automatically close any roads. Closing a road is typically decided upon based on assessing the conditions of that road, instead. 

You may see a road closed during a heavy storm, but it will usually be due to that road specifically being flooded, snow-covered, or otherwise dangerous. It won’t usually be due to the State of Emergency itself.

While driving is not automatically prohibited by most states of emergency, you should always consider the current conditions when deciding whether or not to drive.

"I heard about a new “State of Preparedness” - is that the same as a State of Emergency? "

In 2023, Maryland established a new State of Preparedness to help make disaster response more efficient and effective. It’s designed to do some of the same things a State of Emergency does: free up extra resources, permit easier cooperation and planning between different government agencies, and let the public know to stay aware and informed of something that might happen. The main differences are:

  1. A State of Preparedness is designed to allow these things to happen before a disaster strikes, so there’s more time to prepare and coordinate.
  2. It does not give permission for or activate all the resources that a state level State of Emergency does. There are still many resources, like the National Guard, that can only be activated by a full State of Emergency.
"What does a State of Preparedness mean for me?"

The most important takeaway is that a State of Preparedness is designed to let you know an emergency may happen, but to do so earlier so you have more time to prepare. If you see that a State of Preparedness has been declared, remain calm! Stay informed, monitor local news and official sources for updates, and proceed accordingly. A State of Emergency might follow, or might not, based on the situation, but you’ll know to be on the lookout and in the know, either way.