TODAY | April 15, 2013
>>> now use their cell phones to text more than call but if you're in an emergency, texting may not help. nbc's tom costello is at gallaudet university for the deaf, just across town here in washington. tom, good morning to you.
>> hi, savannah. good morning to you. on this campus which is mostly for the deaf students almost everybody texts. it's a vital communication tool and if somebody here texted 911 for help, the chances are the text would go unanswered and it's not just here, across much of the country, if you text 911, the help probably isn't coming.
>> stay on the phone here with me, okay?
>> reporter: it could be any 911 call center in america.
>> okay, are you with the patient now?
>> reporter: but this one is different.
>> okay, ma'am, are you still on the scene?
>> i'm sending the paramedics to help you now.
>> reporter: in frederick county , maryland, people who need help can text 911 dispatchers and they can text back.
>> there could be any number of reasons why they can't speak at the moment, could be the medical event, stroke, something like that, that they can still type.
>> reporter: hard to believe but in most of the country today texting 911 isn't possible. in the last three months more than 13,000 texts have been transmitted to 911, but most were never received. very few 911 centers are equipped to accept them, but frederick county is also the home of the maryland school for the deaf and the need seemed obvious.
>> especially when it comes to an emergency, time is so important and we didn't have that access ever, so this is huge.
>> i thought we were going to die. it was really, really scary.
>> reporter: in chicago, 15-year-old nathan lane isn't deaf but while his mom and sister at a coffee shop a robber came threatening to kill everyone. nathan grabbed her phone and texted her dad.
>> don't come back, robber in here, call 911.
>> reporter: nathan had the presence of mind to delete the text.
>> and right after i texted my dad he came in, threatening to kill us for calling 911, in which case we didn't.
>> reporter: but nathan 's dad got the message.
>> because it was spelled out correctly i did not think it was a prank.
>> i was afraid my dad would call us.
>> reporter: he called 911 and then sent a one-word message, done. by the time he got back to the coffee shop the police were there, everyone okay.
>> i'm hungry.
>> i know you're hungry.
>> reporter: as for nathan you'd think he'd be rewarded with a cell phone upgrade. he had to surrender his phone to his parents.
>> even teenage heroes need to still get good grades and have good attitudes.
>> reporter: even teenage heroes have to have good grades. we talked about the fact most 911 centers can't receive text messages . the fcc ordered by next summer 2014 they have to be able to receive text messages so this should start to improve over the next 12 to 14 months or so. savannah?
>> tom costello across the street in washington, thank you very