BOZEMAN, Mont. -

Four major cellphone carriers will offer a new way to get a hold of 911, by texting instead of calling.

By the end of the year, the government is mandating that all U.S. cellphone carriers provide emergency texts. Some state emergency dispatch centers are already set up for it, with more on jumping on board.

Officials say it could change the way people get help in emergencies.

In 2007, during the mass shooting at Virginia Tech, many students -- trapped, terrified, and trying to stay quiet -- tried to text 911, but emergency centers weren't set up for text messages, and those pleas for help went unanswered.

Now, proponents say being able to text 911 can make all the difference in emergency situations, and for people with disabilities who can't talk on the phone.

While some areas in Montana are already set up with the new technology, others will take time to get up to speed.

Gallatin County Dispatch Director Kerry O'Connell showed NBC Montana around the 911 center, where all area emergency calls come in. She said Gallatin County Dispatch receives more than 32,000 911 calls every year.

70 percent of those calls come from cellphones. Now, O'Connell said they are looking at technology that would allow those cellphone users to text during emergencies.

"There's a few ways we can implement it, as far as technology is concerned," she explained.

They would need to buy a special web, phone or TTY system, but making the upgrade could be beneficial.

Texting to 911 will come in handy in many emergency situations when someone can't talk on the phone because it is unsafe to talk or they physically cannot speak.

"Domestic violence, active shooters, those sorts of things where it's not safe for people to really be talking, 'Hey, he's coming toward me,'" O'Connell said.

But adding the new service would also create challenges. "It gives the dispatchers one more thing to monitor," she said.

Plus, O'Connell explained the technology is still very new, and does not show specific locations when someone sends a text.

"The only location we're going to have is what cell tower that phone is hitting," O'Connell said.

When a person calls, dispatchers can get the exact coordinates of their location. That's why, she explained, they plan to wait until the technology is more developed before implementing it in Gallatin County.

O'Connell says Missoula County is the only county in Montana right now with a Text-to-911 system already in place, and it is only with Verizon customers.

When Gallatin County implements the system, O'Connell said calling should still be the first choice when contacting 911.