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Deaf woman texts local 911 - gets response | News

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Deaf woman texts local 911 - gets response
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ALPHARETTA, Ga. -- A text for help – from a deaf woman who spotted two small children in a car – highlights a local 911 center that is among the first utilizing a popular technology.

On Wednesday night, she shared her story – through the same technology – with 11Alive News.

Her name is Lisa Collis, and she texted that it was at about 4:30 pm on New Year’s Eve, in a parking lot in the North Point area of Alpharetta, when she saw two, small children alone in a parked car.

Luckily for all, since Collis is deaf and this is Alpharetta, she was able to report what she saw by texting 911.

“Our 911 dispatcher was able to text back with her,” George Gordon with the Alpharetta Department of Public Safety said.  "And they created a communications string where we obtained all the details, the location, what was going on, what's the problem, and we were able to dispatch a police officer to the scene... We're very grateful" to Collis.

Gordon said this was the first time anyone had texted to 911 since the city started the 911-texting service in late 2014.

Collis and 11Alive’s Jon Shirek spoke by way of text messages.

“I pulled in next to the car and as I was getting out I saw the children, but there were no adults in sight,” she said. “I waited 10 minutes in my truck before I texted 911.”

Gordon said the texts go straight to police, and an officer was heading toward Collis even while the 911 dispatcher was still texting with her.

Here's what she and the dispatcher texted each other:

Collis:  "Does anyone work on text?"

911:  "Alpharetta/Milton 9-1-1.  If it is safe to do so please call 9-1-1.  If not, what is the address of the emergency?"

Collis:  "I'm at Old Navy by Northpoint Mall.  Someone left two young kids in the car.  They're about 2 and 5 I think.  I'm deaf."

911:  "Okay, what type of vehicle?"

Collis:  "It's silver.  It's parked right in front of the store."

911:  "Car, truck, SUV or van?"

She gives the dispatcher a few more details, and then the dispatcher tells her an officer is on the way.

Collis said, in her texts with 11Alive News on Wednesday, that she didn't think twice about contacting 911.

"I wasn't sure if it was going to work.  I have two [children] of my own and I didn’t think it was right to [leave kids in a car alone].  Especially if they were that young.  No one should ever leave children in a vehicle, especially just to shop.  I was thrilled when the 911 operator answered my text."

City policy does not permit 911 dispatchers to appear on camera or answer questions from the public, including the news media, but Gordon said the 911 Center is proud that Alpharetta is the first city in Georgia to join a handful of Georgia counties in providing the 911 texting service.

“I would like to see more agencies making it available in all areas,” Collis said.  "It not only made it accessible for the deaf people, but works for those who couldn't speak or if their lives are in danger."

"It could be domestic violence," Gordon said, "it could be seeing a serious crime in progress, or wanting to be an anonymous witness, whatever it is, where you don’t have to speak [or it's too dangerous to speak], you can text-in anything to the 911 center now in our city, and that’s a tremendous benefit to the public."

Gordon said in this case the parents had left a 15-year-old babysitter in charge of the children in the car, but the babysitter left the children alone.  Gordon said the parents had returned to the car by the time the officer arrived.  Gordon said the officer's investigation resulted in warnings, but no arrests.

Gordon said it's clear that in other circumstances, being able to text to 911 could potentially save lives.

“That was quick thinking, brilliant thinking," Gordon said of Collis.

So far, according to the FCC, Georgia is far behind other states in providing 911 texting.  Only a limited number of 911 centers in Georgia have upgraded.  They include the City of Alpharetta, and Paulding and Floyd Counties.  In September, 2015, two additional Georgia counties began offering 911 texting, Cobb County and Coweta County, but as of December, 2015, they had not yet been included in the FCC's data.  The FCC updates its list frequently.  The link to the list is included in the FCC's website:  https://www.fcc.gov/consumers/guides/what-you-need-know-about-text-911

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