HAMILTON, Ohio. — When you call 911, you trust someone will answer and be ready to help. But what happens when you and the dispatcher don't speak the same language?
That isn't an issue for the Butler County (Ohio) Sheriff's Office's dispatch center.
With the simple push of a button, each of the 34 dispatchers is able to dial in a remote interpreter who can bridge the language barrier and ensure help is quickly on its way.
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“I would recommend (the LanguageLine Solutions service). I think the amount that it helps and saves people versus the cost of it is minimal," Dispatch Manager Miranda Sheppard said.
The service comes from LanguageLine Solutions, where 23,000 live, professional interpreters provide interpretation in more than 240 languages. They are on call 24/7 for fast interpretation in emergency situations.
The center has been using the service for more than a decade, and there's never been a month where it wasn't needed, Sheppard said. Her team used the interpretation service on close to 80 calls just last month.
"We have a large population that does not speak English within the area, more than people would think, and they need help just as much as anybody else. You have to have that resource to be able to help them," she said.
The service came in handy in a recent frantic call.
A man dialed last week asking for help after his 21-year-old friend went underwater at Four Mile Creek in Hamilton, Ohio. He could only speak Spanish, and the dispatcher was able to understand a few words he was saying.
The dispatcher needed someone who could speak Spanish, so he quickly pulled up the interpretation line, punched 1 for Spanish and within seconds an interpreter was on the line.
This helped the dispatcher determine the location of the emergency, the age of the victim, and what he was wearing.
"I actually spoke with the dispatcher that took the call and we were amazed how quickly it connected,'' Sheppard said. "We spoke about it and he was like, 'I just have to push 1.'"
With a large Spanish-speaking population in Butler County, Sheppard said her dispatchers are most commonly dialing in a Spanish interpreter, but other languages do come up from time to time.
"We've had French," said Sheppard. "We did have one in particular that was a little difficult for us. It was Nepali.”
LanguageLine can help
LanguageLine is proud to work with 911 dispatchers and communities across North America to expand access for all. We invite you to contact us so that we can learn more about the challenges your community may be facing.