Local 911 operators find ways around language barriers - KAIT Jonesboro, AR - Region 8 News, weather, sports

Local 911 operators find ways around language barriers

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) – A language barrier created confusion this week when a man called 911 to report that his co-worker was trapped in a trench.

Local emergency dispatchers, however, have become better trained to field calls like this one from non-English speakers.

Jonesboro E911 has a number of resources available to help its operators when someone calls them that speaks little to no English. These tools have proven useful in situations, like the entrapment Monday, when seconds count.

Emergency crews freed a Jonesboro man Monday after a trench collapsed on him at a home construction site.

One of the man's co-workers that spoke limited English initially called 911 to report what happened.

Region 8 News obtained the audio from the 911 call. The man is heard having a difficult time conversing with the female dispatcher, who mistakenly thought he was calling in a car accident.

The man did give directions to the scene, so the dispatcher sent police officers and paramedics there.

"Once they arrived," Jeff Presley said, "the rescue informed us that it was not a motor vehicle accident but a person stuck in a trench."

The rescue effort ended well, but Presley and his dispatchers at Jonesboro E911 are still working to bridge a language gap.

"You can't prepare for every language," said Presley, the director of Jonesboro E911. "You can't prepare for every scenario in 911, but with the growing Hispanic population, we will be proactive in training dispatchers and being able to communicate in time of emergency."

Presley says most of his dispatchers have learned to speak some basic Spanish thanks to training they received from a U.S. Army program.

"We can get good information, and we can get somebody started," he said.

An emergency guide to Spanish is never far from reach either if the dispatchers ever do have any trouble translating a call.

Translators are also on standby from St. Bernards Medical Center, Arkansas State University, Hispanic Community Services and Poinsett County dispatch.

"We're prepared to handle those situations," Presley added.

If all else fails, dispatch can access a caller's Smart 911 profile set up online.

"They can load in information about themselves, their family, their vehicles and things like that," Presley said. "If they're unable to speak anything, we'll have that information to respond."

The City of Jonesboro has also hosted Spanish classes in the past not only for its 911 operators but also for its police officers and firefighters.

Presley says more classes should be held sometime soon so that city employees can improve their Spanish-speaking skills.

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