Local 911 operators find ways around language barriers

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

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

Jonesboro E911 has a number of resources available to helpits operators when someone calls them that speaks little to no English. Thesetools have proven useful in situations, like the entrapment Monday, whenseconds count.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translators are also on standby from St. Bernards MedicalCenter, Arkansas State University, Hispanic Community Services and Poinsett Countydispatch.

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

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

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

The City of Jonesboro has also hosted Spanish classes in thepast not only for its 911 operators but also for its police officers andfirefighters.

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

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