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CHP hires new translators for 911 calls

Auto accidents and other emergencies happen to people of all nationalities and local California Highway Patrol dispatchers rely on a Monterey-based service that quickly translates calls for help into the proper language.

Language Line Services recently was awarded a contract from the CHP to support emergency 911 interpretation services for their 25 dispatch centers throughout the state. At the Merced Area CHP office in Atwater, dispatchers average about 100 calls a day from people speaking foreign languages.

Robin Lindgren, CHP dispatch supervisor, said at one touch of a button a foreign caller is seamlessly transferred to a Language Line translator and a three-way conference call ensues in a matter of seconds, helping to quickly identify the problem.

"It's instantaneous," Lindgren said. "We never lose contact with the caller. A majority are Spanish-speaking but a few times we can't identify what the language is."

Capt. Steve Badilla, commander of the Merced CHP office, said Language Line helps his office better communicate with the public and provide quality service.

It's part of the CHP's effort to meet federal requirements for bilingual services. Omni Translation Services provided translation before Language Line Services took over April 19.

Each year, CHP offices conduct a two-week language survey. English, Spanish and Hmong are the most prevalent languages here, followed by Portuguese, Cantonese, Korean, Russian and Tagalog, Badilla said.

The CHP also makes concerted efforts to recruit officers and dispatchers who are bilingual, providing them with a 2½ percent stipend. Translation services have been available with the CHP for at least eight years, Badilla estimated.

Lindgren said CHP officers in the field can call the translation service for help while interviewing accident victims. With international travelers regularly visiting Yosemite National Park, encounters with people speaking foreign languages are not uncommon.

Company spokeswoman Julie Jiminez said Language Line Services is the leading provider of language interpretation services for government agencies. The company provides emergency interpretation for more than 400 911 centers in California, representing police, fire, sheriff and other agencies.

It provides 911 call-takers access to trained interpreters in more than 170 languages for their limited-English speaking callers around the clock. According to 2007 statistics, California 911 centers required interpreter assistance for more than 400,000 calls last year.

Associate Editor Doane Yawger can be reached at(209) 385-2485 or dyawger@mercedsun-star.com.

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