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NC: Spanish-Language Volunteers Help 911 Center

Monday, April 13, 2009

A car accident. Chest pains. A crime in progress. Most of these scenarios will cause anyone's heart to race faster. But, imagine that you need help and there's a delay due to a language barrier when you call 911?

Those scenarios are exactly why the Durham Emergency Communications Center (DECC) has partnered with Durham Technical Community College and El Centro Hispano to establish a new program that brings in bi-lingual volunteers to act as immediate, on-site interpreters to help provide quicker service to Latino callers.

According to James Soukup, director of the DECC, each year approximately 5,000 Latino callers contact the center for assistance, requiring a contract with Language Line for $60,000 annually to provide interpretation assistance. "With this new program, we hope to save close to 50 percent each year on interpretation services, while at the same time having immediate access to on-site volunteers who can provide necessary Spanish interpretation services," Soukup said.

The program, already underway, provides up to two volunteers during the center's peak call times, which occurs mostly in the evenings. If a call comes in from a Latino resident that is unable to communicate in English, the volunteers are signaled by the telecommunicator to begin providing immediate interpretation services so the appropriate type of help is dispatched that much faster. According to Soukup, with the Language Line service, there was a short delay since the telecommunicator had to call the service, hope it wasn't busy, and then "patch in" the Language Line translator for assistance.

According Marianela Mañana, program director and Spanish-language instructor at Durham Technical Community College's Community and Medical Spanish Facilitator Certificate Programs, the idea to partner with the DECC was a way to fill a need for improved services to a rapidly growing segment of the Durham community. "Through this partnership, the Spanish Facilitator Program is providing students with the opportunity to gain practical experience in community interpretation and interaction with Durham's Latino community. Since strengthening partnerships in the community is one of Durham Technical Community College's five strategic initiatives, this partnership is a win-win for everyone - our students, the 911 Center, and most importantly, our Latino residents in need of emergency assistance," Mañana said.

According to Mañana, interested volunteers can participate in the program as long as they are willing to undergo a background check, sign a confidentially waiver, and are enrolled in the Community or Medical Spanish Facilitator Certificate Programs at Durham Technical Community College.

For Soukup, the partnership enables his team do what they do best - save lives. "Ultimately, this partnership with Durham Technical Community College provides improved service and ensures our Latino residents get the help they need when they need it most."

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