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'They need help just as much as anybody else': Butler County 911 bridges language barrier with push of button

Just last week, the dispatch center took a call from a man who only spoke Spanish, but the dispatcher didn't. So he dialed in someone who could.
Butler County Dispatch Center
Posted at 10:21 PM, Sep 11, 2023

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 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.

"I would recommend it. I think the amount that it helps and saves people versus the cost of it is minimal," Dispatch Manager Miranda Sheppard.

The service is called LanguageLine Solutions, where interpreters fluent in 240 languages are on call 24/7 for fast translation in emergency situations.

The cost per month depends on the number of calls and the length of each call, but it typically adds up to around $600, Sheppard said.

The center has been using the service for more than a decade, and there's never been a month where it wasn't needed, she said. Her team used the translation service on close to 80 calls just last month.

"We have a lot larger of a population that does not speak English within the area, more than people would think, and they need help just as much as anybody else so 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. 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 translation line, punched 1 for Spanish and within seconds an interpreter was on the line.

That helped the dispatcher determine the location of the emergency, the age of the victim, what he was wearing.

"I actually spoke with the dispatcher that took the call that day the day after and I was just like, 'Crazy how quickly it connected,'" Sheppard said. "We spoke about it and he was like, 'I just know I 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. "It took a little bit to get to the right translator because even them on their end weren't sure what language it was."