Language Line Services (LLS) began twenty-five years ago when a San Jose (CA) police officer recognized the need for quick and efficient language interpretation in emergency services. Dale Hansman, LLS Public Relations, states, "The officer got involved because he had just had enough night call outs and not being able to communicate with the person. Not knowing if the person was the perpetrator or the victim." In the beginning, Vietnamese was the first language the company interpreted, but currently Spanish is the number one language. Although LLS provides services to a number of different occupations, they realize the unique elements in emergency communications.
Danyune Gertsen, LLS Director of Training and Quality, explains their training department worked in collaboration with various California police departments to develop a one week 9-1-1 training which incorporates 9-1-1 call handling standards as well as interpretation protocol. All LLS employees attend this training, which emphasizes skills such as taking the lead in obtaining crucial information, relaying answers quickly, being succinct, and maintaining control. After training, the new interpreter is placed with a senior interpreter who provides monitoring, instruction, and guidance.
Due to the critical nature of 9-1-1 calls, a language service must have more than trained interpreters. They must provide a way for call centers to access an interpreter quickly. Understanding that need, LLS offers interpreters in one hundred seventy languages with an average wait time under fifteen seconds. For Spanish, the wait time is under five seconds. If wait times increase, measures are taken. "We have internal metrics which are monitored throughout the day. If a need is found, people would be scheduled immediately," Hansman states. Along with this internal monitoring, public safety interpretation requests are placed at the top of the queue.
Of course having an external contract for language services can be costly. In 2006, Phoenix Police paid nearly $633,000 to LLS. DeRuiter justifies this cost. "Language Line provides us with a large variety of languages a (bilingual) operator would not. We had 1, 265 requests for Somali...1,402 requests for Arabic, and 1,212 requests for Vietnamese. We had requests for 53 different languages, so you can see our need to retain a translation company." In regard to liability issues, LLS has a multi-million dollar insurance policy, including coverage for errors and omissions. To date, LLS has never been sued.
The ability to communicate is essential in emergency services. Someone could die. This someone might be a citizen, or it might be an officer. Also, bilingual communication is mandatory since the 2000 issuance of Executive Order 13166, requiring all federal agencies, and those funded by federal agencies, to take reasonable steps to provide meaningful access to their programs and activities for limited English proficiency (LEP) citizens. The Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice is tasked with enforcing and helping implement the meaningful access required. Lewis sums up the communication issue, "As first responders, we are obligated to do everything we can to help out the people whom we are sworn to serve and protect. Learning the Spanish language is no different than any other type of required training. Emergency personnel are quite knowledgeable in many aspects of safety and preparedness. It would be an outrage to overlook such an important new facet of our duties."