For many Americans with limited English proficiency, emergency situations can become difficult when trying to communicate with first responders. As Text-to-911 technology continues to grow, programs to help non-native speakers will be implemented as well.
An estimated 28 million Americans who self-identify as Limited English Proficient (LEP) face additional challenges due to language barriers in an emergency situation. Phone usage data shows that around 92 percent of non-English 911 calls were conducted in Spanish. Other non-English calls are spread out among 148 languages.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) recently announced a contract award has been finalized to develop a public safety service that translates Text-to-911 information. S&T will work with the project team that includes two major non-profit public safety associations, the Integrated Justice Information Systems (IJIS) Institute and the Industry Council for Emergency Response Technologies (iCERT), and CyraCom, an industry-leading language translation service provider, to develop and pilot test a solution for text-to-911 for LEP populations.
The outcome of this program will be the development of a standard for implementing text-to-911 for LEP populations, as well as operational, business and training protocols that will ensure a consistent national usage. The standard will result from extensive research into best practices and interviews with experts in emergency communication, next generation 911 technology, public safety and other relevant fields. It will be piloted at different locations across the country.
S&T recognizes that Text-to-911 can be a valuable tool. For emergency first responders it is absolutely critical to receive as much information as possible about the situation they may be encountering. Language barriers can be overcome with a national standard translation application that facilitates transferring vital information through existing platforms to public-safety answering points and then on to the first responders.