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Language service to help Smyth deputies, dispatch

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A language barrier can be difficult in any circumstances, but when first-responders and those they’re trying to help can’t understand one another, the hurdle can be life-threatening. Last week, the Smyth County Board of Supervisors took action to ease communication for everyone.

The challenge of communicating with those who speak languages other than English presents itself regularly on Interstate 81.

Earlier this week, Sheriff Chip Shuler explained, “We encounter travelers and residents daily that do not speak or understand the English language.”

He noted that only one of the sheriff’s office’s deputies “is bilingual, which means we are limited.”

“In my experience and after talking to several of my staff, including Dispatch, we do need the language line. Actually, I believe we are overdue getting this resource,” the sheriff said.

Earlier this month, Shannon Williams, the county’s 911 coordinator/EMD director, made that same case to the supervisors’ Public Safety Committee as did Emergency Management Coordinator Curtis Crawford.

They advocated for adding a “language line” that could be used by dispatchers and law enforcement.

The Public Safety Committee supported the need and took the matter before the full board last week.

Using the language line, Vice Chair Lori Deel said, dispatchers can tap into the language line so a translator can join a call. Deputies in the field can use their cell phones to call a toll-free number to get a translator’s help.

The line, Deel said, covers a wide variety of languages.

She explained the costs range from 68¢ a minute to $1.25 per minute.

Supervisor Phil Stevenson, whose son is a law enforcement officer, said the need for translation can be critical in some situations.

The supervisors OK’d entering a contract with Voice Language Services.

Shuler believes it was an important decision. He said, “As our community becomes more diverse I want to provide the best services available. I am all for the service.”


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