The residents of El Paso who call 911 in moments of distress could request for assistance in Spanish, English or both languages. This service is made available by the county because of its large Hispanic constituency. Since 1989 the county has required that all the call-takers of 911 should clearly speak and understand both the English and Spanish languages.
Although the State of Texas, other stakeholders and 911 organizations were not able to pinpoint another county or city that demands call-takers to be fluent in both English and Spanish, the increasing multilingual population of the state requires many big cities in Texas to find the means to manage the increasing demand for 911 call-takers who are bilingual.
It had been identified that the areas with the highest need for bilingual call-takers are those that are close to the border with Mexico and large urban areas such as Dallas and Houston where large numbers of foreign-born immigrants who are non-English speakers are located. For the last five years, the counties of Dallas and Harris experienced massive growth in the Hispanic population. In Harris County and Dallas County, more than 60 percent of the population speaks English less than well, based on the 2013 data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Anticipating the projected need
Lloyd Potter, the state demographer saidthat 911 call-takers in Texas today need to be bilingual in anticipation of a large number of callers who would not be able to effectively communicate in English.
The Texas chapter of the National Emergency Number Association president, Beth English, said that it is not as easy as it looked because the regular process of selecting call-takers alone was already challenging. Even without the added requirement for an applicant to be bilingual, the selection process includes rigorous background investigations and testing. She said that it had been a struggle for the state for years to increase the number of 911 call-takers who are bilingual. She clarified though that it is easier to meet the requirements for bilingual emergency call operators near the border such as El Paso, where the bilingual applicant base is wider.
Joe Laud, Houston Emergency Center administration manager said that although being bilingual is not a requirement for hiring, they have quite a number of bilingual emergency call-takers, who process about 9,000 calls daily. According to Sgt. Alejandro Coss, it is the same with the police department in Dallas, which encourages applicants to be bilingual, but stresses that this is not mandatory. Still he said that having responders who are bilingual is advantageous and beneficial to the bilingual patrol officers because they would not be wasting precious minutes during times of crisis. He said that it usually takes about 30 to 40 seconds for a 911 operator who only speaks English to connect to the language service provider they use. Often they use the service to help those people who are from Asia. On the other hand, emergency responders in Rio Grande Valley often use a translation service provider when they have to help French-speaking elderly Canadians who spend the winter in the area where the temperature is warmer.