Widespread cellphone use and the need for time-consuming language translation have caused workloads and costs to jump for emergency 911 dispatch centers across the U.S. at a time when the economic downturn is causing local and state governments to seek ways to trim spending, reports the Washington Post. In the Washington, D.C., area, dozens of cellphone users have called to report a single auto accident. An ethnically diverse population requires dispatch centers to translate as many as 60 languages in a year. “Commonly we see one single accident can generate 100 calls, and that’s not an exaggeration,” said Steve Souder, an official in suburban Fairfax County, Va., “Everybody’s calling. And those calls have to be fielded. Each one has to be queried so that it is confirmed. We just can’t blow them off or treat any one less intensely than the one before.”
Since 2000, annual wireless 911 calls in Fairfax have risen from 180,000 to 268,000, an almost 50 percent increase. That, in turn, has prompted the county to increase the call center staff from 154 to 204 and to increase local spending on 911 services from almost $2 million to more than $10 million. Call volumes are up across the nation, with widespread cellphone use to report emergencies causing 911 calling to jump from 150 million calls in 2000 to 240 million last year, according to the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials. In Loudoun County, 911 calls rose from 69,000 in 2000 to 98,000 in 2006. In the District, steadily increasing wireless calls have caused total volume to rise from 819,000 in 2004 to 1.3 million last year, officials said. In the Washington, D.C., area in September alone, dispatchers listened to translations of Amharic, Arabic, Bulgarian, Farsi, French, German, Hindi, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Russian, Somali, Tagalog, Thai, Urdu and Vietnamese. They also fielded 1,100 calls in Spanish.