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Bridging Language Barriers and Enhancing 9-1-1 Emergency Services with Adaptive Technology

By Karima Holmes, VP of Public Safety, Carbyne

bridging language barriers and enhancing 9 1 1 emergency services with adaptive technology


In today’s rapidly evolving technological landscape, innovations continue to reshape various aspects of our lives, including emergency services. In this article, we will explore how modern and adaptive technology is revolutionizing 9-1-1, particularly in addressing the challenges posed by multi-lingual or non-English speaking callers. We will focus on three key advancements: two-way audio translation, video-to-911, and instant messaging, all of which play pivotal roles in ensuring efficient and accurate emergency response.

Two-Way Audio Translation

One of the most significant challenges for 9-1-1 call taking is communicating effectively with callers who speak different languages. In such situations, time is vital, and misunderstandings can have dire consequences. This is where two-way audio translation technology is effective for the caller and call-taker, resulting in more accuracy and speed. Two-way audio translation involves the use of advanced artificial intelligence algorithms to provide real-time language translation during emergency calls. When a non-English speaking caller dials 9-1-1, this technology allows call-takers to hear the caller’s spoken language while simultaneously receiving an on-screen translation of what the caller is saying in their native language. This simultaneous translation offers imperative context, enabling a more efficient  emergency response.

For example, if a Spanish-speaking caller reports a car accident, the call-taker will instantly be provided with a translated narrative in the call taker’s language, ensuring necessary information to dispatch help is properly received and understood. Additionally and automatically the call taker’s pre-arrival instructions are then given to the caller in their language, audibly.


In some emergency situations, callers may be unable to adequately describe the scene or provide crucial information. This is where video-to-911 technology becomes invaluable. When a caller sends a video feed directly to 9-1-1, it provides call-takers with a visual perspective of the emergency situation, filling in the gaps left by verbal descriptors.

For instance, if a caller witnesses a fire in a high-rise building but struggles to describe the scene accurately, sending a video allows the call-taker to assess the situation visually. We know things like seeing flames versus smoke, or the color of the smoke is key for fire responders headed to the scene. The information is also vital for dispatching the appropriate resources and ensuring the safety of both the caller and first responders (by allowing police officers, firefighters, and paramedics to see the caller’s video when necessary).

In the words of Brett, an Emergency Dispatch Communications Director from Colorado: “When you can’t see a scene, your brain fills in the worst case scenario, that absolutely adds stress. And a lot of times, dispatchers don’t hear the end of the story.”

Jeff, a Dispatch Supervisor at a Sheriff’s Office in Ohio recalls “We had a 9-1-1 call with a seizure victim. The person was lying straight down, face on the ground, which is not a good position to be in.” Steve, a Dispatcher at the same center continues, “I can see that he’s bleeding from his mouth. I would never have been able to do any of that without Carbyne.”

Darrell, a Chief of Police in Texas explains, “As a police officer, we respond to a lot of domestic disturbances. And so, to have the ability to have the victim go video, so we can provide that video to our courts that assist us with the prosecution of cases, that’s unheard of.”

Instant Messaging

Instant messaging is another powerful tool that advanced technology brings to 9-1-1 emergency services. In scenarios where language barriers persist, or when the caller needs to share specific details like car license plate numbers or addresses, text-based communication can be advantageous.

Non-English speaking callers can use instant messaging to convey critical information without the need for verbal communication. For instance, if a caller speaks Mandarin but can type in English, they can quickly provide their location or other essential details via text. This allows the call-taker to understand the situation better and facilitate a faster response.


Adaptive technology has ushered in a new era for 9-1-1 emergency services, offering solutions to long-standing challenges in handling multi-lingual or non-English speaking callers. Two-way audio translation ensures that language differences do not hinder effective communication, while video-to-911 provides a visual depiction of the emergency. Additionally, instant messaging allows callers to share vital information seamlessly, via text.

These advancements in technology not only improve accuracy and response times but enhances the safety and well-being of callers and first responders. As we continue to embrace and develop these innovations, we can look forward to even more accurate, efficient and responsive emergency services that serve diverse communities with precision and care.

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