by Dennis Dalman
The Sartell police haven’t had to use it yet, but they sure are glad they have it.
It’s called “ELSA,” which stands for “Enabling Language Service Anywhere,” and it’s an almost instant way to break through the language barrier.
Sartell Police Chief Jim Hughes said the unit, about the size of a pack of cards, will prove to be invaluable and will become a true cost-saver. Hughes had heard about the new service at a conference he attended and then decided to look into the possibility of getting one, impressed by its convenience and cost-savings.
“It’s great to have,” Hughes said. “We’re excited (to have a chance) to use it.”
The hands-free device uses cellular technology to connect directly with interpreters in 180 languages. The device is a product of RTT Mobile Interpretation, which is based in Chaska, Minn.
“We have the need to use interpretive services minimally three to four times a year and had been paying $250 per contact with an interpretive service previously, whether it was for two minutes or two hours,” Hughes said. “The new ELSA unit will provide almost instantaneous connection to an interpreter, which can be vital when investigating serious crimes or even communicating at the scene of a traffic crash.”
So far, in the past couple weeks since receiving ELSA, there has been no need to use it, but such a need will surely come along, Hughes noted. It can be very frustrating for police officers and people they encounter when there is a language barrier, someone who doesn’t speak English or speaks it only haltingly. Sartell officers, three or four times a year, encounter that situation, usually with people who speak Spanish, Vietnamese or Somali.
Previously, the officers had to call for a community-based translator, which would cost $250, a cost paid for the agency, not solely to the translator. Compared to that, the unit itself cost only $365, with a monthly use-fee that is far less than what was paid before for translator services. It costs $1.50 per minute to use the unit.
“It’s a money-saver,” Hughes said.
And besides saving money, it’s a quick alternative. An officer can push a button on the unit, and a Spanish voice will respond. If Spanish is not needed, an officer pushes the button again and is then connected, within a minute or two, to someone who speaks the language needed and who can translate from that language into English and from English into that language.
Another advantage to ELSA is all communications on it are recorded and stored at ELSA’S company, the RTT Network Operating Center. The recordings are then subject to review by the police department, and the recording transcripts can even be made available for court records, if needed.
ELSA is equipped with an array of four long-range directional microphones and an advanced speaker. That makes it possible for first responders, for example, to maintain a safe distance from the person with whom they are talking, and both parties will be able to hear clearly and communicate through the live interpreter via ELSA. RTT also has a toll-free number for cell and landline use, with the same service possible as that accessed through the ELSA device.
ELSA can also be used by emergency responders, health-care workers at clinics, hospitals and by local, state and federal government agencies. In addition, many companies now use ELSA, such as those in the hospitality and entertainment industries, financial-services providers and claims adjustors.
The trained interpreters via ELSA are available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Because communications regarding law enforcement or medical services often requires an understanding of specialized terms and concepts, the interpreters have backgrounds and training in those fields. They include medical graduates, registered nurses, medical assistants, healthcare providers and professionals from a wide variety of industries.