When an emergency room team is confronted with a patient who speaks a language nobody at the hospital can understand, they're likely to call a remote interpreter for real-time translation.
Some of those urgent calls are now being answered in Tempe, where a 24-hour call center has opened to provide remote interpreting services in 170 languages. It's the first facility of its kind for TransPerfect, a New York-based company that has 70 translation offices around the globe.
TransPerfect chose the Valley for its large pool of fluent Spanish speakers who can translate to and from English, said Ken Anders, the company's remote interpreting COO.
But the Valley's fiber optic infrastructure was important in locating here because it makes the center more reliable, Anders said. The center has lines from Cox and Century Link, so it can maintain communications even if one service goes out.
"We could be on an emergency call between a doctor and a patient, and we can't afford to drop that call," Anders said.
TransPerfect had previously handled these calls at its offices across the globe, but it decided to shift them to a single center for that kind of reliability, he said.
The $1 million center opened in August with 60 employees and a capacity of 150. Anders envisions the company's employees could eventually grow to 500 or 1,000 because of an increasing demand for real-time interpreters. Services can involve medical, legal or general purpose interpretation.
About 95 percent of the work involves Spanish, with Mandarin, Korean, Vietnamese and Russian adding up to 3 percent. The office is staffed with employees who speak the most common languages, while other calls are handled remotely by contract employees.
TransPerfect charges by the minute, with fees based on the language and type of interpretation. Most clients are on contracts with negotiated fees, Anders said.
The company handles about 600,000 minutes of calls a year, with the typical lasting about 10 minutes.
The increasingly global economy has created a need for more interpreters, Anders said. And technology will mean more of that will be done live on video. TransPerfect is working on video technology. That could expand the market, he said, because people in some cultures prefer speaking face-to-face.
"It's the best possible interpreting that you can get because over 60 percent of communication is non-verbal," he said.
TransPerfect has annual revenue of $250 million. The company plans to add call centers like the Tempe one in Europe, the Far East and perhaps South America.
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