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SEOUL — Dealing with an off-post emergency is getting a bit easier for servicemembers and civilians in South Korea.

Beginning Monday, local emergency phone banks will be backed up by translators from South Korea’s National Tourism Organization, hopefully reducing language-barrier delays.

Officials have installed a hotline between the local “119” emergency operations center and the tourism organization’s “1330” tourist translation hotline, linking the two phone banks 24 hours a day.

In an emergency, people can call 119 and be connected with an emergency operator. If there are translation problems, that operator will call the tourism hotline, then create a three-way conference call.

English, Japanese and Chinese speaking translators will be available, officials said.

The National Rescue Service fields tens of thousands of calls every year from foreigners, they said, but many have not been helped because of language problems.

“We are fully aware how important safety is, and we want to let [foreigners] know that we’re willing to help them with this service,” said Kim Moon-kyong, of the organization’s Tourism Environment Improvement Department.

While the new system will help Americans in South Korea in times of emergency, local officials say it also could boost South Korea’s tourism industry.

“More and more people are concerned about safety when they choose where to go,” Kim reasoned.

The same service was in place temporarily during the 2002 World Cup, Kim said. After the tourist organization turned its tourism information center into a 24-hour operation, Kim said, officials there had pitched reviving the link with emergency services.

“Foreigners — used to calling 1330 for various requests and questions, being frustrated by the language barrier — can still call 1330 for their emergencies, but I think they will get a speedier service from now on,” Kim said.

After a week-long test period now underway, the service officially will begin Monday, officials said.


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