LinguaNet and European Police and Emergency Service

Crime, pollution and disaster recognize no frontiers. Within the European framework, however, opportunities are increasing for the police and emergency services to combat and respond to them together.

The main impediments to collaboration are language barriers, differences in administration and procedure and incompatibility of communications systems. The presence of over 100 pairs of languages in the European Community is a particular hindrance to the process of strengthening international cooperation. Of immediate practical concern are the restrictions which a plethora of languages imposes on the inter-regional exchange of essential operational information. Effective multinational responses cannot be mounted in the absence of a compatible communication system which tackles the language issue.

LinguaNet offers a straightforward solution by providing a purpose-built multilingual telematic network. The longer-term prospects for international cooperation are improved at the same time through daily use of the system and through a joint process of system enhancement which is guided by the services themselves.

The most important provisions of the system are direct and secure cross-border communications links between the various national services and the control of the structure and content of several types of operational message. LinguaNet standardises and thereby improves the quality of messages, and in the process renders them capable of automatic conversion between languages for both cross-border and pan-European transmission.

Three factors were important in the early development of LinguaNet: the existence of computer-based message handling technologies and associated programming skills; the emergence of digital transmission systems capable of operating in several media and the considerable practical experience in language control gained at Wolfson College Cambridge University and at Prolingua Ltd. during the "Speak" series of operational language projects directed by Edward Johnson: Seaspeak, PoliceSpeak and Intacom; the machine translation system Linitext; and the forerunner of LinguaNet built by David Matthews - BTMS.

These preparatory developments have now resulted in a major system build made possible by the fortunate conjunction of several initiatives: the European Commission's Language Engineering programme; the energy and determination of Kent County Constabulary and a large number of other European police and emergency services; the technical and financial support of Philips Communications; the investment and expertise of Prolingua Limited in the design and installation of the LinguaNet prototype; and the provision of linguistic, legal and commercial skills from the Universities of Cambridge, Leuven, Bordeaux and the Copenhagen Business School.

Within two years reports and messages in text, speech and graphics concerning such things as major incidents, drugs' shipments, environmental hazards, missing persons and stolen property, will be routinely exchanged between the public services of Europe - in their own languages.