Language access should be a key component of every disaster plan, as roughly one in eight United States residents is limited-English proficient (LEP). Unfortunately, caring for the needs of LEP populations in the face of an emergency is not always the priority it should be. If LEP individuals are not able to access disaster information in a language they can understand, the consequences can be deadly.
A disaster plan typically incorporates three phases: preparedness, response, and recovery.
Emergency response is foremost on our minds as Hurricane Florence steers toward land. Today we will focus on effectively managing the communication of information about sheltering, evacuation, transportation, and health care before and during an emergency to LEP individuals.
Some regions may not be aware of their communities’ specific language needs. Fortunately the necessary data for making this determination is often readily available if you know where to look.
- Municipalities can use demographic data from the census, school districts, and local human services agencies to assess local language needs.
- Using American Community Survey data, the Federal Coordination and Compliance Section of the Department of Justice (FCS) has created maps indicating concentrations of LEP individuals by state, county, and judicial district.
Notifications and Warnings
In any emergency, communication before and during the incident is vital. The following are tips for providing meaningful communication with LEP populations when an emergency is imminent:
- In languages of need, provide a clear message for evacuation pickup points and traffic routes in the affected area.
- If canvassing a neighborhood to provide warning, try to use bilingual employees and volunteers or provide personnel with instructions written in languages that are prevalent in the area. Personnel involved in canvassing activities can also access telephonic interpretation services via a toll-free number or smartphone application.
- To assist in disseminating information, form partnerships with non-profit, community, and faith-based organizations that serve LEP populations.
- Make sure that all 911 call-center call-takers and dispatchers are properly trained to access and partner with an interpreter. The same holds for 311 call centers.
- Coordinate with local ethnic media – including radio, television, print, online and social media – to assist with sharing emergency information.
The Department of Homeland Security provides a comprehensive online guide to assist residents with disaster preparation and recovery in a variety of languages.
A Note about Children
Children may be the only fluent English speakers in many immigrant families. The Department of Justice LEP Guidance makes clear that children must not be relied upon to serve as interpreters and translators except as a last resort while awaiting interpretation services.
To avoid this situation, it is crucial to identify qualified bilingual employees and volunteers, as well as to establish a relationship with a professional language-access provider.
LanguageLine Can Help
LanguageLine has more than three decades of experience in helping regions before, during, and after emergencies and natural disasters.