AB 611 (FONG): HELP ALL CALIFORNIANS IN A DISASTER
Earthquakes. Floods. Wildfires. California has long been prone to disasters, and emergency preparedness planning at the state and local levels is critical for ensuring our state is equipped to recover from any disaster situation. With 6 million limited English proficient individuals in the state, and 40% of Asian and Pacific Islander and Latino communities having limited English proficiency, the state’s emergency preparedness system must account for the needs of our significant LEP population.
In any emergency situation, communication with the public is critical for conveying important instructions and procedures, thereby saving lives and minimizing injuries and damage. Unfortunately, real-life examples illustrate the lack of emergency communication in languages other than English, and the devastating impact it has on LEP communities.
- During the Hurricane Katrina disaster, evacuation notices were not provided in languages other than English, even in cities with sizeable immigrant and refugee populations. Congressional testimony highlighted the story of a Vietnamese man in Mississippi, who spent five days in a wrecked fishing boat and was nearly killed because he did not understand the evacuation orders issued prior to Hurricane Katrina.
- More locally, Contra Costa County in California instituted a multi-lingual warning system after many limited English speaking residents were not warned of a neighboring refinery accident and fire. The accident sent a plume of black smoke and hundreds of residents to hospitals with respiratory problem.
- The recent wildfires in southern California struck parts of cities having a significant population of individuals with limited proficiency in English, potentially affecting almost 300,000 such individuals. News reports highlighted the frustration and confusion during evacuations for individuals unable to understand English.
Before another major disaster strikes California, the Little Hoover Commission has highlighted that our state and local agencies must be prepared to accommodate communication for large numbers of LEP individuals. AB 611 (Fong) is a cost-effective measure that builds upon our existing emergency preparedness system to respond to the need:
- The California Emergency Management Agency (Cal EMA) shall take into consideration the multiple languages and needs of populations with limited English proficiency during emergency preparedness planning, response, and recovery, including when developing committee recommendations within the Standardized Emergency Management System structure, drafting guidance for local and regional governmental entities, and reviewing emergency plans of state, regional, and local governmental entities.
- Cal EMA shall incorporate ethnic media and local community-based organizations in their communications plan so that these entities can be alerted with emergency information.
- Cal EMA would also utilize an existing registry of bilingual state employees who could be called upon for assistance during an emergency, and would incorporate the needs of LEP populations in trainings and exercises.