Wildfire Crisis in Washington State Highlights the Need for Emergency Communications with Immigrant and Refugee CommunitiesMonday, February 8th, 2016
The Washington State Coalition for Language Access (WASCLA), which works to promote collaborations to ensure language access for Limited English Proficient individuals in Washington State, received a PNR Professional Development Award. The purpose of the award was to support a presentation stressing the importance of language in emergency communications, such as wildfires, at the 2015 WASCLA Summit. Here is their report.
By Joana Ramos, Co-Chair, Washington State Coalition for Language Access
The unusually hot and dry summer of in the entire Pacific Northwest 2015 will go down in the record books for several reasons, from its early start in June, to the number and intensity of wildfires it triggered mostly in the Central part of Washington. Just like in the 2014 fire season, many of this year’s fires occurred on forest and agricultural lands located in and around the areas known as Washington’s 10 Latino counties — Adams, Benton, Chelan, Douglas, Franklin, Grant, Okanogan, Skagit, Walla Walla, and Yakima—where Latinos are a large part of the population, and the majority in two counties (Adams and Franklin). Language assistance needs in the impacted areas were critical: while the average LEP rate in Washington is close to 9%, current data shows that among Spanish-speaking residents, rates of limited English proficiency range from 13-50% or more. Communication needs in these areas were not limited only to Spanish: increasing numbers of area residents speak only indigenous languages of the Americas, plus there are contingents of seasonal guest workers from various countries including those in Africa and Asia. As a result of the situation, the Washington State Coalition for Language Access (WASCLA) soon became aware that there was no dedicated plan in place at the state level to meet the communication needs of the significant population with limited English proficiency (LEP) during emergencies.
While we responded to requests for help relating to securing needed language services in the moment, we also were actively considering the bigger picture long-range. Our upcoming Language Access Summit in October would offer an ideal opportunity to focus on the issue of emergency communications, a new topic for us.