The non-English-speaking population is at the center of emergency communications as peak fire season approaches

SANTA BARBARA COUNTY, Calif. – The Santa Barbara County Office of Emergency Management (OEM) is increasing its messaging and commitment to informing the non-English speaking population, especially those who speak Spanish.

In recent years, the ministry has identified this area as a priority.

OEM Director Kelly Hubbard says some messages are now prepared in the system and will be adjusted per event. At short notice, they can be sent to the general public or to specific areas.

The goal is to improve and expand community resilience.

The Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) works with emergency services and Listos California to help ensure communities across the state are prepared, can respond, and recover from disasters.

This includes messaging and disaster recovery grants.

According to Hubbard, significant improvements have been made. “We have done a lot of pre-translated messages. These are pre-loaded into the system. In emergency management, it is a priority to ensure that we translate our emergency protection measure into all common languages of our communities.”

Liliana Encinas, public education specialist for the City of Santa Barbara firefighters, said the COVID crisis has shown some shortcomings in the messaging system. “If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s the lack of access to information.”

Before a crisis, Encinas says the public should understand emergency information and have a personal plan. “That way, when the incident happens, they’re familiar with all those terms and where to look for all that information.”

She says that includes evacuation warnings and red flag alerts. “The more educated our community is, the easier it will be to act in the event of a disaster.

Listos information is now available in 13 languages. “So you can take any language you like to speak at home,” Encinas said. “You are knowledgeable. You know what the different terminologies mean and what actions you need to take.”