There are some things that need no translation. Anyone watching a video of an earthquake or tsunami can see that’s bad news.

But what is harder to translate is what to do in response. That is why Clatsop County Emergency Management, the Lower Columbia Hispanic Council and Mercy Corps partnered to host the first-ever Cascadia earthquake presentation in Spanish.

About a dozen Spanish-speaking residents filled Seaside High School library in late May to learn how to prepare for the devastating earthquake predicted to hit the coast.

“When we think of vulnerable populations, we think of people with classic, functional access issues: the elderly and children,” Emergency Manager Tiffany Brown said. “But when I think about it, I think about people who don’t speak English well. What renders one more vulnerable than not getting critical information in a language they understand?”

Over the past decade, the county’s Latino population has increased by about 77 percent, according to a study done by Portland State University. Latinos make up about 8 percent of the population.

The county has long wanted to do more outreach to Spanish speakers on the coast, Brown said. While some preparedness literature has been available in Spanish for years, cultural barriers and the reality of having very few bilingual county staff members means little has been done to engage the area’s Latino population directly.

“Handing people written materials isn’t the same as providing them an opportunity to ask questions or engage with the topic,” Brown said.

Jorge Gutierrez, executive director of the Lower Columbia Hispanic Council, said there are a variety of factors that lead to the disconnect between emergency preparedness efforts and the Hispanic community. Cultural barriers mean some in the Hispanic community are not even aware there is a system designed to prepare the public, he said. Unfamiliarity can also breed a lack of trust.

“If a family is coming across a public institution for the first time, they’re just not comfortable with it,” he said. “Once there has been a warm introduction, then I think perception changes.”

An opportunity to develop the forum came out of a chance encounter Brown had with Susan Romanski, the U.S. director of disaster preparedness for Mercy Corps, a humanitarian aid organization. Romanski, who is bilingual, offered to give the county’s first presentation.

In her time giving presentations in the Portland area, Romanski has found success in “training the trainers.” She gives community leaders emergency information that they can make more culturally relevant.

“Make it more realistic. You don’t always have to focus on buying a $200 kit,” Romanski said. “Talk about the subduction earthquake in Mexico City. Talk about stocking up supplies. Talk about making connections with your neighbors. Get people to talk about it in their own communities.”


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