Disaster Preparedness of Linguistically Isolated Populations: Practical Issues for Planners

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Abstract

In the absence of culturally and linguistically appropriate disaster preparedness plans, several linguistically isolated and culturally diverse population groups are disproportionately disadvantaged in the United States. The communication gap poses challenges to emergency preparedness planners and response personnel in predisaster communication and postdisaster response efforts. Houston Department of Health and Human Services aimed to develop practical recommendations for local emergency response personnel so as to improve dissemination of emergency information and equitable delivery of services to linguistically isolated communities in the greater Houston area. Sixteen focus group discussions were conducted among linguistically isolated immigrant populations living in the greater Houston metropolitan area who primarily spoke one of the Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Somali languages. Our questions focused on general knowledge and understanding of disasters and explored experiences during Houston’s most recent disaster, Hurricane Ike. We found that (a) understanding of disaster and preparedness is contextual, (b) awareness of preparedness needs and actual plans among LIPs is inadequate, and (c) word of mouth is the preferred information source for linguistically isolated groups. Disaster preparedness plans of a given jurisdiction should reflect the culturally and linguistically appropriate components addressing the needs, concerns, context-based knowledge or awareness, and perceptions of linguistically isolated populations.

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