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SEASIDE, Ore. (AP) — 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 Wednesday 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, executive director of 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.”

‘The more we know’

Making emergency information more inclusive of other languages is a task the Pacific Northwest has been poking at for years. A few years ago, Beaverton started an all-Spanish speaking group of emergency response volunteers to bridge the gap. Washington state passed legislation last year that requires state agencies to provide emergency notices in languages other than English.

Oregon has no similar law, but began to look at bilingual communication more seriously while preparing for the 2016 Cascadia Rising emergency drill, said Cory Grogan, public information officer for Oregon Emergency Management.

Since the drill, the state has identified Spanish speakers to serve on a statewide team that would write press releases and coordinate social media in Spanish during a disaster. But like Clatsop County, the state has had issues finding the right resources and strategy to bridge a cultural gap between their office and those in Oregon who speak a language other than English at home.

“I think it comes down to having programs in place that identify members in the community to get these messages out,” Grogan said. “Clatsop County is one of the leaders in being innovative that way.”

Sometimes it just takes someone like Minerva Moulin, a Seaside resident concerned about how informed the Hispanic community is on the coast.

“One of the most important things for our community is to be informed,” Moulin said through a translator. “There’s not a lot of information out in Spanish. And there’s a lot of discrimination when it comes to access.”

Moulin hopes to take the information she learned Wednesday and share it in more Spanish-speaking forums.

“I learned today that we need to bring people together to get information so they aren’t so scared,” she said. “The more we know, the better we can take care of ourselves.”


Information from: The Daily Astorian,