Power outage reveals that emergency alerts are only offered in English

Emergency services 

The recent power outages incited by Pacific Gas & Electric Co.’s have revealed that Humboldt County’s emergency alert system isn’t available in languages other than English. 

So far, there have been two power outages, the first happened on Oct. 8 and the second on Oct. 26. During those times, PG&E’s website offered information and updates. Although the website has options for Chinese and Spanish, during power outages, people may not have access to the internet so checking their website isn’t always an option. 

At the moment, the Office of Emergency Services has said that although they do have an emergency notification system, it is not available in other languages, but they have thought about adding other languages. 

Some of those who don’t speak English found out about the power outages through word of mouth. 

“During the blackout [on Oct. 8] I ran into the owner of Valley Azteca at Harbor Freight trying to buy a generator,” community member, Lucy Salazar said. “He asked me ¿Qué está pasando? He did not know exactly what was happening or why.”

What about HSU?

Humboldt State University has its own emergency notification system for students, staff and faculty, but it’s also only in English. Christina Koczera, HSU’s Emergency Management Coordinator, said that the reason that emergency emails and texts are sent in English is because most students understand it. 

Most emergency texts sent by HSU are manually typed out and since there isn’t always a translator available, it’s difficult to send them out in multiple languages. A few messages are preloaded in order to quickly spread information but the school has considered preloading messages in other languages. 

“Now we’re looking at preloading messaging, more along the lines of being
able to have experts review the content for us to potentially put out messages in multiple languages,” Koczera said.

Since some students’ families don’t understand English, the school does have a third-party translation service that family members are transferred to when they call in.

What about locally?

There also aren’t any local groups that have an emergency notification system.

Community members who do not speak English try to stay informed through posts that are shared on Facebook and other social media. Community members like Brenda Perez, an organizer with Centro del Pueblo, wants to set up some kind of notification system.

“We have thought about starting a system but there are no economic resources,” Perez said. “We don’t have the means.”

Besides a notification system, the radio is also a source of information during emergencies since internet and cell-phone service may not work. However, in Humboldt County, there aren’t any live programming at radio stations that provide reports in other languages.

One resource: call 2-1-1

One of the few resources non-English speakers can call is 2-1-1. Former Director of 2-1-1 Humboldt, Jeanette Hurst said that anyone can call in before, during or after the time of any major event within Humboldt County to receive information.

“We can connect them [callers] with food during any emergency and where shelters or community charging centers are being set up,” Hurst said. “We have translation services available 24/7, 365 days a year if for any reason we do not have an interpreter available.”

The power outage revealed a major flaw in Humboldt County’s emergency preparedness. In the event that something more serious does happen, there isn’t an efficient way of getting information out to non-English speaking communities.

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