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2019.04.21 California Bill Would Recognize Language Diversity in Emergency Planning
Eight years have passed since Japan's Great East Earthquake which, on March 11th, 2011, took thousands of people's lives. Since then, the federal and local government, as well as the private sector, have been busy developing and implementing disaster warning and communication systems in multi-language. Across the Pacific, recent natural disasters in Santa Barbara County, California, have prompted State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson to propose a bill to make emergency planning systems more inclusive for local residents, including those who are not proficient in English.

Senate Bill 160 will broaden emergency planning and alert systems to communicate with all residents in the event of an emergency. The legislation emphasizes differences in language among residents, focusing on improved translation and interpreting services within the emergency alert network and evacuation procedures. The bill also states the need for diverse cultural groups to be represented during the emergency planning process.

The bill comes in response to a panel discussion Jackson held with the Joint Legislative Committee on Emergency Management in November. Panelists urged the committee to consider improving translation and interpreting systems in emergency alert programs. The bill has won support from the Women's Foundation of California and the Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy. Both organizations have pushed for the reform of emergency planning to accommodate California's most overlooked communities.

"With more than 220 languages spoken in California," Jackson commented, "and 44% of our residents speaking a language other than English at home, we must do everything we can to ensure our emergency plans incorporate the diverse needs of all residents."

Meanwhile, in Japan, the lessons from the earthquake and tsunami led to the development of the volunteer registration system for interpreters, as well as having available the disaster-prevention leaflets, help cards and informational DVDs in several different languages. Plans are in place to materialize emergency broadcasting in 'plain and simple Japanese,' and online message boards, along with various notifications systems from the private sector.

Various countermeasures in case of natural disasters to save lives and keep the survivors safe are without a doubt important. In this day and age of diverse society, it is also a tremendous help if one region or a country's knowledge and skills in disaster management can be shared with the rest of the world. Further international cooperation is desired in this field.