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Emergency Preparedness and Speakers of Other Languages

Posted by Jonathan Riedel
Jonathan Riedel
Jonathan Riedel is the founder and current CEO of Forword Translations.
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on Monday, 29 October 2012 in Uncategorized

                With Hurricane Sandy threatening to affect over 60 million people on the East Coast, many governments are bracing for impact. The procedures they are implementing not only involve safeguarding the coastlines and preventing water damage, but also informing the public of the situation and the decisions of the government.

                But what happens when a city’s residents speak more than 200 hundred languages, as is the case here in New York City? The government of New York City does a tremendous job of trying to include non-native speakers of English, especially those with large, concentrated populations. Speakers of Spanish, Russian, Chinese, and Korean are strongly represented in the City, and many safety announcements are posted in these languages. Dialing the city’s universal information line, 311, can also connect you with someone who speaks one of these major languages.

                But during an emergency, things move very quickly.  There isn’t always time to inform all your residents of the situation. A press release about Sandy went out in Spanish, but the translation was clearly done hastily: accents are replaced with odd characters as a result of copy-and-paste malfunctions, a few words are misspelled, and there is even a note asking the reader to excuse the translator of mistakes due to the need to accelerate promulgation. These kinds of things happen in an emergency, but the important part is that the translation is there.

                Spanish is by far the greatest minority language in New York and in America, so Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York City, tries his best to reach out to that group especially. But New York also has the highest concentration of Chinese people outside of Asia, with nearly 700,000 people. How can we disseminate a press release in Chinese? Or what about the Russian population, many of whom live in the Southern part of Brooklyn, where the coastlines are subject to even more extreme flooding?

                Governments do their best in these types of situations to cover everything. One thing they should always keep in mind is that if their residents don’t know the situation, they can’t adequately prepare. If they don’t know the subway shuts down at 7 PM, they can’t plan to get home on time. If they don’t know that their area is under mandatory evacuation, they obviously won’t know to leave and may be exposed to high danger.

                Crowdsourcing this information will be a key tool in years to come. While static items in the media should be translated professionally, it is better in emergency situations to have volunteers translate information into appropriate languages to ensure that as many people as possible know what to do.

                If you speak another language and are updated on the events of Hurricane Sandy, please volunteer and translate important updates from the government and from news sources on your Twitter and Facebook pages.

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Jonathan Riedel is the founder and current CEO of Forword Translations.

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Ralph Pullmann
Ralph Pullmann
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Ralph Pullmann Tuesday, 30 October 2012

I think it's great that you think of using your skill set to help out in a time of emergency.

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