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L.A. disaster could prove costly for some

June 30, 2010 12:51:39 AM PDT
A new report has found that the city and county of Los Angeles are not well enough prepared to help Asian and Latino communities in the event of a disaster.A two year study on disaster preparedness by the Tomás Rivera Policy Institute and Asian Pacific American Legal Center concludes that first responders and county agencies will be ill-equipped to get information to and help residents of various ethnic groups who speak little to no English.

Chinatown is one of many communities in the Southland with significant number of residents whose primary language is not English.

"Fifty six percent of L.A. County, their first language is not English and so I don't think we've caught up to the realization that times have changed and our method of preparing for natural disasters has to change," said Stewat Kwoh of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center.

Officials say in conversations with emergency agencies throughout the county that budget constraints have posed a problem in bridging language gaps.

"As it is, the city has struggled with preparing for disasters with the community at large," said Wendy Chavira with the Tomás Rivera Policy Institute. "When it becomes a language barrier as well, it puts us in shock. We need to do something quickly."

Officials cite the more than decade-old Northridge earthquake as an example of problems faced due to language barriers.

"One example is just getting shelter," Chavira said. "There are a lot of people that did not understand or did not know the language as far as where the American Red Cross would be, where they'd be able to sleep."

"We think that a lot of the agencies do a good job in a smaller disaster or a focused disaster." Kwoh said. "The problem is when we have a big disaster, where you need residents prepared on what to do, how to survive. Other than saving food and water, now what do you do?

Officials with the study said they're working with emergency agencies, first responders, to help them find ways to bridge the language barrier.


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