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New Senate Bill Seeks to Recognize Language Diversity in Emergency Planning

State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson at a DACA rally in September
Paul Wellman (file)

After the recent devastating natural disasters in Santa Barbara County, State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson has introduced legislation to make emergency planning systems more inclusive for the diverse range of local residents.

Senate Bill 160 will expand emergency planning and alert systems in order to communicate with all residents in case of an emergency. Differences in language among residents is emphasized in the bill, focusing on the need for improved translation and interpretation services within the emergency alert network and evacuation procedures. Additionally, the bill states the need for diverse cultural groups to be represented during the emergency planning process.

“With more than 220 languages spoken in California,” Jackson commented, “and 44 percent 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.”

The bill comes in response to a Joint Legislative Committee on Emergency Management hearing overseen by Jackson in November. Panelists urged the committee to consider improving translations systems in emergency alert programs. The bill has won support from the Women’s Foundation of California and Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE) who urged the need to reform emergency planning in order to accommodate California’s most overlooked communities.

This is not Jackson’s first emergency planning bill. She previously authored Senate Bill 821, which allows counties to automatically sign up residents for emergency alerts, and Senate Bill 1260, which allows more prescribed burns in order to reduce the risk of wildfires. She also wrote Senate Bill 465 which helps homeowners pay for fire-resistant improvements to their properties.

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