Language access in emergency and disaster preparedness: An assessment of local government “whole community” efforts in the United States

Tianyi Xiang, Brian J. Gerber, Fengxiu Zhang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

In 2011, the United States Federal Emergency Management Agency enunciated a “whole community” strategic approach to emergency and disaster preparedness. Central to this approach is inclusion of the interests and concerns of all residents of a jurisdiction, including those with heightened vulnerabilities. However, relatively few studies have investigated how subnational governments have translated those federally-identified principles of access and inclusion into practice. Here, we ask: what is the current state of local government performance on language access, what might explain it, and what are its implications? While limited English proficiency (LEP) is both a key vulnerability indicator and important to emergency preparedness and operations, it is seldom studied systematically. We investigate how language accessibility is addressed in two distinct elements of community preparedness: emergency operations plans (EOPs) and household emergency preparedness guides (HPGs). Using a sample of 110 U S. counties, we find somewhat positive performance: nearly half the counties score high on language access in their EOPs, and two-thirds acknowledge the issue. Local HPGs are moderately language accessible. But our analysis also indicates that underlying demand (proportion LEP residents, community hazards profiles) does not correspond to specific efforts. Rather, other aspects of local administrative capacity might drive performance variation. Taken together, this suggests a policy challenge: emergency preparedness on language access remains relatively variable across U.S. communities and might depend primarily on local capacity and commitment. The findings imply uniform adoption of whole community principles in emergency preparedness actions across the U.S. is unlikely to occur reflexively.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number102072
JournalInternational Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction
Volume55
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 2021

Keywords

  • Disaster risk reduction
  • Emergency management
  • Emergency preparedness
  • Language access
  • Social vulnerability
  • Whole community

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geotechnical Engineering and Engineering Geology
  • Safety Research
  • Geology

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