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As Hurricane Bears Down, Spanish Communications Are Vital, Groups Say

MMTC and LULAC urge steps be taken in key markets within the storm’s path

As the Southeast Coast prepares for the lashing that is expected to come with Hurricane Florence, it’s important that emergency communications be properly disseminated to all residents — including those whose primary language is not English.

The Multicultural Media, Telecom and Internet Council and the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) sent a letter on Sept. 12 asking the Federal Communications Commission to ensure that lifesaving information in Spanish be available in four radio markets that are expected to be impacted by Hurricane Florence.

[Read: FCC, Broadcasters & Associations Prep for Florence]

Now that the FCC’s Disaster Information Reporting System has been activated, the groups asked the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau to press stations to broadcast emergency information in Spanish in certain markets at periodic intervals during the day.

The groups suggest that periodic Spanish-language alerts be sent to notify those in the affected markets of the need to evacuate and provide basic information about evacuation procedures. In the days after the hurricane, alerts will be needed to provide information on how to find missing family members, how to avoid injuries and illness upon one’s return home, and how to obtain emergency medical and nutritional support, they said.

The groups also offered to identify Spanish-speaking personnel who can assist stations willing to provide this service.

Impacted markets that lack multiple Spanish-language stations include the North Carolina markets of Jacksonville and Fayetteville and the South Carolina markets of Myrtle Beach and Hilton Head. Neither Fayetteville nor Myrtle Beach have any Spanish-language stations at all, the groups said.

The commission’s intervention is necessary because it does not appear that the region’s broadcasters have EAS plans that address the urgent needs of speakers of Spanish, said Maurita Coley, CEO of MMTC, and Sindy Benavides, CEO of LULAC in their letter. The two said that in May the state emergency communications committee of North Carolina informed the bureau that less than 2% of North Carolina EAS Participant respondents were currently providing EAS alerts in a language other than English.

MMTC and LULAC pointed to the impact on New Orleans in August 2005 from Hurricane Katrina. “The only Spanish-language station in the area, KGLA(AM), was off the air for eight days. The wireless and wireline networks were down as well. Thus, during those eight days, over 100,000 highly vulnerable people, who spoke Spanish primarily or exclusively, were without access to any form of mass communications,” said Coley and Benavides in their letter.

“We urge the bureau to act now to prevent a similar communications catastrophe from taking place in light of Hurricane Florence and the relatively large number of Spanish-speaking residents in the four radio markets that will be affected.”

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