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Boulder emergency alert system not as useful for families that don't primarily speak English

A Louisville family who lost all of their possessions in the Marshall Fire says emergency notifications should be sent in the preferred language of its users.

LOUISVILLE, Colo. — Trying to navigate through a rapidly changing situation can be stressful enough on its own. Imagine trying to make quick decisions about where to go and where to avoid with information coming to you in a language that isn't your strongest. 

The Boulder Office of Emergency Management (OEM) confirmed the Everbridge emergency notification system it uses, which requires people to register, is available only in English. 9NEWS asked if there were plans in place that would allow people to opt-in using the language of their choice when they sign up, but we have not received a response.

MARSHALL FIRE

The Rodriguez family lost their home in the Marshall Fire that destroyed more than 1,000 houses in Boulder County. The mother, Irma Rodriguez, was home alone when she got a frantic call from her husband, Javier, and daughter, Jennifer. Her husband, who was at work in Broomfield, told her there was a fire nearby, and her daughter only knew what was happening after seeing a Facebook video of the Costco burning. 

"Y yo estaba tratando de salvar algo, no sabía que hacer y yo estaba tratando de salvar algo, no sabía que hacer," said Irma Rodriguez. "I was trying to save something, I didn't know what to do and I was trying to save something."

Irma Rodriguez ended up leaving home with only the clothes she had on, a few important documents and the family dog, Jack.

"Me siento muy frustrada, muy triste por que perdimos todo," she said. "I feel very frustrated, very sad because we lost everything."

"Perdimos nuestras memorias, perdimos fotos de mis hijos, de mis nietos, los jugetes," Irma Rodriguez said. "We lost our memories, we lost our photos of my kids, of my grandkids, the toys." 

Credit: KUSA
Friday was the first time Irma and Javier Rodriguez had seen what was left of their home after the Marshall Fire.

The family set up a GoFundMe to raise money as they try to figure out what they will do next. 

The Rodriguez family had just moved into the home five months ago. Jennifer Rodriguez said this was their new beginning, and this was the first year the family was able to afford to buy gifts for her son. 

"I don’t know why our house got picked, the only house in this cul-de-sac, our house is completely gone," she said.

LANGUAGE BARRIER

"I think it should’ve been notified in Spanish. I, mean I was so worried about my mom being at home," Jennifer Rodriguez said. She has always been the voice of the family as she helps them navigate through life where language could be a barrier. 

"It has been really tough for me, since my parents aren’t native speakers, I have had to translate a lot and finish forms and get our family the assistance that we need. It’s just been tough to do it myself," she said. 

Irma Rodriguez is grateful for the support she has in her family. Her daughter knows that there are people out there who don't have the same support systems and said everyone should be able to receive life saving, timely information in the language they are strongest in. 

Notifications in Spanish wouldn't have saved their home. If sent out with proper timing, however, it could have allowed Irma Rodriguez to save important photos, heirlooms and other irreplaceable items. 

Later notifications could have also instructed her on where to go, and where resources would be available.

Important information on the emergency management website can be found here in Spanish.

RELATED: Estos sitios web ayudan a las familias desplazadas por el incendio del condado de Boulder a encontrar una vivienda temporal

RELATED: Los impactos que han generado el incendio Marshall para los hispanoparlantes

Credit: Tony Strat

During the fire, Lafayette residents were under a pre-evacuation notice and were not directly impacted to the extent Superior and Louisville were. While the fire was burning, however, it was still unclear just how or where the fire would  move. 

Tony Strat saw the plume of smoke Thursday from the Marshall Fire from behind his mobile home park. By word of mouth, he then found out where the fire was burning and decided to begin preparing to evacuate just in case. 

"That raised a big concern for me about my community here, a lot of them do not speak English. It could extend from Hmong, Spanish, Farsi, other languages that notifications do not come in their language," Strat said. 

He went door to door to notify as many of his neighbors as possible, but knows a notification system would be more effective, especially if people have the option to choose which language those notifications come in. 

Last week's fire and the ongoing crisis response made him anxious about future emergencies and how important information would reach his community in an equitable way. 

"If they’re non-English speaking, those notifications are even more delayed, because you have translation and interpretation on top of that," he said. 

Here is what Boulder OEM said they are working on to make emergency crisis communication more equitable: 

  • They are providing Spanish translations on our official blog and official social media channels (Office of Emergency Management)
  • Community meetings provided with live ASL and Spanish interpretation
  • Boulder County Call Center has access to provide support to callers that supports multiple languages. That number is 303-413-7730. 
  • Boulder County Disaster Recovery boco.org/MarshallFire and boco.org/Marshallfire espanol are being updated with real time information in English and Spanish.
  • Boulder County and jurisdictional staff are working to ensure language access through video, translations and other resources for public health, housing and human services, community planning and permitting, transportations, clerk and recorder, and many others.
  • Boulder County is working with jurisdictional partners of Boulder, Louisville, Superior, and others working cultural brokers to spread information and amplify messaging.
  • Fliers promoting available community supports are translated into multiple languages.
  • The Disaster Assistance Center is providing a variety of multi-lingual support.

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