Should Storm Warnings Also be in Spanish?

May 14, 2003
Posted at: 8:43 p.m. CDT

JONESBORO, Ark. -- Imagine facing severe weather conditions and not understanding any of the weather alerts or messages. The problem affects a growing segment of Region 8's population and state emergency officials are looking into what they can do to break down the language barrier.

Over the past several years, the number of Spanish speaking residents in Arkansas has grown. Now emergency officials across the state are finding ways to educate Hispanic residents about warning signals that could save their lives.

"All the information that comes to us from the National Weather Service and all the information that comes through us and is distributed throughout Craighead County," Craighead County Emergency Services Coordinator Jack Richardson said. "The Spanish-speaking population probably doesn't get the information they need to get."

"The language is a problem because they don't speak English," Ivette Toloza, editor of the area's Spanish-language newspaper El Hispano said. "So, they don't know what is going on, what they have to do. Maybe this is going to be a priority to get the information they need so they can be ready when something like this happens again."

Richardson says the state emergency management office now orders and displays literature in Spanish so that residents are more aware of how to stay safe.

"The more people understand what we are doing, the more they can take care of themselves and that's the primary goal," Richardson said.

Pamphlets are now being distributed by the national Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help Hispanic families prepare for emergencies. Members in their community say that's very important because many don't understand what warning sirens really mean.

"In Latin America, we do not have these weather conditions," Toloza said. "Our weather conditions are totally different, so we are not used to this kind of weather and that's why it's kind of strange for them to see these kinds of phenomenon here."

A spokesperson for the National Weather Service in Little Rock says it may soon broadcast weather alerts on it's radio system in Spanish.

"The people deserve to be protected just like anybody else, and if that's the way we have to get it to them, that's the way we have to get it to them," Toloza said.