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Sunday, September 05, 2010

Multilingual Disaster Warnings

Multilingual sign
On August 16, Lisa Fowlkes, Deputy Bureau Chief of the Federal Communication Commission’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau, blogged on the official Blog of the FCC about the issue of multilingual emergency alerts. She discussed the importance of receiving timely alerts and warnings during times of disaster and described the dire situation of non-English speaking individuals who are unable to receive disaster warnings in their own language. After detailing some suggested fixes to this problem, she invited stakeholders and other interested individuals to post comments on the FCC Blog and to submit ideas through the FCC’s Electronic Comment Filing System.

Considering the significant numbers of language minorities living in the United States, this issue is important. And, considering the not infrequent occurrence of natural and manmade disasters and the deadly consequences that can ensue from a lack of multilingual emergency warnings, this issue is urgent.

And yet, I find this discussion troubling. But I’m not troubled by the fact that the FCC is pondering the issue of multilingual disaster warnings. What’s troubling me is that the FCC is STILL pondering this issue. For the whole saga, meet me below the fold.

Over 6 years ago, on August 12, 2004, the FCC released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, seeking comment inter alia, “on whether current methodologies for providing alert and warning to non-English speaking persons are adequate.” In the Notice, the Commissions acknowledged a desire to “consider the needs of people with primary languages other than English when considering the best method of contacting the public during an emergency” and solicited comments on how to provide for multilingual alerts.

On November 10, 2005, after receiving several hundreds of responses to its initial Notice, the FCC released a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. In this Further Notice, the Commission sought additional feedback on how to “more effectively reach … speakers of languages other than English.”

On June 19, 2006, the FCC released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to “address and implement” the recommendations of the FCC’s Independent Panel Reviewing the Impact of Hurricane Katrina on Communications Networks. The Panel, charged with studying the impact of Katrina on telecommunications and media infrastructure in disaster-struck areas, recommended, inter alia, that the FCC “[p]romptly find a mechanism to resolve any technical and financial hurdles … to ensure that non-English speaking people … have access to public warnings.”

On July 12, 2007, the FCC released a second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking asking for additional comments on the issue of multilingual emergency alerts.

We’ve been talking about multilingual alerts for a long time. To date, however, our national Emergency Alert System rules contain no provision ensuring the dissemination of disaster warnings to non-English speakers.

Over the past six years, the FCC, through the notice and comment process, has facilitated valuable discussion on this critical issue. But there is a difference between being deliberate and being dilatory. As I wrote some time ago, “discussion will not stop time from passing or the seasons from turning. The Atlantic Hurricane season began on June 1, 2008. The public interest requires a little less conversation and a little more action.”

Posted by Susan Kuo on September 5, 2010 at 12:16 AM in Current Affairs | Permalink


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