Pilot program addresses accessibility of emergency public information

Pilot program addresses accessibility of emergency public information

Dan Porth, Human Services Coordinator at DEMA, assists instructing Emergency Response Interpreter Credentialing program

When an emergency happens, do you know what to do to keep your family safe?  If told to evacuate, how do you receive information updates?  What services are available at shelters or reception and care centers?

 Most people receive information through several communication methods: television and radio broadcasts, social media, even word of mouth.  But what if you are unable to hear the message?

 An estimated 1.1 million Arizonans are hard of hearing and over 20,000 Arizonans are culturally Deaf and use American Sign Language as their primary method of communication.  Is emergency information accessible for the whole community?

 Emergency officials from the Arizona Department’s of Emergency and Military Affairs (DEMA), Forestry and Fire Management (DFFM), and Maricopa County Department of Emergency Management (MCDEM) partnered with the Arizona Commission for the Deaf and the Hard of Hearing (ACDHH) to address that question.

 “We identified a gap in the accessibility of information for the Deaf and hard of hearing communities,” said Pete Weaver, director of MCDEM.

 The agencies recognized the first step to address the gap was to develop training for those providing services and to streamline the activation process. The services include American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters for the Deaf public and Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) captioners for the hard of hearing public. 

 Over the last six months, they formed a curriculum development team to identify training topics and tested integration into the information process with Type 1 Incident Management Teams on the Cedar and Fulton Fires. 

 “The opportunity to participate in operations at two Type 1 events was crucial to ensuring that we appropriately identified the needs of the community, and that we provided the necessary training for ASL and CART providers to meet those needs consistently,” said Vicki Bond, Interpreter Outreach and Development Coordinator with ACDHH. “The support of DFFM and other agencies at both incidents was overwhelmingly positive and greatly contributed to the success of the program.”

 The 3-day Emergency Response Interpreter Credentialing (ERIC) Program provides ASL interpreters and CART captioners an overview of how emergencies evolve common hazards in Arizona, emergency management terminology and processes, shelter operations, and family preparedness.  When ASL interpreters and CART captioners deploy to an incident, they will be equipped with background knowledge to assimilate into the emergency management community in order to quickly provide services.

 “When designing this program, we wanted to ensure the interpreters and captioners were equipped to respond to events with the same level of preparedness all other responders demonstrate in these events so that there is no delay in the Deaf and hard of hearing communities receiving the information they need to be safe and well-informed,” added Bond.

 “We have been using ASL interpreters for mock news briefings for Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station exercises,” said DEMA Deputy Director Wendy Smith-Reeve. “The ERIC training will help us increase the accessibility options.”

 After completing the ERIC training, the ASL and CART providers are considered Technical Specialists and will be added to the Resource Ordering and Status System (ROSS) maintained by DFFM.  When a need arises for ASL or CART services, emergency managers/incident management teams can use ROSS to place a resource order through the Arizona Interagency Dispatch Center.

 "ROSS provides us the opportunity to track personnel from the time they leave for an incident to the time they return home”, said Carrie Dennett, State Fire Prevention Officer with DFFM.  “Making sure our first responders, including our ASL interpreters and CART captioners, are safe is paramount to successful incident management." 

 ASL interpreters will support public meetings, media briefings, one-on-one public interactions in shelter operations, and informational videos.  When event videos are produced, ASL interpreters will caption audio and/or video files that will be posted to social media.  The CART captioners will support public meetings and shelter operations by translating the oral word to the written word, usually projected on a large screen.

 The ERIC training has received positive responses from participants.  “I am very excited to be part of ERIC.  The agencies are working hard to provide a much needed resource to our Deaf and hard of hearing community,” said Cassi McCord, certified ASL interpreter and ERIC program graduate. “These agencies are open to learning about providing access to communication in emergency situations and are helping to educate local, state and federal agencies about the need for CART captioning and ASL interpreting services.”

 “Emergency response communication has typically been inaccessible to Deaf citizens whose primary means of communication is sign language, and participating in ERIC allows me to be a part of the solution,” said Jackie Moats, certified ASL interpreter and ERIC program graduate. “Only a few states have recognized the importance of making emergency communication accessible, so being a part of this innovative and groundbreaking program in Arizona is truly a privilege.”

 The Emergency Response Interpreter Credentialing Program is expected to be operational in January 2017, although it can be deployed earlier if the need arises.