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Austin releases Spanish-language emergency guide, with more languages on the way

Austin skyline after a winter storm.
Michael Minasi
/
KUT
Austin's emergency preparedness guide provides residents with information they need during disasters like a winter storm.

Lee esta historia en español

Spanish speakers in Austin will now have access to an emergency preparedness guide in their language. A guide that until this week was only available in English.

Last year, the city created and published its neighborhood preparedness guide. It’s a how-to manual that helps residents in different neighborhoods work together and prepare for all kinds of emergencies, such as a freeze or a wildfire.

On Thursday, the city’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management released the Spanish version of the document — expanding its language access resources.

This comes on the heels of a city audit — released earlier this year — that found the city was not doing enough to meet the needs of residents who don’t speak English very well. Providing information to people in languages other than English is critical, especially during emergencies, local advocates told KUT.

There are more than 45 different languages spoken in Austin. And Spanish is the second most spoken language, according to city demographer Lila Valencia.

Sara Henry, who helps lead communications for the city’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management department, said this was a critical step for the city.

“As we know, we have a large Spanish-speaking population in Austin,” she said. “And we want to reach everyone in our community.”

Ken Snipes, director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, said the city is “committed to continuing to improve access to emergency information."

“The Spanish edition of the Neighborhood Preparedness Guide will allow more people in our community to access life-saving emergency preparedness resources,” he said in a written statement.

Henry told KUT providing more people with access to this information means making sure the city’s resources are also available in other popular languages like Chinese and Vietnamese.

“So the goal is to not stop here, and to continue to look at all of our preparedness resources to ensure that they are as accessible as possible,” Henry said.

But that can take some time.

Henry said the city works with vendors and partners to translate the guide. And because each language can have so many dialects, the city sends translations through several groups to ensure accuracy and consistency.

“I would love to say we can get things done faster, but the reality is that the whole process takes between six months to a year to vet it, and make sure we are doing it the right way and get it published and printed,” Henry said. “We want to make sure we are doing it right. So we are taking our time.”

In the meantime, she said, residents can access most of this information on the city’s website, where it is available in 14 different languages, including American Sign Language and Chinese.

But Henry said the department knows access to technology and the internet can be difficult for some families. So the information is available in English and in Spanish in printed booklets.

Booklets can be picked up at customer service office locations and at the various pop-ups the city hosts throughout the year.

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Luz Moreno-Lozano is the Austin City Hall reporter at KUT. Got a tip? Email her at lmorenolozano@kut.org. Follow her on X @LuzMorenoLozano.
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