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Information in Spanish amid hurricane season is complicated, according to activists

Initiatives and tools to raise public awareness face barriers due to lack of technology access in some Latino communities.
Tropical Storm Elsa passed the Tampa Bay area. Luckily without any fatalities or serious injuries reported.
Tropical Storm Elsa passed the Tampa Bay area. Luckily without any fatalities or serious injuries reported. [ MIKE STOCKER | South Florida ]
Published Jul. 12

If you speak only Spanish, there’s information on tropical storms and hurricanes in your language.

But some local Hispanic community activists say it’s not easy to get.

Ana Lamb, a local activist and spokeswoman for a chapter of the national Hispanic advocacy group League of United Latin American Citizens, said last week she was looking for information about shelters.

But she didn’t find it in Spanish.

“We’re seeing good intentions, but I think it would be better to do it with more direct and simple platforms,” Lamb said. “We are a growing community and there are many people who do not have a computer or even a phone.”

Ana Lamb, a community activist, said authorities should try workshops in Latino and low-income neighborhoods.
Ana Lamb, a community activist, said authorities should try workshops in Latino and low-income neighborhoods. [ JUAN CARLOS CHAVEZ | Times ]

Lamb said authorities should try workshops in Latino and low-income neighborhoods.

Government officials say they are working hard to offer new platforms. They also recognize the need to translate their messages in real time.

Arelys Escalera, a Pinellas County government spokeswoman, said that during Tropical Storm Elsa the primary focus was to keep in touch with the Spanish-language media through interviews and news releases. She also said information is always available in Spanish at the County website.

“We have resources for residents to access information in their preferred language,” said Escalera. “Among the resources is the hurricane guide which is available in English, Spanish and Vietnamese.”

Related: Pinellas County hurricane guide in Spanish

In Hernando County, officials said the Spanish-speaking population can call the Public Information Center at (352) 754-4083. Call takers have the ability to connect them with an interpreter.

“Residents should continue to monitor local news outlets and our landing page for storm information relevant to Hernando County,” said Erin Thomas, Hernando County Emergency Management Director.

Related: Hernando County Emergency Management information

He said the county is working to ensure that Hispanic residents get alerts, updates and critical information about potential seasonal threats.

In Pasco, spokeswoman Tambrey Laine said the best resource they have is the 2021 Disaster Preparedness Guide, which is available in Spanish on their website at PascoEmergencyManagement.com

Related: Pasco County Disaster Preparedness Guide

Hillsborough officials said the County is always working to keep their Spanish-speaking residents informed.

“We want Spanish speakers to have the latest information they need to help protect themselves and their families, while also ensuring they have access to the programs that contribute to an improved quality of life,” said Liana Lopez, the county’s chief communications administrator.

The county publishes an annual hurricane guide in Spanish and has a call center line at (813) 272-5900. Residents can visit HCFLGov.net, scroll to the bottom of the page, and select their language.

Related: Hillsborough Hurricane Guide

News releases are translated to Spanish and submitted to local media, organizations and agencies that work with the Hispanic community, said Lopez. The audience includes the 237,000 people identified by the U.S. Census as Spanish speakers in Hillsborough County, 94,000 of whom said they speak English less than “very well.”

In Tampa, Mayor Jane Castor often appears on Hispanic television urging people to follow the recommendations and to publicize the city’s emergency text service, available in Spanish by texting TAMPALISTA to 888–777.

But Isaret Jeffers, founder of Colectivo Árbol, a nonprofit based in Tarpon Springs, said authorities have to approach local organizations that already have a relationship with the community.

And she said it’s not happening.

“No one has called or knocked on the door of Colectivo Árbol in recent weeks to be prepared for hurricane season,” Jeffers said.

Isaret Jeffers-Chavez, of Colectivo Arbol, offers masks and face shields to farmworkers while they work a field in Plant City on Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. The organization donated about 150 face shields and masks to farm working families in the community.
Isaret Jeffers-Chavez, of Colectivo Arbol, offers masks and face shields to farmworkers while they work a field in Plant City on Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. The organization donated about 150 face shields and masks to farm working families in the community. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

The exception is a group of experts from the University of Central Florida, according to Jeffers. They offered to run a workshop in two weeks with a meteorologist. The goal: to inform 200 farmworkers in Plant City and Lake Placid.

Jeffers and Lamb said their groups are available to work with authorities to share vital information. They said many immigrants are not familiar with hurricanes or tornadoes.

“There are very vulnerable people who don’t even know how to use the internet,” Lamb said.