CONCORD -- In an emergency, language shouldn't be a barrier to getting help. To address the needs of the city's large Latino population, the Concord Police Department is working with the nonprofit Monument Impact to launch Listos -- which means "ready" in Spanish -- a disaster preparedness training course designed for Spanish-speaking residents.
In May 2013, the Concord Emergency Response Team conducted an exercise during which Latino residents who played earthquake victims had trouble communicating with volunteers trying to determine the extent of their "injuries." Additionally, all the signs at the scene, such as those identifying the medical tent and volunteer registration area, were printed only in English.
"It became very clear that all of our efforts were based toward the English-speaking population, and then I knew I had a mission to address that gap," said Margaret Romiti, emergency and volunteer services coordinator at the Police Department.
In April, the city held a two-day training for a dozen volunteer instructors who learned basic emergency response skills, including how to turn off utilities and use fire extinguishers properly, and the basics of disaster medicine and triage.
"We plan on going out into the community and utilizing these leaders in the Monument area and allowing them to educate their community," Romiti said.
The first Listos training is scheduled in September, for a group of parents that meets weekly at Meadow Homes Elementary School.
The program will use a $20,000 grant from the state Homeland Security Grant Program to produce signs and training materials in Spanish and to purchase emergency equipment and supplies such as hand-crank radios, bandages, water, nonperishable foods, buckets and shovels. A large duffle bag containing these items will be stowed at six or seven apartment complexes in the Monument Corridor neighborhood where Listos volunteers plan to train residents, according to Romiti.
Ana Villalobos, who runs the healthy community program at Monument Impact, participated in the April training, which included children who came with their parents. Community members were eager to sign up, she said.
"We understand we are not doctors, nurses or firemen or police," said Villalobos, who has lived in Concord for 11 years. "But we understand that with the training we got we can help people get ready for an emergency."
As the nation becomes more racially and ethnically diverse, training bilingual volunteers and providing emergency response information in multiple languages also is a priority for the American Red Cross. The organization has developed six free smartphone apps that provide first aid advice and natural disaster information in Spanish and English. The apps are available for download for Android and Apple phones.
Whether responding to an earthquake or an apartment fire, the Red Cross strives to reduce victims' stress, and language is an important part of that, according to spokesman Carlos Rodriguez.
"Every time we provide our services we try to do so in a way that takes the individual from a place of trauma to a place of 'We're going to have a chance to put our lives together again,'" Rodriguez said. "It's important to do so in the language they are most comfortable with."
Lisa P. White covers Concord and Pleasant Hill. Contact her at 925-943-8011. Follow her at Twitter.com/lisa_p_white.