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Fires expose Sonoma County’s lack of Spanish-language emergency information
An apartment complex burns along Old Redwood Highway near Cardinal Newman, Monday Oct. 9, 2017 in Santa Rosa. Photo: Kent Porter for The Press Democrat/Courtesy: La Prensa Sonoma

Early Monday, Oct. 9, news broke of a fire advancing towards the urban zone in the northern part of Santa Rosa, but there was little information spread in Spanish for the Spanish-speaking community Sonoma County, leading to confusion about shelters and the danger that the situation represented.

Former Sonoma County supervisor Efrén Carrillo was invited to the local station, KSRO, to do simultaneous translations when they noticed that no media outlet was reaching the Hispanic community, said Herman G. Hernández of the Board of Education in Sonoma County.

In the face of telephone disruption and lack of internet access in some areas, many people tuned in to the radio, but because of the demolition of one of the antennas at Mount Barham, near Calistoga Road, some stations had their signal interrupted.

The Mount Barham transmitter fault allegedly silenced Latino 95.5 FM, while its three sister stations: KRSH, Éxitos and KSXY 101, continued to broadcast, said Andre de Channes, a morning air announcer at KRSH.

“Basically, we’re just playing music and talking about resources for the people affected by the fire, and passing on any kind of news coming,” de Channes said.

Getting information in Spanish about the fires was particularly challenging.

“I woke up in the middle of the night and connected the KSRO transmission in English, because we had nothing else,” said Édgar Ávila, programming director at the bilingual station in Santa Rosa, KBBF. “Later in the day we had sporadic updates and then set up a national station in Spanish. On Tuesday morning, starting at 6, we had volunteers with three or four people in the studio ready to give updates.”

El Patrón, a Spanish-speaking station on 1460 AM, was also affected by the loss of the transmitter at Mount Barham. It left the air on Monday, but began broadcasting information on Tuesday, said Marco Canseco, who works on the premises.

But the lack of updated information in Spanish has also been noticeable in emergency units, Hernández said.

“Something we’ve seen in these more severe life-or-death situations is that we do not have the bilingual and bicultural staff at the Sonoma County emergency units. We have to learn from this context.”

Volunteers like SSU professor and counselor at the SRJC, Mariana García Martínez, and Graton Labor Center community leader, Jazmín Gudiño, have translated press releases that were published on social media for the Spanish-speaking public.

“We have limited resources and I do not know if we have been able to reach the people who need them. I have not seen institutions make translations into Spanish, but it’s not only that, we have families who do not know how to read and there is a tremendous lack of access to information at key moments,” said Martínez.

Gudiño also highlighted the lack of messages in Spanish at the shelters. “There are teams of volunteers that have gone to translate, but what matters most to us is to help people when it is necessary to fill the forms for insurance and federal benefits,” she said.

In general, the emergency content on various government websites lacks Spanish-language translations, and in Sonoma County, 35 percent of the community are Hispanic immigrants. The Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office has made an effort by sending brief alerts in Spanish via phone text messages.

Visit LaPrensaSonoma.com for more information on important emergency services.

With the information of The Press Democrat Reporter, Dan Taylor.

Story by: Ricardo Ibarra, La Prensa Sonoma