Governor Signs Jackson Bill To Ensure Emergency Plans Address Diverse Population Needs

October 02, 2019

SACRAMENTO – As California continues to face the threat of devastating wildfires, Governor Gavin Newsom has signed legislation by Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) to ensure counties address the diverse cultural, linguistic and other differences of residents in their emergency preparations.

Senate Bill 160 directs counties to integrate interpreters and translators in emergency communications, incorporate qualified representatives from community groups during the planning process, and use culturally appropriate resources when preparing community members for emergencies or disasters. This is commonly referred to as “cultural competence.”

“I am very pleased that the Governor of our very diverse state recognizes that emergency planning cannot be a ‘one size fits all’ approach,” Jackson said. “To effectively plan and communicate during a disaster, communities must have a very thorough understanding of their residents, partner with them and take into account linguistic, cultural, socio-economic and other relevant differences so we can ensure the best communication and the safety of all Californians.”

The bill is the result of discussions during a Joint Legislative Committee on Emergency Management hearing that Jackson convened last year to assess the state’s emergency alert systems. During the hearing, panelists called for improvements to emergency alert translations as well as plans to reach diverse populations that may be missed by traditional outreach.

“During the 2017 Thomas Fire, the reliance upon Google translate instead of knowledgeable translators led to the fire being translated as a “hairbrush fire” in Spanish in county emergency alerts. In the fires in Mendocino county, members of the LGBTQ+ community sometimes did not feel welcome in shelters for evacuees held in churches. These are examples of how California communities did not do the best job they could do reaching and communicating with diverse populations during an emergency, and this bill provides a more effective path forward,” said Jackson.

SB 160 takes effect January 1, 2020.

Jackson has authored numerous bills to improve California’s emergency planning and response.

Her SB 182, still moving through the Legislature, puts in place standards and guidelines for building responsibly when building in very high fire risk areas.

Her SB 821, signed into law in 2018, allows counties to automatically sign up residents for emergency alerts, while preserving residents’ ability to opt out of receiving them.

Jackson also authored fire prevention legislation that went into effect on January 1, 2019, including SB 1260 to allow for more prescribed burns to reduce wildfire fuels and SB 465 to help homeowners pay for fire-resistant improvements to their homes before a fire strikes.

Jackson represents the 19th Senate District, which includes all of Santa Barbara County and western Ventura County.