Extension responds to inequities with emergency preparedness events for Lincoln County’s Latino and Mesoamerican Indigenous residents

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The 2020 Echo Mountain Complex Fire that burned over 2,500 acres and impacted 368 structures in Lincoln County exposed the communication inequities and gaps in resources for the county’s Latino and Indigenous Mesoamerican communities. Due to language barriers – most of these residents speak Spanish or Mam, a Mayan language spoken by more than half-million people in Guatemala – some families and individuals mistakenly went to tsunami assembly areas, potentially increasing their risk for harm.

Local expert knowledge and local needs assessments showed that Latino and Indigenous Mesoamerican community members would benefit from meeting with first responders and local agencies’ staffs face-to-face to understand services provided and increase awareness of public safety, emergencies and hazards in the area.

In response, Oregon State University Extension Service in Lincoln County and the OSU Extension Forestry and Natural Resources Fire Program organized two public events, one in Newport and one in Lincoln City, for Latino and Indigenous Mesoamerican community members. The main goal was to promote social and environmental safety and wellness among these underserved communities.

These evening events focused on emergency preparedness, hazards, and public safety delivery to Latino and Mesoamerican Indigenous communities across Lincoln County. The Fire Program prepared presentations in Spanish and provided notes for a Mam translator. Translation was offered in both Spanish and Mam. To encourage participation, dinner was provided, children were given coloring books and other activities to keep them occupied while their parents participated, and the locations had free parking and were served by public transportation.

The Fire Program led sessions on hazards. The city emergency managers covered all hazard preparedness for emergencies, “go bags” and tsunami evacuation routes. Lincoln City and Newport fire department officials covered structural fire safety, fire response, and an overview of key differences in wildfire versus tsunami evacuation. The Lincoln City and Newport police departments and Lincoln County sheriff's office provided information about their roles in community safety.

The emergency managers distributed local tsunami evacuation maps to families based on their residences, the schools their children attend and their place of work. Fire officials offered home assessments and smoke detector installation. Handouts were provided for registration to receive Lincoln County alerts in Spanish. Community members were able to participate in question-and-answer sessions with local officials to voice questions and concerns.

Fifty-two adults participated between both events. For the Mam community and many Latinx families, these events were their first public meeting with local agencies. As a result of the events, most of the people responded to evaluations that they didn’t know about wildfire risk on the Oregon Coast prior to attending. Participants responded that because of the events they were able to know the difference between tsunami evacuation and wildfire evacuation.

Collaborators on the initiative included OSU Extension’s Aaron Groth, Beatriz Botello Salgado, Jennifer Pettit, Emily Blume, Felicia Olmeta-Schult and Wiley Thompson; Leslie Palotas with the Economic Development Alliance of Lincoln County; Alex Llumiquinga Pérez with the Olalla Center; and Maria Eliosa with Conexión Fénix.

Collaborators also included Robert Murphy with the Newport Fire Department; Del Lockwood with the City of Newport; Cassidy Boyle with Lincoln City; Cody Heidt with North Lincoln Fire & Rescue; Curtis Landers, Lincoln County sheriff; Dave Broderick, Lincoln City chief of police; and Jason Malloy, Newport chief of police.

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