Natural disasters can strike anywhere in the world and at any given time. From earthquakes, floods, and landslides, to fires, droughts, and hurricanes, Mother Nature can certainly test our reserve. In the United States alone, natural disasters tend to occur cyclically during certain times of the year and in specific geographic locations. The midwest and northeastern states, for instance, are no strangers to winter snowstorms while the southeastern United States must often battle hurricanes and tropical storms. In the west, residents endure wildfires, volcanic eruptions, and earthquakes. And in the coming decades, climate change is sure to up the scale of all these natural disasters.
Adding to the list of perils, we must also contend with menacing acts brought on by the human hand, either intentionally or through accidental action (or lack thereof). From time to time, we hear of terrorist attacks and social unrest that each cause incalculable tragedies. And then there are the dam failures, bridge collapses, oil spills, and nuclear power plant accidents just to name a few. In fact, according to the Swiss Re Group (a world-renowned reinsurance company based in Zurich, Switzerland), in 2016, the world was victim to 136 man-made disasters which resulted “in losses of about $8 billion.”1
Cost of Natural and Man-made Disasters
The cost to rebuild a community’s economy and infrastructure, clean up the environment, and care for the sick and injured following a disaster often reaches well into the hundreds of billions of dollars. According to the World Atlas, the 11 most expensive global natural and man-made disasters of all time occurred between 1992 and 2011.* The combined cost of caring for those affected, as well as the cost of cleaning up after these earthquakes, tsunamis, oil spills, terrorist attacks, hurricanes, and floods clocked in at roughly USD 884 billion.
More often than not, these catastrophic events cause immense suffering with unimaginable loss of life and livelihood. Some of the hardships encountered after a disaster are immediately and directly felt while others are indirect, possibly lasting for weeks, months, or even years. For some, increased medical bills, forced relocation, and evacuation efforts result in displacement and homelessness. There is simply no accurate measurement for this immense human impact, but we can learn from past events.
By building and effectively communicating your disaster management plans before, during, and after an emergency, you can help reduce overall costs while minimizing the adverse and potentially long-term human impact that often follows a disaster. And, in a nation like the United States – a nation comprised of many immigrants from diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds – effective communication must include professional translation and interpreting services.
* According to Richard Kozul-Wright, Director of the Division on Globalization and Development Strategies at UNCTAD, COVID-19 will likely cost the world economy USD 1 trillion.
In general, disaster management involves the implementation of precautionary measures to deal with the human, material, economic, or environmental damage caused by a disaster. In other words, disaster management speaks directly to a community’s ability to plan for, respond to, and recover from the effects of a disaster. However, the most well-thought-out and comprehensive disaster management plans are only effective if the instructions are fully accessible and easily understood by the masses.
Power Outage Preparedness
When disaster strikes, power lines can often be one of the first areas affected. Whether from extremely high winds, ice, wildfires, lightning strikes, heavy rains, flooding, or from intentional meddling, when the lights go out, utility providers must be ready to respond. But power outages don’t only mean lights out for families and businesses. The power supplied to water treatment facilities can be disrupted, life-saving equipment in hospitals can suddenly cease to operate, and schools might be forced to temporarily shut down should heating or cooling be interrupted. For businesses, a power outage can negatively impact your bottom line. Not only do these interruptions create immediate safety concerns for you and your staff, but outages can also result in frustrated customers, as well as lost profits and productivity.
But what about prevention? Why wait for disaster to strike when so many injuries (and even fatalities) can be prevented with responsible planning and investment? According to Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFi), a non-profit organization that promotes electrical safety at home and in the workplace, “[h]ome electrical fires account for an estimated 51,000 fires each year, nearly… 500 deaths, more than 1,400 injuries, and $1.3 billion in property damage.”2 Many injuries can be avoided by ensuring access to user manuals and safety guides. But the technical language written in these manuals can oftentimes be difficult to understand even in one’s own language. When utility companies invest in professional translation services, they help reduce the risk of injury and help to save lives.
Emergency Preparedness for Hospitals
Unfortunately, many of the hazards we face result in a surge of emergency room visits and hospitalizations. Depending on the crisis at hand, a healthcare facility might need to act quickly, ensuring backup generators are operable. They might further need to hurriedly set up emergency triage stations or ensure the safe and swift evacuation of their patients. And while this might be initially overwhelming, a hospital’s emergency preparedness plan – if developed and communicated carefully – can help calm patient fears and ensure adequate staff and supplies are in place to effectively mitigate the aftermath of a crisis.
A comprehensive emergency preparedness plan should outline the hospital’s solutions for care continuity as well as provide access to essential resources by coordinating with other community healthcare facilities. Even at the best of times, hospital staff and patients alike should be fully aware of the hospital’s emergency management policies and procedures. This might involve active participation, for example, in a hospital’s scheduled drills and exercises. The plan should not only be regularly updated and fully communicated to staff in every service area, but should likewise be readily available for patients and their loved ones, accessible in multiple languages should the need arise.
Investing in Translation Services Mitigates Disaster-related Costs and Helps to Save Lives
Not always, but sometimes there are advanced warnings of an imminent threat. When this occurs, ensuring that pre-emergency plans reach all those who could potentially be in harm’s way helps to save lives. We need only look to California for one such example. Following the devastating 2017 Sonoma Complex Fires, the 2017 Thomas Fire, and the 2018 Camp Fire, the Auditor of the State of California performed an audit on three separate counties and found that “[d]uring those wildfires, none of the counties issued warnings directing people to evacuate in languages other than English. As a result, some people likely did not receive potentially life-saving emergency information in a language that they could understand.”3
As we have witnessed with the COVID-19 pandemic, when healthcare providers are unable to effectively communicate with their non-English speaking or limited-English speaking patients, consequences can be dire. To put this into perspective, “[a]s of mid-May, 22% of the Minnesota Department of Health’s interviews with people who had laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 cases required an interpreter – more than five times the proportion of the state’s population lacking fluency in English.”4 And this is just one out of 50 states. Not only are the patients and their loved ones at greater risk of exposure but by not understanding vital healthcare instructions, they could inadvertently increase the risk to overall public safety, making the services of professional translation providers essential to help flatten the curve.
Communicating information to the public in multiple languages is clearly essential to emergency management. Governments, businesses, and healthcare facilities that develop, maintain, communicate, and practice their emergency preparedness plans in multiple languages help to build stronger relationships with the community and help to save lives. With over 25 million residents within the United States with limited English proficiency (LEP), failing to ensure that these plans are professionally translated into multiple languages can prove to be a grave mistake.
PGLS is Here to Help
Since 2013, Piedmont Global Language Solutions (PGLS) has been supporting local, state, and federal government agencies, as well as the healthcare and energy sectors with unparalleled professional translation and interpreting services. Whether in times of relative calm or during emergencies, PGLS helps flatten the curve. Reach out to PGLS today.
1 “Facts + Statistics: Man-Made Disasters.” III, www.iii.org/fact-statistic/facts-statistics-man-made-disasters.
2 “ESFI: Home Electrical Fires Facts, Statistics and Safety Tips.” Electrical Safety Foundation International, www.esfi.org/resource/home-electrical-fires-184.
3 “California Is Not Adequately Prepared to Protect Its Most Vulnerable Residents From Natural Disasters.” Report 2019-103, www.auditor.ca.gov/reports/2019-103/summary.html.
4 Rao, Maya. “A Large Percentage of Minnesota COVID-19 Patients Don’t Speak English.” Star Tribune, Star Tribune, 27 May 2020, www.startribune.com/a-large-percentage-of-minnesota-covid-19-patients-don-t-speak-english/570772542/.
In addition to:
Baggaley, Kate. “Where in the United States Is Nature Most Likely to Kill You?” Popular Science, Popular Science, 18 Mar. 2019, www.popsci.com/natural-hazard-risk/.
Kiprop, Joseph. “The Most Expensive Disasters of All Time.” WorldAtlas, WorldAtlas, 31 May 2017, www.worldatlas.com/articles/the-most-expensive-disasters-of-all-time.html.
“Coronavirus Update: COVID-19 Likely to Cost Economy $1 Trillion during 2020, Says UN Trade Agency | | UN News.” United Nations, United Nations, news.un.org/en/story/2020/03/1059011.
“Disaster Management.” Physiopedia, www.physio-pedia.com/Disaster_Management.
“15 Power Outage Safety Tips for Small Businesses.” Constellation, www.constellation.com/solutions/for-your-small-business/small-business-resources/power-outage-tips.html.
Zong, Jie, et al. “The Limited English Proficient Population in the United States.” Migrationpolicy.org, 2 Mar. 2017, www.migrationpolicy.org/article/limited-english-proficient-population-united-states.