Professional Translators Still Have a Role in Emergency Planning

Streamlining rescue operations through professional translations

Disaster floodNatural disasters are unavoidable. In the past decade, an escalation of earthquakes, floods and blizzards have plagued various regions across the world. Unforeseen catastrophes, like the devastating earthquakes that hit Japan and Ecuador earlier this year, suggest that such events will only get worse in the years to come.

Language Barriers and Emergency Situations

When dealing with a massive crisis, one of the main obstacles that emergency operations face are language barriers. According to the Statistics Bureau of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications in Japan, there are over 1.7 million foreigners living in the country. The top five nationalities of foreigners living in the area include: Chinese (654,777) Korean (501,230), South American (236,724), Filipino (217,585) and North American (64,486). These figures highlight that the chances of encountering language barriers during relief operations are high.

“People in emergency situations regularly report instances in which communication barriers result in feelings of anxiety, fear, frustration, unrecognized pain, and overall loss of control. First responders face an especially critical need for communication. They need to reach people in trouble, often under emergency conditions,” explained Harvey Pressman from the Central Coast Children’s Foundation.

Non-Language Trends in Emergency Crisis Operations

Businesses that specialize in relief operations deploy several innovative tactics to bridge the language gap between workers and victims without the use of language. The most common method involves the use of picture boards, booklets and apps. This technique offers a pictorial solution to communications for trained individuals to point for a quick assessment. A recent trend in the industry includes the use of temporary tattoos for identification and tracking. Non-permanent tattoos may prevent a child from getting lost and is most effective for individuals with medical disabilities, such as autism and deafness.

Additionally, the use of animation videos is applicable for victims and foreign volunteers from other countries. Temporary housing units may play videos to guide individuals on various rescue protocols and guidelines. Training videos may also be deployed for foreign aid groups to streamline briefing while approaching the disaster zone. Like the use of picture boards and temporary tattoos, language dependencies are reduced.

Organizations that specialize in emergency situations are not the only establishments that can benefit from these kind of communication materials. With globalization on the rise, hotels and international businesses that support branches in foreign regions may use similar protocols during disasters to ensure their guests and workers are safe and well accounted for. Hotels around the world have a high percentage of international guests and it is typical for international businesses to employ a generous number of foreign employees that may not speak the local language. Areas in the workplace that may require attention include the following:

  • Near the elevator, suggesting to take the stairs in case of emergency
  • Steps on how to operate a fire extinguisher
  • Contact information of local police stations, hospitals and/or embassies
  • Labels of various “earthquake-ready” safe rooms around the facility

Professional Translators Facilitate a Thorough Proactive Approach

But in many situations, government agencies and companies cannot just rely on animated videos, images and tattoos as they can only go so far. Furthermore interpreters may be hard to reach on a moment’s notice, particularly when disasters strike. Providing reliable emergency evacuation services to all concerned therefore entails thorough preparation before the actual crisis takes place. Behind the scenes, professional translators help organizations create translated versions of communication materials for rescue operations. Accurate translations will reduce time spent getting over language barriers on the frontline during an emergency and provide reassurance for distressed victims.

“Such barriers become particularly dangerous when communication is a matter of life or death, or safety vs. risk. Foundations, advocacy groups and research institutions have warned for years about the severity of not reaching the culturally diverse communities regarding disaster preparedness,” said Kristy Pyke from New America Media.


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