The Portland Bureau of Emergency Management and other agencies Friday hosted an event in order to learn how to best provide emergency information to immigrant communities.  

About 30 community members gathered at the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization in Portland for the disaster preparedness event.  

They spent half the day watching presentations and brainstorming ideas on how to improve communication in underrepresented communities.  

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Ana Mendoza primarily works as an after-school program coordinator with Hacienda Community Development Corporation. She also began working with Multnomah County on emergency preparedness after a scrap yard fire last year directly affected her neighborhood.  

She said it was hard to get information to everyone in her apartment complex — especially people who didn’t speak English well, or at all. 

“We need to get more training to not just certain residents, but all residents in general, especially communities who are of color who don’t know the English language or it’s their second language,” Mendoza said.  

“We need to work together as different communities,” she said.  

Justin Ross with the Multnomah County Office of Emergency Management said his office was inspired by attending a similar event in Pierce County, Washington.  

“We came back and created a committee of emergency management and public information officers from the five counties around the city of Portland, including Clark County in Washington,” he said, “and we really dug deep on what things are absent in our dissemination efforts and how can we close those gaps to make sure we’re getting information to everybody in a disaster, not just English-speaking people.” 

The event invited people from non-English-speaking communities and people from the deaf community, who Ross said are also often underserved.  

“We brought them together so that we can hear from them about how they’ve experienced our information sharing in the past and to let us know how we can do a better job,” Ross said.  

Currently, Ross said, the county has a series of “canned” messages it can send out in an emergency event, “but those messages don’t have a lot of detail in them, so we’re not telling them where to go or what actions to take,” he said.  

Ross said eventually the county would like to have point people available from various communities that can be reached in order to effectively disseminate information.  

“We want to have people who we can call and say, ‘We need you to record a message for us,’ or, ‘We need you to come in and translate a document,’” he said. 

This was the first event of its kind Portland has hosted, but Ross said it won’t be the last. At future events, he said, that’s where he wants to establish those contacts.