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Emergency Help for Vulnerable Populations: Non-English Speakers, Hard-of-Hearing, & More
Deaf / HoH, Elder Care, Personal Safety

Emergency Help for Vulnerable Populations: Non-English Speakers, Hard-of-Hearing, & More


Emergencies are extremely stressful and challenging for us all. 

But for vulnerable populations such as non-English speakers, the hard-of-hearing, and those with disabilities, it can be difficult to understand or follow established emergency plans.

Luckily, however, organizations like the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the Center for Vulnerable Population Protection (CVPP), and others are here to help.

These agencies engage with local communities to provide unique resources and services that accommodate those who may need special assistance in an emergency.

Today, we’ll be taking an up-close look at what these services are, a few examples of vulnerable populations that need them, and the easiest (and fastest) way for them to get help in an emergency.

So, let’s get started, shall we?


Non-English Speakers

According to the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), 2018 marked a record high of 67.3 million US residents who spoke a language other than English at home.

Of those 67.3 million, 25.6 million (38%) reported that they couldn’t speak English very well.

This presents a unique challenge to emergency personnel. It can be difficult to help, evacuate, or provide medical assistance to someone who can’t understand or respond to you.

Florida, one of the states with the highest populations of non-English speakers, outlines three key issues regarding emergency response for at-risk individuals:

  • Some non-English speaking population groups may not understand the role or presence of law enforcement officers in an emergency situation.
  • In emergency situations where parents and grandparents are monolingual, responders may have to rely on children who often have the ability to translate.
  • Some non-English speakers may not be accustomed to our state or country’s version of disaster preparedness and response and may be unaware of available assistance before, during, or after an incident.

The solution to these issues lies in the creation of a Community Outreach Information Network or COIN. Per the CDC, a COIN is…

“…a grassroots network of people and trusted leaders who can help with emergency response planning and delivering information to at-risk populations in emergencies.”

These can be business owners, school directors, and other locals that are invested in the greater good of the community.

Through this network, community leaders can implement strategies to provide vulnerable populations with the resources they need to protect themselves and their loved ones in a crisis.

For example, the following methods — from the CDC and Florida’s Public Health System — are currently used to address these issues:

  • Providing preparedness information to children through schools is an effective form of outreach that can help get the message to non-English speaking parents.
  • Coordinating outreach and emergency preparedness training tailored to fit the needs of the target population.
  • When sending out public emergency information, keep it simple and include necessary translations.
  • Add visual aids, directions, and phone numbers.
  • Equip staff and emergency personnel with communication message boards. 
    • These boards are laminated to keep them durable and include translated messages (Spanish or other necessary languages) informing non-English speakers that responders are there to help if no translator is present.


Deaf & Hard-of-Hearing

The deaf and hard-of-hearing community are particularly vulnerable when it comes to communicating with emergency services. 

Since verbal phone calls are impossible in many cases, the 911 service has implemented several strategies to accommodate this community, including:

  • Teletypewriter (TTY) service
  • Video relay
  • Caption relay
  • Text to 911

In the field, responders often use a laminated 5” by 7” booklet with an attached marker to communicate with deaf or hard-of-hearing patients. 

These booklets are designed to follow the process that medical personnel typically use when working with a new patient. Each page is dedicated to a step in the workflow — patient history, physical symptoms, interventions, etc. 

Thanks to the visual aids, simple and concise English, and a limited selection of ASL signs, patients can provide relevant personal information, preferred communication methods, and any symptoms they’re experiencing.

The marker also allows the patient to write down any existing conditions and medication they’re taking.

For extra peace of mind, deaf or hard-of-hearing people can also preemptively print out their own emergency cards — like this example.

This card instructs responders how best to communicate with them, the type of help they need, and more.


People With Disabilities

Research tells us that people with disabilities are more likely to experience negative outcomes from emergencies.

We can partially attribute this to the fact that emergency personnel aren’t always well-versed in communicating with and providing service to these individuals.

But the CDC and other emergency planning organizations provide information, videos, and courses that educate first responders on different disabilities they may encounter and how to navigate crises with them.

In fact, researchers recently created and conducted a study on an online course designed to provide in-depth training on this topic for emergency personnel…

“Researchers developed an online course designed to teach public health, emergency planning/management and other first response personnel about appropriate, efficient and equitable emergency planning, response, interaction and communication with children and adults with disabilities before, during and after disasters or emergencies.”

Course features include an ongoing storyline, exercises embedded in the form of “real life” scenarios, and game-like features such as points and timed segments.”

The game-like course ran emergency personnel through simulated emergencies in which they would have to help people with autism, blindness, and individuals who use wheelchairs. The faster and more accurate their answers were, the more points they got.

Results showed a significant improvement in knowledge gained and simulated applied skills.

In the future, courses like this will likely become an essential part of first responders’ training programs. This knowledge will help to close the gap and save more lives. 


Fast, Confusion-Free Emergency Response

Today, we’ve covered several methods emergency personnel use to service vulnerable populations in an emergency —  TTY, text to 911, emergency booklets, etc.

But in practice, these strategies can be a time sink. (Not to mention, text to 911 still isn’t available nationwide yet).

Especially in a life-threatening emergency, non-verbal communication can cost time that simply can’t be spent.

The ideal solution would be one that automatically notifies emergency responders of a victim’s existing conditions, disabilities, language barriers, medications, and other relevant information as soon as they send for help…

One that allows at-risk individuals to send an emergency alert without saying (or typing) a word…

One that dispatches help first and asks questions later — not the other way around.


Enter the Rescu App

This mobile medical alert app lets you instantly dispatch fire, police, or ambulance services to your address or current location in the US. All in just two taps.

Simply select the service you need, then hit Send Alert, and Rescu’s private dispatch center will immediately send responders to your location.

When you first set up the app, you can enter any relevant information you want emergency personnel to know — medications, existing conditions, special instructions, etc.

Whenever you send an alert, Rescu will automatically send this pre-registered information to the response team that’s coming to help you.

If you’re deaf or hard-of-hearing, a non-English speaker, or you have a functional disability, you can make sure your caretakers know what to expect when they get there.

All of these features are designed with one key goal in mind: To save time.

If you or a loved one is part of a vulnerable population, Rescu can give you the security and peace of mind that comes with reliable emergency protection.

Download below to get started today.

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