4.1A Improving Weather Communication in Areas of High Socioeconomic Vulnerability: Spanish-Language Information for the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas

Tuesday, 12 January 2016: 11:00 AM
Room 333-334 ( New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center)
Manuscript (128.9 kB)

Two of the poorest metropolitan areas in the United States are located in the Rio Grande Valley of south Texas, with approximately 40% of the region's population living below the poverty line. Poverty, combined with low levels of educational attainment, has resulted in a high degree of vulnerability due to high-impact weather events.

Official information during emergencies provided by the National Weather Service (NWS) is often ignored by Hispanic and low income population groups. Family or other members of a Hispanic resident's inner social circle is viewed as a trusted source of information, frequently resulting in the distribution of incorrect or incomplete warning information. More importantly, this may result in improper preparations or other protective measures being taken. Even if the risk is understood, studies show low income groups have fewer resources from which to take protective action.

In support of the NOAA's Weather Ready Nation initiative, the NWS office in Brownsville, TX dramatically increased the availability of official information in Spanish. Two Spanish-language NOAA Weather Radio All-Hazards transmitters, including English-to-Spanish translation software, were installed through a partnership with the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council and the State of Texas. Forecast staff also developed software which simultaneously generates both an English and Spanish Hurricane Local Statement. Each allows the limited number of fully bilingual staff to focus on media interviews, Spanish-language social media posts, graphics, and briefings.

The office has also reached out to communities, mass media, and emergency management officials across the Rio Grande Valley to target households which speak primarily or only Spanish. These households were provided educational information, and also directed to available Spanish-language resources through traditional and emerging technologies.

This presentation will discuss how the NWS in Brownsville improved capability to communicate with a sizable portion of the population that lives at or below the poverty line, and is most comfortable with Spanish-language information. It will also describe how trusted relationships between NWS Brownsville and the Rio Grande Valleys' public safety and mass media community ensures effective response from these highly vulnerable groups to high-impact weather events.

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