The Senate bill that will make emergency planning systems more accessible for areas with greater diversity, passed in the state Assembly on Tuesday.
Senate Bill 160 will require counties to “integrate cultural competence into its emergency plan upon the next update to its emergency plan.” The bill’s definition of diverse communities includes race and ethnicity, gender, age, sexual and gender minorities, people with disabilities, occupation and income level, education level, and people with no or limited English language proficiency.
This means that local authorities will work with local communities to find a plan that works for them. The bill specifically says that forums in affected communities will be formed.
Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) first introduced the bill to the Senate in January. She has largely been behind the bill ever since constituents and other Californians asked for a larger scale AB 1877.
AB 1877, a bill passed in 2018, introduced some emergency language translation services but was largely criticized afterwards for not going beyond supplying emergency workers with some translated materials. SB 160 is widely seen as a rectification of that, as evidenced by the bills focus on languages and Senator Jackson focusing on the need for communicating in other languages in speeches about SB 160 leading up to the vote. Senator Jackson’s past voting record and bill sponsorship of diversity bills also fits in line with her introduction of SB 160.
“With more than 220 languages spoken in California and 44 percent of our residents speaking a language other than English at home, we must do everything we can to ensure our emergency plans incorporate the diverse needs of all residents,” stated Senator Jackson.
SB 160 has been garnering support for months, with numerous rights and advocacy organizations getting behind the bill. Disability Rights California, and the Womens Foundation of California are among the dozens now behind SB 160 because of how the bill will be tailoring emergency plans for different people.
Nick Nagy, a Disability advocate in Los Angeles County, explained the importance of this. “We have neighborhoods or centers where they have a large disabled population. For, say, an evacuation, emergency services can’t have a one-size-fits-all plan. We’ll need special vehicles, nurses, making sure people are fit to get themselves away. If it’s an ethnic community, that means translators and people who know the cultural differences in, say, asking someone to leave their property. Or maybe if it’s an area that has an ethnic culture with a certain religion, we need to know if something like a blood transfusion is acceptable.”
“This bill will help bridge that gap. Police, Fire, and EMS will know how the people tick and will have a much better idea on what is needed.”
Despite the sensitivity of SB 160, no opposition has come out against the bill. Every vote on SB 160 in the Senate and Assembly has been unanimous.
SB 160 is expected to be signed into law by the Governor by the end of the session.