County Comment: Language Cards Will Help First Responders

County Comment
Language Cards Will Help First Responders
by Norman Bassett
Washington County Public Information Officer

Visual Language Translator cards have been placed in all Fire and Emergency Services companies and local police agencies by the Washington County Emergency Management Agency.
EMA Coordinator Verna Brown, speaking before a recent meeting of the Washington County Disability Advisory Committee, displayed the "VLT" cards, which serve to assist first responders in communicating with people who have language barriers, allowing communication through pictograms.
The cards offer instant two-way face to face communications, save time by cutting through language barriers, help serve multicultural communities, help assess threat levels and aid in ensuring personal safety.
Brown said the 11 x 17 laminated cards, which fold up to pocket size, are intended to be used by emergency responders to help communicate with individuals who, for any of a number of reasons are unable to communicate with public safety providers.
"They are not a complete answer, but a resource," Brown said.
The recent incident in Hagerstown in which a language barrier was a problem for first responders aiding a woman who spoke only French, might have been avoided if Law Enforcement and Emergency Services companies had the cards on hand at that time.
The cards were not purchased for that particular purpose, but rather as an aid to emergency service providers in helping evacuate persons with speech, hearing or other disabilities in time of emergency.
The medical cards show examples of various injuries or medical conditions including injuries from being cut, shot or burned, falls, insect and animal bites, chest pains, types of medications and instructions for giving medications, allergies, and associated symptoms. There is also information to help responders identify the individual, communicate basic medical background and diagnoses or treatments the individual may be receiving.
Using the VLT, law enforcement personnel can help in identification of the individual and language being used, to gather information on types of crimes, car crashes, time of the incident, search procedures and other key information. Police can also use the cards to facilitate searches, DWI tests, assess valuables taken in robberies or burglaries, and aid with issuing tickets for a number of violations.
Funding is from a grant provided by federal and state sources to assist people with disabilities in times of emergency.
Brown told the Committee that plans for evacuation and for sheltering in place in emergency situations have been modified since Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, and have built on knowledge gained from that emergency.
Six hundred people in Washington County have been trained through Citizens Emergency Response Training (CERT) and through Project Aware, which trained volunteers to assist in emergencies.
The County EMA has worked with the Maryland Department of Disabilities to find best practices in assisting people with disabilities through crisis periods. The DAC is sponsoring a series of radio and television public service announcements designed to help in evacuation and sheltering situations. Those PSA's will be seen and heard locally within the next several months.