Frew’s ability to see patterns in different aspects of a social environment has helps her serve organizations and communities more effectively build community resilience. Using the community’s unique cultural patterns to communicate protects its first responders and helps the public safety sector to serve the diversity of its individuals in a more effective, respectful and proactive manner. Suzanne Frew, President of The Frew Group, continues sharing her expertise on being culturally inclusive in all phases of disaster management and risk resilience, as well as providing tips on how agencies can be more inclusive in their work.
When engaging with community subcultures and sectors, diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) have legal foundations as well as being a focus for human compassion . What are the reasons? Frew says, “On a heart, human-to-human level, we want everyone to be served in order to protect lives and promote community resilience and personal wellbeing. Everyone in a community, big or small, deserves to be communicated with in a way they understand. Providing equity in language is a critical piece in bridging the gaps on inclusivity among communities.” Equity is an intentional process to ensure everyone has access and understanding, no matter who they are. Having inclusive frameworks of language and outreach in emergency protocols benefits everyone involved, regardless of their background, demographic diversity, or culture. Reaching diverse audiences by building partners with “whole communities” and using different outreach platforms and techniques prevents legal issues from happening. Increasingly, the government is focusing more on engaging the whole community, as can be seen, for example, in the revised National Disaster Recovery Framework (NDRF) that strives to make sure response is inclusive and opportunities for public participation reaches everyone.
Challenging lawsuits related to inclusion of protected classes have surfaced in jurisdictions in recent years because issues of equity were not being addressed adequately. For example, instances of people having Access and Functional Needs (AFN) are not being properly served in shelters after a disaster. Federal efforts have stepped up to put those concerns into the framework and presidential directives, but when jurisdiction does not embrace cultural inclusion, issues arise in the public safety sector.
During the “blue sky” pre-disaster period, before a disaster hits, it is important to continually develop and educate ourselves on ways to be inclusive. Organizations and first responders can participate in trainings, develop policies, and build relationships and understanding to build cultural competency in order to practice what Frew calls “radical” inclusion.
Frew has led trainings, exercises, community outreach and engagement initiatives to build inclusive policy, programs and communications. Through local public workshops, games and interactive experiences, community participants helped shape their local jurisdictions’ policies and better train to respond. One series of public workshops for a planning department included youth, elderly, environmentalists, local officials and professionals in real estate. The public engagement efforts not only helped shape policy for the county officials through the feedback, but also helped build bridges of mutual understanding and respect among the widely differing cultural groups.
Frew provides helpful tips in making sure that agencies, public health sectors and companies can expand on being culturally inclusive and helping them avoid any legal problems. First, public safety professionals should understand the socio-demographic profile of the community they are serving. Frew says to ask questions such as, “what’s changing in the community? What new population groups are moving into the area? What’s the comfort level of technology?” Understanding a community is not limited to language and race, but reflects traditions and belief structures, which often guides them how to react in life-threatening emergency situations.
Secondly, Frew says, “We need to be reflective of who we when we communicate across cultures, and be aware of your own identity package.” Public safety professionals should think about how they themselves are seen from an outsider’s perspective, what about the other person’s culture they cannot afford to ignore, and then how to best interact with different groups based on that understanding. Effective cross cultural communications an greatly impact how public safety officials are seen and how they can serve their communities.
Thirdly, craft communications in a way that speak to what we want individuals to do in a way they best understand. Sometimes people think communicating in another language means only transcribing words, but straight translations do not always reflect the meanings you may want, nor encourage them to act—the ultimate goal. Professionals should concentrate on transcreation, which means reshaping the message where the intent of the message is emphasized. Communications should focus on the intent of the message, not necessarily the law of the language. For example, after watching how failed attempts of a measles vaccination campaign for a Somali community in a Midwest state due to local anti-vaccination beliefs, Washington State’s King County health department hired a firm knowledgeable in the use of transcreation to communicate their measles vaccination campaign to their local Somali population. They used an approach that reflected the meaning of outreach messages instead of a literal translation. Their approach, and unique media outlets, empowered individuals to understand the need to be vaccinated. The campaign was a success.
Seeing and respecting cultural patterns and being inclusive, drives effective communication strategies and community outreach in the public safety sector. This is especially true for first responders who are tasked to serve the whole community. Being culturally inclusive not only provides for an optimal quality of service, but also legally protects public safety professionals while shaping and implementing pre-disaster planning, response, and recovery.