Deaf community weighs in on need for emergency communications

Trevor Boucher with the National Weather Service speaks during a town hall meeting with the deaf community about the importance of broadcasting information during severe weather.

AUSTIN (KXAN) — On Wednesday, the National Weather Service hosted a town hall meeting with the deaf community to address questions, comments and concerns about how severe weather threats are communicated. Representatives from CapCOG, ATX Floods, Austin Travis County Emergency Medical Services, area news stations and other emergency organizations were present to open a dialogue about what deaf and hard-of-hearing people in the Austin-area want to see during severe storms.

Seeing is key. Bobbie Beth Scoggins, who was born deaf, stresses that deaf people need more visual cues because sound alerts are unavailable to people like her. Hearing people tend to take, for instance, weather radios for granted. A relatively affordable $30 NOAA Weather Radio needs a flashing light and LED readout attachment to be useful to deaf and hard-of-hearing people, which can push the price upwards of $100.

“I think what we saw this afternoon is just having to appreciate the frustration, the struggle and just noticing that, okay, there are no plans really to address these things as of yet,” Scoggins said.

Trevor Boucher is a local National Weather Service meteorologist who helped organize the meeting. He believes outreach is critical in this area where the deaf community is the second largest in the country.

“There’s really a two-fold problem,” Boucher said. One, that we’re not really aware of what’s going on in the deaf community as far as what they need, and the deaf community is not really aware of what’s available to them.”

The hope is that Wednesday’s discussion will start facilitating small steps that will eventually turn into big changes, including better closed captioning on television, changing highway alert signs to include weather messages and implementing text-to-911. Learn more about Austin’s text-to-911 rollout here.

“We have a beginning,” Scogging said about how the meeting played out. “I think hopefully this town hall will be the first of many dialogues and discussions.”

One thing deaf community members can do is to register each year with STEAR, a free state system that flags your residence for special assistance from emergency responders, should severe weather strike.

Tune into KXAN News at 5 p.m. to hear more from Bobbie Beth Scoggins on the importance of the open conversation between deaf community members and emergency communicators.

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