After Sandy, FEMA reaches New York’s diverse communities in many languages

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FEMA Community Relations Limited English Proficiency specialist, Eric Phillipson speaks in Russian to Hurricane Sandy survivors about FEMA disaster assistance programs.

When Hurricane Sandy made landfall on Oct. 29, 2012, many New York neighborhoods were impacted. These neighborhoods are rich in diversity in both language and culture. FEMA remained dedicated to providing equal access to information through the Limited English Proficiency/Additional Communications Needs (LEP/ACN) function within FEMA External Affairs. LEP/ACN is a support function committed to ensuring diverse audiences receive critical, accessible and understandable disaster assistance communications. 

FEMA’s response and recovery actions focus on saving and sustaining lives and helping individuals, families and businesses in need. The LEP function helps to eliminate language barriers and close any potential gaps in the delivery of information to diverse communities. Disaster-related information was delivered in the native language of identified LEP communities. 

Performing a language assessment prior to the disaster, FEMA's LEP/ACN team used U.S. Census Bureau data to identify 19 predominant languages other than English and as well as several ethnic enclaves that required LEP support. 

A combination of communication tactics were employed throughout various stages of the disaster, including but not limited to:

  • Canvassing neighborhoods and disseminating translated materials by Community Relations LEP field teams
  • Distribution of news releases, media advisories and public service announcements to multilingual media outlets
  • Creation of the toll-free language assistance line to answer questions from disaster survivors
  • Interpretative services support at community/organizational events and disaster recovery centers

The result was an impressive multi-cultural outreach effort to provide disaster and recovery information to all affected survivors throughout the area.

Highlights of External Affairs outreach to LEP communities:

  • Identified 26 languages to support: Albanian, Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, Estonian, French, German, Greek, Gujarati, Haitian-Creole, Hebrew, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Nepali, Polish, Portuguese, Punjabi, Russian, Spanish, Tagalog, Turkish, Urdu, Vietnamese and Yiddish.
  • Translated and distributed more than 1.1 million fliers in LEP communities.
  • Established a dedicated toll-free number to support LEP survivors. The language assistance line was established to assist survivors who spoke languages other than English or Spanish. This helpline provided registration support and answered questions about FEMA programs and other assistance. More than 15,000 multilingual calls were received.
  • Translated and distributed more than 280 media-related materials. News releases, media advisories and radio public service announcements (PSA) were translated into multiple languages and distributed to multilingual media outlets. 
  • Conducted nearly 400 field interviews with non-English media outlets with the help of multilingual media relations specialists.
  • Produced a series of PSA videos in more than 12 languages available at The videos feature audio of the languages of the targeted communities as well as images from those areas. Content included messages such as “FEMA is here to help,” coupled with an overview of FEMA programs and disaster assistance registration information.  

The videos were produced in the following languages: American Sign Language, Japanese, Italian, Spanish, Haitian-Creole, German, Korean, Russian, Polish, Portuguese, Tagalog and French. 

Find the videos in FEMA’s Media Library at

  • Social Media: LEP also communicated disaster-related information through social media such as Facebook and Twitter.  Key messages were translated into Spanish to raise community awareness of FEMA programs and to increase outreach.

LEP continues to keep multilingual communities informed of FEMA program information and disaster recovery efforts.

Last updated March 17, 2021