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Sounds, like beeping smoke detectors or blaring sirens and alarms, often communicate danger. So how do you warn people who are Deaf or hard of hearing (DHOH) in an emergency?

Whether your organization has an Emergency Action Plan or supports communities during large-scale crises, your communication strategies must accommodate those who cannot hear well or at all. Here are a few ways to improve your Emergency Action Plan to support members of the DHOH community:

Preparing for disaster

Failure to provide qualified interpreters or clear information to the DHOH violates the Americans with Disabilities Act, which can result in federal fines to your organization. Planning ahead can help you avoid miscommunication:

Ensure you have access to certified ASL interpreters

Avoid wasting precious time finding interpreters during an emergency by partnering with a language services provider (LSP) in advance. You need an LSP with qualified American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters who can help your team communicate effectively during a crisis. Consider whether video interpretation will meet all of your communication needs or if you’ll also need on-site ASL interpreters available in key locations.

Related reading: Rights and laws for the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing community

Prepare written information in advance

Create a list of potential emergencies your team or community may experience and create written guides to help the DHOH in each scenario. Example documents include:

  • BlogImage_6Evacuation instructions
  • Safety guidelines
  • Informational brochures for:

        -Emergency shelters

        -Medical services

        -Available resources


Having guidelines and instructions readily available on your website helps your community access general emergency information while waiting for any event-specific information. Your team might also consider translating documents into multiple languages to help people who are limited-English proficient access the emergency services they need.

Related reading: Written communications for the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing


Taking action during an emergency

When disaster inevitably strikes, what immediate actions should your team take to establish clear, effective communication with your DHOH community members?

1. Keep your LSP in the loop

Notify your language services provider about the emergency event so they can better serve your team and community.

2. Schedule an ASL interpreter to assist with emergency announcements



If you will provide televised emergency announcements or video communication, make sure you have an ASL interpreter on-screen to sign the information. You can also use captioning to share vital information via video.

3. Share information via websites, social media, & press releases

Written content helps both DHOH and hearing community members stay informed. Frequently update your website and social media with critical information and available resources while providing more detailed information about the emergency through press releases.


Need ASL interpreters for your Emergency Action Plan?

Contact CyraCom to sign up for high-quality language services


Lindsay Lawson

Lindsay Lawson

An experienced researcher, writer, and editor on language services-related topics, specializing in interpreting and translation services, how language works.