Bridging the Language Barrier During the Puerto Rico Earthquake

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What happens when a 6.4 magnitude earthquake strikes Puerto Rico and the public needs critical information? How does a mostly English-speaking science agency reach a mostly Spanish-speaking public?

Dianne López-Trujillo with Lynne Carrier, FEMA translator.

Dianne López-Trujillo with Lynne Carrier, FEMA translator.

The USGS relies on its greatest asset – its employees! In the case of the Southwestern Puerto Rico earthquake sequence, Dianne Lopez-Trujillo is one employee from the USGS Caribbean-Florida Water Science Center that stepped up to make a difference for those in need.

Within a day of the 6.4 magnitude earthquake on Jan. 7, 2020, Dianne volunteered to assist the USGS Earthquake Response Team. As a USGS information technology specialist for 29 years, Dianne initially joined to assist with computer issues. However, it quickly became apparent that the team desperately required the additional skills that only Dianne could provide. 

Dianne worked around-the-clock to translate more than a dozen communications products, online content, talking points and media interview responses from English to Spanish to reach the local community. She dedicated hundreds of hours of cultural and language support that was critical to fulfilling the needs of media, government officials and the public.

Dianne truly possesses a unique set of skills in emergency management. In the midst of a chaotic emergency environment, she calmly and competently briefed senior heads of the Federal Emergency Management Agency as well as senior officials from the Puerto Rico government. She also helped to maintain coordination with the Puerto Rico Seismic Network, an important USGS partner. 

USGS team with Wanda Vazquez-Garced, governor of Puerto Rico

The USGS Earthquake Response team with Wanda Vazquez-Garced, governor of Puerto Rico.
From left to right: Lindsay Davis, Wanda Vazquez, Dianne Lopez-Trujillo, Jonathan Godt, Donyelle Davis, Alex Grant

During a high-level congressional event, the USGS briefed four congressional delegates, the Puerto Rico lieutenant governor and local mayors. Dianne provided vital assistance as part of the team to make this important event happen.

Dianne has no ego when it came to tasks. From support tasks for the team to the development of complex strategy, she was thoroughly engaged every step of the emergency response. She did whatever was asked of her, no matter how small or large the task and volunteered wherever she saw the need – the definition of a true teammate.

“Dianne truly displays what it means to be part of the USGS family,” said Sara McBride, USGS Chief of Operations for the Southwestern Puerto Rico earthquake response. “Her love of science, coupled with her knowledge of emergency management best practices and her desire to help her community better understand these natural events, made her a key member of the USGS team during this response.” 

Congressional event following the 6.4 earthquake in Puerto Rico

Overview of the Congressional event following the 6.4 earthquake in Puerto Rico.
Bottom of picture: congressmen. Center: Dianne Lopez, Lindsay Davis, Donyelle Davis

Part of the USGS Earthquake Response Team visiting areas affected by the 6.4 earthquake.

The USGS Earthquake Response Team visits areas affected by the 6.4 earthquake. Place: Guánica Boardwalk. From left to right: Donyelle Davis, Dianne López, Jonathan Godt, Alex Grant