Officials in Manatee County, Florida, are under fire after an interpreter for the deaf warned residents about “bears” and “monsters” during a Hurricane Irma emergency press conference.
As Hurricane Irma approached the Tampa Bay area last week, officials in the county called a press conference on Sept. 8 on the incoming storm and to relay crucial information, including evacuation orders. But county leaders say they realized they didn’t have an interpreter for the deaf for the emergency address to the public, according to NBC affiliate WFLA.
Marshall Greene, a lifeguard with the county’s marine rescue unit, has a brother who is deaf. His bosses, “in a pinch,” asked Greene if he could step in and convey the information to the deaf residents of the county.
Members of the deaf community said Greene mostly signed gibberish, referencing “pizza,” “monsters,” and using the phrase “help you at that time to use bear big,” during the press conference. Other information signed to viewers was incomplete, experts said.
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Video of the briefing has gone viral on social media.
The county typically uses interpreters from VisCom, a professional sign language interpreting service. VisCom’s owner, Charlene McCarthy, told WLFA the county did not contact her company regarding providing services for the press conference.
“It was horribly unnerving for me,” McCarthy said. “To watch that, knowing I could provide a qualified, certified interpreter.”
The county admitted it made it mistake, but maintained it was a last minute decision and didn’t have enough time to call in a professional interpreter.
The former president of the National Association of the Deaf also noted that Greene, who was dressed in a bright yellow shirt in the press conference, should have been wearing the established black allowing his hands to be visible.
“It was obvious to me he wasn’t a professional interpreter. I was totally shocked,” Chris Wagner said via an interpreter.
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Greene’s father told WFLA that his son was asked by his bosses to help out “and that’s exactly what he did.”
“He can’t expect to communicate something he doesn’t know,” he added.
The deaf community is laying the blame on the county, who they say shouldn’t have put someone who is not a certified professional to convey emergency information during a press conference of this nature, and is demanding an apology from officials.