Meet the Woman Who Helps Immigrant and Refugee Communities Get Ready for a Massive Quake

Regina Ingabire wants everyone to know what to do when the shaking stops.

By Zach Dundas September 23, 2019 Published in the October 2019 issue of Portland Monthly

Regina Ingabire wakes up thinking things you’d rather not. “If the earthquake happened today,” she says, “how many people would I have helped? I want to get up and go do more work.”

The earthquake. You probably know about the devastating Cascadia Subduction Zone quake, forecast for ... sometime. Any time. For years, Portlanders have heard they should stockpile food and water and plan to survive without government aid for weeks. Some people are actually doing that; many of us know we need to get around to it.

Ingabire works for the city’s Bureau of Emergency Management, fostering preparedness among immigrant, refugee, and historically underserved communities, for whom quake awareness is lower than in the city at large.

“We don’t see them in our programs,” Ingabire says. “Our Neighborhood Emergency Teams have more than 2,000 volunteers, and they’re amazing—they’ll be our first responders. But that group is predominantly white, middle-class ... and we know that’s not representative.”

This year, Ingabire’s office collaborated with a host of cultural and community organizations to develop multilingual quake-prep instructional materials. Simple translation is part of the process, but so too is tailoring information to address specific gaps in knowledge ID’ed by community groups themselves. The Spanish, Chinese, and Vietnamese are complete, with Russian and Somali up next.

“This is designed by and for these communities, but honestly this information could help everyone in Portland,” says Ingabire.

The mission holds special resonance for her. Born in Tanzania to Rwandan refugees, she moved back to Kigali after Rwanda’s 1990s genocide; she remembers fixing broken desks with her high school classmates. A degree from Rwanda’s National University led to grad school at Brandeis in Boston, then a stint in California. A job with the Clinton Foundation took her back to Rwanda before her husband’s work ultimately prompted a move to Portland. (“It was a little cold and gray at first,” she recalls.)

“I often feel we share similar backgrounds,” she says of her work’s collaborators and audiences. “Being new here, trying to navigate the system. So providing information that will help them adapt to the American system, but could also save their lives? My heart is happy.”

Hundreds of thousands of individuals and organizations will hold quake-preparedness drills October 17 as part of the Great Oregon Shakeout. For more info on city preparedness planning, visit the Portland Bureau of Emergency Management.

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