Smart phones and high-speed internet can help support the needs and ambitions of Napa County residents in four basic areas: personal fulfillment and education, health services, social connectedness, and public safety and emergency alerts. For example, the internet can facilitate distance-learning opportunities and volunteer activities at convenient times and places. Smart phones and internet-enabled technologies allow patients to email their doctors, make appointments and receive test results, improving the access to preventive health services and improving the management of chronic diseases. Cell phone and social media systems, such as Nixle, provide people up-to-date information on criminal activities, local events, and other safety information. In Napa County, the majority of residents own a smart phone (75%) and have an internet subscription (87%). For more information on the geographical distribution of internet subscriptions in Napa County, visit the PolicyMap Website

In 2015, Napa County’s Healthy Aging Population Initiative (HAPI) completed a survey of older adults living in the County. Results of the survey showed that respondents whose preferred language was Spanish had considerably less access to a computer and the internet (11%) and less proficiency in using the technology (19%) than those respondents whose preferred language was English (access: 80%, proficiency: 85%). However, due to the small sample size of participants whose preferred language was Spanish (101 people), the results cannot be generalized to all Spanish-speaking older adults across Napa County. 

Older adults living at or below the federal poverty level were also less likely to have access (58%) and computer and internet proficiency (64%) than the general population.

Linguistically isolated households are households where no one older than age 13 speaks English “very well.” These households may have difficulty accessing information on community events, social and health services, and critical information during an emergency through mainstream sources. This language barrier can lead to low use of social services and health care, decreased quality of care, and misinformation during an emergency.

The proportion of Napa county residents that are linguistically isolated has been relatively stable in recent years reaching 7% in 2017, slightly below the state level (10%). For more information on the geographical distribution of households with limited English proficiency in Napa County, visit the Social Vulnerability section of the Respect and Social Inclusion page

Among households with linguistic isolation in Napa County, Spanish is the most common language spoken (87%), followed by Asian and Pacific Island languages (8%) including Tagalog. The proportion of linguistically isolated households who speak Spanish in Napa County is considerably higher than the state (30 percentage points higher). While social and medical services have staff that are fluent in Spanish, the Spanish-speaking community represents a diverse group of countries and cultures, and there may still be significant cultural and linguistic barriers for many clients seeking services.

Access and use of senior services, from assisted living to home health aides, can improve the health and quality of life of seniors. The top two sources of information on services for both Hispanic and Non-Hispanic white seniors were friends and family (Hispanic: 49%; Non-Hispanic White: 50%) and senior centers (Hispanic: 37%; Non-Hispanic White: 31%). Confirming the results of the HAPi survey, Non-Hispanic Whites were more likely to use the internet for information (31%) while Hispanics were more likely to use a telephone book (29%). 

The 2017 wildfires in California caused historic levels of destruction. In the fall of 2017, four fires erupted in Napa County – the Tubbs, Atlas, Partrick and Nuns fires —destroying about 600 homes and killing seven people. A key strategy to preventing morbidity and mortality during an emergency is accurate, consistent, understandable, and timely information. Government plays a crucial role in emergency communication to the public. In the initial days and weeks of the fires, the county sent out 75 Nixle alerts (i.e., a text based emergency alert system for cell phones), 31 press releases, and held eight press conferences.

In 2018, Internews, an international non-profit, conducted an assessment to understand the challenges the Spanish-speaking population in Napa and Sonoma faced in accessing information during the 2017 fires. As part of the assessment, Internews met with 26 community-based organizations, talked to more than 300 Latino community members of Napa and Sonoma counties, conducted face-to-face surveys and facilitated listening circles, visited local media, and attended community fairs and gatherings. From this research, six themes were identified:

• Lack of information in Spanish caused fear and uncertainty

• People trust people and rely on community organizations

• Local radio station KBBF was a critical resource

• Translations matter

• People still feel unprepared

• Accountability starts before disasters

The assessment also included an analysis of 256 surveys. An example of the survey results is displayed to the right. The results of the survey show that when the fires first happened, most respondents went to the TV for information, even though the news may not be local or provide information on what to do or where to go. Social media was the second most popular source, including Facebook and Nixle. 

To read more about the assessment and the survey results, click the following Desconectado: How Emergency Information Got Lost In Translation During The Northern California Wildfires

Most Common Sources of Information During the Fires

Source: Internews, September 2018



Baker, C. (2013). A connection for all ages: Enabling the benefits of high-speed Internet access for older adults. AARP Public Policy Institute, 79, 18. 

Linguistic Isolation

California Department of Public Health, Office of Health Equity (2015). Portrait of Promise: The California Statewide Plan to Promote Health and Mental Health Equity. Report to the Legislature and the People of California. Retrieved February 5, 2019 from

California HealthCare Foundation (2014).  Health Care Almanac, California Physicians: Surplus or Scarcity. Retrieved February 5, 2019 from

Office of Envornmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA). Linguistic Isolation. Retrieved February 5, 2019 from:

Information Sources

CBS News. (2017). Crucial communication proves difficult as wildfires knock out cell towers. Retrieved February 5, 2019

Mileti, D. S., & Sorensen, J. H. (1990). Communication of emergency public warnings: A social science perspective and state-of-the-art assessment (No. ORNL-6609). Oak Ridge National Lab., TN (USA).

Stroneberg, D. (2018). Napa Valley Register tells stories of deadly wildfires in October 2017. St. Helena Star. Retrieved February 5, 2019 from

Tierney, L. (2018). The grim scope of 2017’s California wildfire season is now clear. The danger’s not over. The Washington Post. Retrieved February 5, 2019