AFS Blog

Elder Preparedness in an Age-Friendly Community

Posted on September 20, 2017 | by Kathy Black
Elder Preparedness in an Age-Friendly Community

Millions of people in the vicinity of the Southeastern United States and nearby countries recently experienced the wrath of Hurricane Irma. What a storm she was and many people in her wake continue to face the aftermath from the devastating wind, rain and storm surge. Record numbers of people lost electrical power and many others needed to seek shelter during and after the event. Though the massive storm left an imprint on all in her path, as a group, older adults are particularly vulnerable to facing such a disaster. The majority of us experience multiple chronic conditions with age which can impact our endurance to “weather” a storm, and a variety of circumstances can account for why older adults are particularly vulnerable. From a community perspective, consider the following scenarios associated with our built environment:
Housing that does not provide adequate protection based on the storm’s path or projected wind speed;
Transportation to get away that is available and accessible;
Outdoor Spaces & Public Buildings that do not accommodate unique needs such as specific diet or medical care.

Now consider the social features of a community that can help older adults “facing, during and after” a disaster:
Social Participation that increases connections with others and serves to offset going it alone;
Civic Participation that provides both a purposive way to personally serve others as well as ensures the availability of volunteers to meet needs;
Respect & Social Inclusion so that people of varying abilities (physical, mental, economical, etc.) receive equitable treatment in a storm’s aftermath.

And what about services and supports that help individuals prepare AND help position a community to adequately respond:
Communication & Information must be timely and delivered to reach all people in ways that they best understand;
Health Services & Community Supports that can meet physical, mental, and social needs in the face of a crisis.

Though the commonly used term “Elder Preparedness” denotes the prominence of individuals in planning for a disaster, elements of an “age-friendly community” represent the broader environmental attributes that not only add to our collective resilience to a disaster, but also serve to make a community a great place to live. Below are “just a few” of the ways in which multiple sectors across Sarasota County demonstrated how our “age-friendly community” served not only older adults – but residents of all life stages and abilities throughout the life course!
Housing – the senior housing and assisted living facilities coalition enacted their networked planning to accommodate residents to ride out the storm in safe venues;
Transportation – Uber provided free rides to seniors in need;
Outdoor Spaces & Public Buildings – Sarasota County provided multiple medically-equipped shelters to meet a variety of advanced health needs;
Social Participation – multiple churches prepared and cared for their members before, during and after the storm;
Civic Participation – nurses volunteered their time and skills to people in need at shelters;
Respect & Social Inclusion – everyone was welcome and no one was turned away at shelters;
Communication & Information – through multiple modalities including television, radio, and print, all local media coverage provided superb coverage of the impending storm and helpful sources of where to go for help afterwards;
Health Services & Community Supports – the Sarasota County Department of Health’s Coalition for Assistance in Disasters (COAD) enacted its extensive network of nonprofits, businesses, and community members who deployed “readiness” in all aspects of helping people of all ages weather the storm.


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