A Biden initiative that could help
A potential initiative by the Biden administration could provide additional resources for disaster preparedness across the country.
It’s considering adding as much as $10 billion to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) budget to better protect people, homes and communities from the severe weather consequences of climate change. FEMA’s Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities program , which came into existence in 2018, is designed to help communities establish a range of pre-disaster mitigation strategies. But the Trump administration only put small sums into the program.
Even if FEMA gets additional funding for it, the money would mark a small down payment on the much larger challenge of improving disaster planning and preparedness for older people.
“This is really a public health challenge,” says Robyn Stone, senior vice president research at LeadingAge, the association of nonprofit providers of aging services and co-director of LeadingAge LTSS Center @UMass Boston. “And we know our public health system is really not supported for older adults.”
Disaster-planning advice for family members and friends
While policy makers (hopefully) stumble toward ways of better integrating older people into disaster planning, there are a number of critical steps families and friends can take.
Top of the list: talking about the risks with older loved ones and planning in case disaster strikes. The conversation may take several tries and follow-ups.
“Many times, our parents think they are perfectly capable of dealing with the situation they have dealt with many times before,” says Funes. Her advice: “Don’t wait. Be persistent.”
For example, ask if they have a basic emergency supply kit ready to go in case they have to be evacuated. The kit should include things like medicines, eyeglasses, charging cords for mobile phones, some cash, key papers like insurance policies, as well important contact numbers.
“People often have to leave the home in a hurry,” says David Ghilarducci, EMS medical director and deputy public health officer for Santa Cruz County in California. “Often they don’t have a kit ready. Having the kit prepared beforehand is super important.” (You can find information about what to put into a kit at FEMA’s Ready website .)
Other key questions to ask: What is their transportation plan if they must leave in a hurry? If they’re reliant on medical equipment at home, do they have a backup generator? Where is the nearest shelter?
Maybe the most important one: How will family members connect with you during a disaster? “A plan to connect with family is important,” says Ghilarducci. “Family will try to get hold of you.”
Answers to questions like these aren’t only smart for people living on their own. Those living in congregate living situations and their families should also know about the institution’s emergency preparedness plans. Grill staff for detailed information.
There’s a wealth of information available for guidance.
Aside from FEMA’s Ready.gov site, AARP has its Create the Good site with general and state-specific information, including its Operation Emergency Prepare Toolkit for planning.
The Next Avenue article, How to Prepare Loved Ones for Severe Weather and Emergencies , goes into depth on how to help ensure older people in your life are well-prepared.
Emergency responders and public health officials need to play an important role, too. “The key is making sure older adults are well integrated into the community,” says Saliba. “A lot can flow from there.”
Chris Farrell is senior economics contributor for American Public Media’s Marketplace. An award-winning journalist, he is author of “Purpose and a Paycheck: Finding Meaning, Money and Happiness in the Second Half of Life” and “Unretirement: How Baby Boomers Are Changing the Way We Think About Work, Community, and The Good Life.”
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