More than one third of community-dwelling adults age 65 and older live alone. Many of these older adults have complex health needs. Additionally, many depend upon others for assistance and support—and their loved ones may not live nearby. These circumstances contribute to the disproportionate effect that disasters have been shown to have on older adults. The majority of the victims of the 2018 California wildfires were reported to be over age 70.
People with disabilities also experience greater impacts from disasters. For example, people with disabilities were disproportionately represented in the CA fire areas (around double compared to state averages) with area residents 7.2% having a hearing disability, 11.4% a cognitive disability, 11.8% ambulatory disability, and 10.2% independent living challenges. Reports on Hurricane Katrina similarly found that older adults and people with disabilities were disproportionately harmed by the storm.
The impact on older adults and people with disabilities from disasters is exacerbated when the services and supports normally provided to them also are interrupted. It is important for community-based organizations (CBOs) that serve these individuals to be able to re-open as soon as possible after an emergency. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has made several tools and resources available on its website to assist with continuity of operations planning. Having a continuity of operations plan is key so that, in the event of an emergency, an organization can resume essential functions quickly.
In addition to ensuring their ability to continue their own operations following an emergency, another way that CBOs can assist people with disabilities and older adults in an emergency situation is to partner with other organizations within a defined geographic area in order to develop an organized network of agencies and businesses that will coordinate their actions to assist these populations during and while recovering from a disaster. Resources are available to assist with these efforts, such as:
- Capacity-Building Toolkit for including Aging & Disability Networks in Emergency Planning. This toolkit was developed by the National Association of County & City Health Officials and the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, in partnership with the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response and the Administration for Community Living. This toolkit contains information about planning for emergencies, developing relationships with other organizations for responding to emergencies, and reaching and assisting older adults and people with disabilities.
- HHS emPOWER Map 3.0. This resource, developed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) in cooperation with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, can be used to find the monthly total of Medicare beneficiaries, as well as Medicare beneficiaries with electricity-dependent equipment claims, at the U.S. state, territory, county, and zip code level. This tool also includes severe weather tracking information that can be used to identify areas and populations that may be impacted and are at risk for prolonged power outages.
- National Alzheimer’s and Dementia Resource Center (NADRC) Disaster Planning Toolkit for People Living with Dementia. A disaster situation can be particularly unsettling for individuals with dementia. This toolkit was created by NADRC to address the special needs of this population with respect to disaster planning.
- Health Care Coalitions. Various organizations within a particular geographic area that provide health-related services (e.g. hospitals, emergency management organizations, EMS providers) form these coalitions in order to devise a coordinated response to emergency situations. ASPR has made a tool available to locate health care coalitions in your area. Additionally, search for local CBOs by zip code using the Elder Care Locator website.
- Rx Open helps patients find nearby open pharmacies in areas impacted by disaster. Combining multiple data feeds from the pharmaceutical industry, Rx Open displays the precise location on Google Maps of open pharmacies, closed pharmacies, and those whose status is unknown. This critical information assists government officials in assessing an emergency's impact on public health in a disaster area.
The response to an emergency can be more effective when community organizations work together. By planning ahead and partnering with other local organizations during non-emergency times, CBOs can help their communities, as well as the older adults and people with disabilities who reside in their communities, to be better prepared for, and better able to respond to, emergencies.