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Connecting Preparedness to Older Adults

September 14, 2023

Across the country, National Preparedness Month is observed each September. This campaign raises awareness about the importance of preparing for disasters and emergencies that could happen at any time.  As a provider of hazard mitigation planning services, as well as the design and engineering of mitigation actions such as infrastructure retrofits and drainage improvements, B&L is a strong proponent of public awareness campaigns that bring focus to the various hazards municipalities can face and strategies to minimize damages and injuries.

National Preparedness Month has most recently featured themes, such as “making a plan to prepare for disasters” and “preparing to create a lasting legacy.” This year focuses on preparing older adults for disasters. Referred to as “Take Control in 1, 2, 3,” the 2023 campaign addresses the concerns of older adults—especially from communities that are disproportionally impacted by the observed warming trends and incidences of intense heat waves, heavy rainfall events that exacerbate localized flooding, and sea-level rise.

Older adults are classified as persons over the age of 65. Age is only one factor among many that can increase older adults’ vulnerability to the effects of disaster events and emergencies. Characteristics can include vision or hearing impairments; challenges with physical and mental health; limited access to resources, such as the internet, income and savings; and limited social networks. In New York State, for example, there are 935,939 one-person households that have individuals aged 65+. A majority of the housing types older adults reside in are detached units, such as a single-family residences.  Some of that population also does not have access to a computer. Older adults can face greater risks, especially if they are living alone, are low-income, have a disability, or live in rural areas.

Hazard Mitigation Plans are a tool that provides communities with a planning process to identify natural hazards, evaluate people and property at risk, and create strategies to minimize vulnerability. Some strategies to reduce risk to older adults include avoiding hazard prone areas, like floodplains, for the siting of senior housing, nursing and assisted living facilities as well as ensuring that critical facilities, such as hospitals, have alternative power sources and accessible transportation connections. Community plans that support “age-friendly” concepts such as pedestrian-oriented, mixed-use downtowns and town centers; safe and accessible transportation options; a variety of housing options; and accessible public spaces and amenities is another approach for how to emphasize the needs of older adults for hazard mitigation purposes.

For New Yorkers, participation in the New York State Climate Smart Communities (CSC) Certification Program is another tool that communities can utilize to protect older adults. Earning points within the program opens up opportunities such as exclusive grants. For example, a Registered Climate Smart Community can achieve six points for submitting a new or a revised heat emergency plan. Establishing or upgrading a cooling center and identifying and promoting awareness of new and existing cooling centers can achieve up to nine points. Even more are available for a Complete Streets policy and smart growth principles! Several New York State agencies provide funding to support completion of CSC certification actions, and grant applications for state funds from Registered and Certified Climate Smart Communities earn higher scores for some programs.

B&L is proud to partner with communities to help support their goals for a built environment that can meet the needs of older adults and advance resilience and mitigation. To learn more about how we can assist your community with the various facets of Climate Action, please contact Jayme Breschard.