Emergency Preparedness Fair: Protecting Our Community’s Seniors
After an uncharacteristically mild June, the fear of inevitable extreme summer heat and wildfires looms over everyone’s heads. Last summer and winter are still salient in peoples’ minds, leaving everyone wondering what climate change will bring next.
Pat, a resident at Rancho Yolo Senior Community, an attendee at an Emergency Preparedness Mini Fair held at Rancho Yolo Senior Community June 27th and 28th, reflected on last year’s outages from the extreme heat. “It was absolutely horrible,” she remarked, “Power out for a day and a half. I have sleep apnea. I worry about being able to sleep without my machine.”
Elders in our community don’t just notice the impacts of climate change, they are also among those most affected by it.
Community learning and storytelling
Cool Davis and Rancho Yolo community leaders hosted the fair to connect residents with information and resources and to collect stories about their experiences with extreme weather impacts and utility outages last year. The fair included booths from Resources for Independent Living, Yolo Healthy Aging Alliance, Yolo County Office of Emergency Services, and Yolo Solano Air Quality Management District, all offering vital resources to Rancho Yolo’s residents about climate emergency preparedness.
Cool Davis counted about 150 conversations with representatives over four total hours, and over 34 total stories gathered (starting in March) about last year’s emergencies, plus ideas for future responses. Some residents also shared about their unique strategies and helpful devices like portable solar generators, handheld fans with water, and plug-in night lights that are activated by power outages.
The importance of informing citizens, especially vulnerable groups, about available resources and encouraging preparedness emerged as a recurring theme during the event. Residents perused pamphlets and checklists, sign up for alerts, and took home free COVID tests from the booths. They also chatted with the representatives as they treated themselves to coffee and pastries. Disaster go-kits with flashlights, hand sanitizer, and face masks were provided by Ally Vigil from Yolo County Healthy Aging Alliance. Resources were also available in Spanish and Chinese.
The organizing team plans to summarize the stories collected and report back to the community in the coming weeks, then share with management and city officials, all in an effort to protect and catalyze the strengths already available in the community to be better prepared for the next inevitable impacts and outages. Thank you to the representatives and Rancho Yolo and Cool Davis volunteers for making it happen!
Higher risk, higher consequences
Why are our elders especially vulnerable to the effects of climate disasters? Physiologically, older adults with chronic health conditions are more likely to be hospitalized for heat related illnesses (Meade et al., 2001). Logistical issues plague the elderly as well. Attendees of the fair identified the main barriers to preparedness as limited mobility, lack of access to the internet and phones for alerts, and the need for medical equipment for conditions like sleep apnea that is reliant on electricity.
CPAP and BiPAP machines aren’t the only ones affected by power outages: power wheelchairs and scooters, chair lifts, home dialysis machines, intravenous (IV) equipment, and nebulizers (to name just a few) are also all dependent on electricity. Failures of these life-saving machines can be catastrophic for those with medical conditions. Additionally, a failure of a mobility device could prevent a timely (or any) evacuation.
Karin Bloesch with Yolo Solano Air Quality Management District said, “Our seniors are one of our most vulnerable populations; sometimes they have limited mobility and resources, so if they know where to find resources, they can feel more prepared.”
The problems that seniors face are not just on an individual level. Rancho Yolo resident Elizabeth recounted all of the problems Rancho Yolo faced during the heatwave last year due to systemic failures: no alert system, the cooling centers were closed, they lost their freezer and fridge food due to lack of power and generators, and some were without water for two days.
In general, there was a lack of notifications and information. Here, again, time and preparedness were highlighted as the keys to mitigating the worst effects of a climate emergency.
How can we prepare?
“A lot of people aren’t prepared [for a disaster] and they panic,” Rancho Yolo resident Lynn noted. The other vendors at the fair provided great resources on the best ways to avoid a mad scramble, adding on to Karin’s previously mentioned advice. Angie Guerrero, the Disaster Preparedness Coordinator for Resources for Independent Living, provided the following tips:
- Attend a workshop with her (more information provided below)
- Have extra batteries and make sure that appliances are charged
- Keep frozen bottles of water and non-perishable food
- Keep flashlights
Ally Vigil with Yolo Healthy Aging Alliance suggested:
- Have an emergency plan
- Know what resources are available in your community
- Know the potential dangers in your area
Chris Estrada, with Yolo County Office of Emergency Services (OES), suggested:
- Sign up for the Yolo Alert system – alerts are usually sent out a couple of hours before an event
- Increase self-resilience,carry water bottles, have portable generators, etc.
- Check in with others in your community
Chris also stressed that since the elderly are at higher risk, time is of the essence. The earlier alerts are provided, the more time they have to prepare to evacuate. Rancho Yolo’s situation last year may have been avoided if they had received critical alerts and information.
It’s crucial to ensure that elders’ health and safety are a priority during an emergency. If you have a loved one in need of assistance, please reference the resources below, and remember: make a plan!
Resources and sources
Resources for Independent Living: https://www.ril-sacramento.org/services/psps-prepardness.php
Yolo Healthy Aging Alliance: https://www.yolohealthyaging.org/
Yolo Solano Air Quality Management District: https://www.ysaqmd.org/
Pledge to make an emergency kit with the Yolo Earth Day Pledge Challenge
Within the Build Resilience category, the Yolo Earth Day Pledge Challenge asks pledgers to Make an emergency plan and kit. Pledgers who chose this option can make use of many of the resources above.
As the time to sign the Yolo Earth Day Pledge Challenge is running out, so is the time for our world to reach carbon neutrality by 2040. How much of a difference can we as individuals make? Can the next generations help fix the damage that has been done, or is it too late?
Learn more about the pledge at www.cooldavis.org/pledge
American Red Cross Emergency Preparedness for Older Adults: https://www.redcross.org/get-help/how-to-prepare-for-emergencies/older-adults.html
PG&E’s Emergency Power Planning for People Who Use Electricity and Battery Dependent Assistive Technology and Medical Devices: https://www.pge.com/pge_global/common/pdfs/safety/electrical-safety/electric-generator-safety/Pacific-ADA-Centers-Emergency-Power-Planning-Fact-Sheet.pdf
Meade, R. D., Akerman, A. P., Notley, S. R., McGinn, R., Poirier, P., Gosselin, P., & Kenny, G. P. (2020). Physiological factors characterizing heat-vulnerable older adults: A narrative review. Environment international, 144, 105909. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envint.2020.105909