With the 2019 Hurricane Season officially underway, storm planning and preparedness should be at the forefront of every Floridian’s mind as communities throughout the State focus on the topic of Disaster Resilience.

Robert Ottenhoff, president and CEO of the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, recently addressed the topic during an AARP Florida Age-Friendly Webinar. The Center for Disaster Philanthropy was created after Hurricane Katrina, and its mission is to increase donor effectiveness throughout the life cycle of disasters via educational resources, funding opportunities, and strategic guidance. He stressed the importance of disaster resilience as it pertains to older adults as they are often disproportionately impacted by disasters:

  • Hurricane Katrina – Older adults comprised 15% of the population but 70% of storm-related deaths (half of 1,000 victims were age 75+)
  • Hurricane Sandy – 50% of victims were older adults
  • California Camp Fire – of 77 victims identified, 66 were aged sixty or older

Any number of factors can impede the ability of an older adult to prepare for an event, increasing the likelihood of becoming a victim:

  • Finances – lack of financial resources to adequately prepare or to evacuate if necessary
  • Mobility – physical mobility issues and/or lack of transportation options
  • History – prior experience with threats that were non-events may decrease sense of urgency
  • Caregivers – lack of access to caregiver assistance
  • Pets – concerns about care for pets during storm events/evacuations
  • Stress – an impending event can cause confusion and increased inability to prioritize

Storms are getting stronger with an above average number of hurricane events predicted for the 2019 season. Ottenhoff emphasized that it is vitally important that service providers have supplies specific to the needs of older adults such as mobility aids, common prescription, and over the counter medications. Lack of planning for possible long term disruption of services and limited access to necessary supplies often puts older adults at greater risk than the general population.

What else can be done? Ottenhoff recommends that communities develop a “Playbook” for use before, during, and after an event. It should incorporate specific guidelines for older adults in disaster preparedness, relief, and recovery. Older adults should be involved in the planning process, and neighbors are encouraged to provide support by volunteering assistance pre and post-event. He supports the utilization of local initiatives for outreach, particularly for those in rural areas, and those unable to get to an assistance site. Finally, he encourages the engagement of the collaborative efforts of donors in response to disaster events. Sixty to seventy percent of relief and recovery donations are typically given during the first 30 days after an event, whereas disaster recovery may take months or years. Importantly, just one dollar invested in planning pre-event can result in six to seven dollars saved post-event.


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