A survey by Jacksonville State University will help emergency officials better prepare for the next hurricane.
The bulk of natural disaster research on older adults has centered on recovery and reconstruction. Little effort is put into getting a better understanding of what takes place before or while a hurricane barrels down on the Sunshine State.
The research that does exist focuses primarily on how well nursing homes and assisted living facilities have prepared or responded.
But not every older adult lives in an elder care facility. Many live at home or with their children.
These are questions driving Chongwing Wang, an assistant professor at Jacksonville State University’s Department of Emergency Management, who recently partnered with the city of Venice and Sarasota County on a local older-adult-oriented hurricane study.
The survey, called “Are You Hurricane Ready,” aims to collect and analyze data from full-time Sarasota County residents 55 and older.
“The study of older Sarasotans will add to the emerging but highly limited body of work that puts a spotlight on the risk perceptions and self-protection actions of older people under threat,” said Wang. “It will help inform well-tailored practice and policy for risk communication, vulnerability reduction, and disaster planning targeting older populations.”
The survey, which can be found on Venice’s website, takes less than 15 minutes to complete. Links to Sarasota County’s survey can be found at the bottom of this article. Both will be available until the end of August.
All answers are confidential, but a summary of the research results will be shared with emergency management departments to help officials and decision-makers recognize the needs and capacities of older adults.
“This will help us understand where you were two years ago and what motivated you to leave or stay,” said Frank Giddens, the deputy chief of the Venice Fire Department and the city’s emergency manager, referring to Hurricane Irma. “That helps us ensure that we have the resources to respond to your decision.”
Survey questions cover a host of topics, including demographics, household and other information related to living conditions, thoughts on future hurricanes, actions taken to prepare for hurricanes, preferred evacuation methods, and destination.
Other questions take a retrospective look at the experiences of older adults during Hurricane Irma, which hit Venice two years ago with strong 80 mph winds and left 133,000 Florida Power and Light customers without power for days after the storm trekked up the peninsula.
Venice and Sarasota County were chosen because of the area’s low-lying coastal geography, location in an active hurricane zone, and a large and growing older adult population.
Wang’s previous qualitative research revealed that the major barriers to hurricane evacuation included a lack of perceived security and comfort associated with driving in stressful situations and living in public evacuation shelters.
In Sarasota County’s effort to understand its response to Hurricane Irma two years ago, emergency officials found that many seniors no longer drove, had access to a vehicle, or felt comfortable getting behind the wheel for more than a few miles to an emergency shelter, said Ed McCrane, the county’s emergency management chief.
To address the need, the county put transportation plans in place that would allow emergency officials to pick up older people in a central location.
Emergency officials in Venice and Sarasota County have also streamlined emergency announcements through a greater presence on social media as well as speaking engagements at seminars, homeowners associations, and civic groups, McCrane said.
“It’s imperative that we get as much participation as possible to strengthen our community,” said Frank Giddens, the deputy chief of the Venice Fire Department and the city’s emergency manager. “My goal is to flood the database at Jacksonville State. The more responses we have, the better we can prepare.”
Residents 55 or older who live in Sarasota County year-round are asked to assist with a research initiative about hurricane preparedness and response. The survey takes less than 15 minutes to complete; information gathered will help identify areas of strength and improvement for risk communication and hurricane planning.
To take the survey:
Resident of Venice: surveymonkey.com/r/venice_sc2019
Call 814-880-0347 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for a printed version.
This story comes from Aspirations Journalism, an initiative of The Patterson Foundation and Sarasota Herald-Tribune to inform, inspire, and engage the community to take action on issues related to Age-Friendly Sarasota, Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, National Council on Aging and the Suncoast Nursing Action Coalition.