OP-ED: Pennsylvanians should be prepared, not scared

Robert Torres and Randy Padfield

In the past year, Pennsylvanians have experienced an unprecedented amount of rain and flooding in areas that have never flooded before, causing increased concern over the preparedness of Pennsylvanians.

A recent study conducted by the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency revealed that only 26% of Pennsylvanians age 65 and older have a plan in place for when disaster strikes — meaning many of us, our friends, neighbors and relatives don’t have a plan for how to act when a disaster is imminent, don’t how know to respond after one has struck, and may not know how to communicate if we need assistance before, during or after a disaster.

September is National Preparedness Month, and these sobering realities offer a timely reminder that each of us should work to be prepared for emergencies that could affect us where we live, work or visit.

This year’s theme, “Prepared, Not Scared,” encourages the remaining 74% of Pennsylvania’s older adults, their families, friends or caregivers to take the time to create an emergency plan for use should they find themselves in a disaster situation.

A vehicle uses a single available lane while passing destruction caused by flooding one year ago on Accomac Road Friday, Aug. 30, 2019. Bill Kalina photo

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In Pennsylvania, over 2 million people are over the age of 65. Age does not make someone more vulnerable to the impact of emergencies, and older adults may have some of the same needs as the general population during a human-caused or natural disaster. However, for older adults and persons with disabilities, they may also have a wider variety of functional limitations, and some additional challenges to consider, including medical equipment, accessibility and transportation issues, and access to prescription medications.

Approximately half of those over age 65 have two or more chronic health problems, such as heart disease, diabetes or Alzheimer’s disease. These conditions increase a person’s vulnerability during periods of time without food, water, shelter or adequate rest. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, of the older adults who were living outside of nursing homes or hospitals, nearly one third, or 11.3 million, lived alone. This reality makes the creation and maintenance of a support network particularly important.

Whether your network is family, health care workers, or a combination of both, it is critical that we get the help we need to prepare for emergency situations by creating a plan, reviewing it regularly, and keeping critical supplies handy.

If it is predictable, it is preventable. We know that we get rain, flooding, power outages, heat, cold and snow. Prepared, Not Scared focuses on the conscious decision to get started now, before it’s too late.

Knowing where to start can seem daunting. During September, we encourage all older Pennsylvanians and their families to be informed, prepared, involved, ready and invite you to take these easy steps:

  • Visit the 30 Days/30 Ways website to register for 30 Days/30 Ways. You will receive tips and tools to help you get started or continue your preparedness efforts.
  • Download the “Get Ready Now” pocket guide, a 3-step guide on emergency preparedness for older adults.
  • Call your local Area Agency on Aging (AAA), which is poised to participate on every level of emergency preparedness planning and meet the needs of the communities they serve in times of crisis. Find your local AAA here.

Just as an emergency can affect an entire community, the entire community is part of the solution when it comes to preparing for an emergency. Please use the month of September as a time to touch base with the older adults in your lives to discuss creating a custom plan to be prepared in the event of a disaster. 30 Days/30 Ways can help you and your loved ones be prepared, not scared.

— Robert Torres is secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Aging, and Randy Padfield is director of Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency.