Grace Turner: Preparing for extreme weather

by Taylor Patskanick

Today’s news is inundated with reports of extreme weather events. Most recently, a heat wave has swept the globe and floods in Kentucky and Missouri have destroyed infrastructure and claimed lives. The risk brought on by extreme weather is especially great for older adults because of their decreased mobility, health, and finances. Because of these risks, increasing age should be proportional to the level of preparedness in an emergency. However, emergency preparedness looks different for adults that live in senior housing communities, because the responsibility to prepare lies more with the housing provider.

The priority of senior housing providers when it comes to thinking about extreme weather should be to have a plan. But a plan is only effective when it can be communicated clearly. Communication is so important in a weather emergency. As someone once relayed to me, “the minute communication breaks down, it all breaks down,” which is so true. When it comes to communication, there are two factors to consider. First, who is responsible for communicating with whom, and second, what do those forms of communication look like? To deal with the first factor, senior housing administrators have a responsibility to communicate with their residents and staff. As for residents’ loved ones, the communication responsibility often depends on the level of independence of the older adult. Many providers are seeing increased involvement from adult children in the lives of their residents, making that line of communication even more important in recent years. Communication within a local community such as local municipalities or mutual aid agreements is also important in a weather-related event. Building strong relationships within the community will allow for a more successful response for senior housing residents in an emergency.

As mentioned, however, one also much consider how these forms of communication are being given out. Our society is turning to technology and mobile devices to gain information in all phases of a weather emergency. There is a large population of older adults who are not comfortable with technology which then makes it the responsibility of the senior housing provider to intercept the virtual communication and translate it for their community in whatever way is best for their community specifically.

In 2022, it is difficult to discuss preparing for extreme weather events without discussing climate change. Are senior housing providers considering climate change when crafting their weather plans? Simply having a plan is not enough in this time of uncertainty. Weather plans should undergo constant revisions with the topic of climate change running in the background of these revision conversations. Considering climate change when creating and editing a weather plan allows senior housing providers not only to make changes based on their past experiences, but also by anticipating what could happen in the future. Communication and education around the topic of climate change and extreme weather both for senior housing providers and their residents will embolden both parties to adequately prepare for these emergencies.

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About the Author

Photo of Taylor Patskanick
Taylor Patskanick

Taylor Patskanick is a Technical Associate at the MIT AgeLab. Her current research explores preventive health and vaccination practices of older adults. Taylor co-coordinates the MIT AgeLab 85+ Lifestyle Leaders panel and contributes to the AgeLab’s AGNES program. She also manages OMEGA, an intergenerational summit and scholarship program. In addition to her work at the AgeLab, Taylor is the president of Boston Bridge, Inc., a Massachusetts-based professional development organization for leaders in the field of aging and is a licensed certified social worker (LCSW). Taylor is an adjunct faculty member at Simmons University in Boston, MA. Taylor earned her MPH and MSW from the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis and received her BSW from the University of Georgia.

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