Older adults not prepared for natural disasters, study says

BY MICHELLE NGO | MARCH 27, 2014 5:00 AM

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As the winter turns to spring, locals have been preparing for severe weather — but one local group is getting special attention.  

The University of Iowa College of Public of Health is working to put together and deliver emergency supply kits for older adults in the Iowa City and Cedar Rapids area who might not be as prepared as other age groups.

According to a recent UI study, only 20 percent of older individuals had a specific evacuation plan or emergency supply kit.

About 1,300 adults completed the 21-question survey, which included questions asking if they had participated in any type of disaster-preparation program before, if they had an emergency evacuation plan or kit, and if they owned a battery-operated radio, said Tala Al-Rousan, a UI graduate student and the study’s primary author.

The study found the majority of adults 50 years old and older may not be prepared for a serious flood, earthquake, tornado, or other natural disaster.

But Associate Professor Brian Kaskie, an associate director of public policy at the UI Center on Aging, said these findings are not all that surprising.

“These are low-incident events; they just don’t happen that often,” he said. “Some older adults don’t have as much internal motivation to be as prepared or educated as you might hope, and as a society, social services for older adults are continually under addressed to provide help. Because it’s such a low-incident event, policymakers don’t make it as big of a priority, unfortunately.”

Al-Rousan hopes the results will lead to more grants providing greater statewide awareness and resources.

In addition to these potential emergency supply kits, the Johnson County Emergency Management Team has special features included on its website older individuals can sign up for. One of these features includes a special-needs registry, in which people can fill in their contact information and check the “disability” boxes that apply to them. 

“This allows emergency responders to better assist them during a disaster,” B.J. Dvorak, the team’s planning officer, wrote in an email.

Despite these features, Kaskie said he thinks a major reason younger adults are more prepared for natural disasters is because of their increased social-media activity and health.

“It would be more surprising if younger kids experienced greater negative outcomes from these events, and our society would be really upset if that that were true,” Kaskie said. “If more kids had died in Katrina than older adults, people would be up in arms, saying, ‘Why didn’t you do more to protect the children?’ ”

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