How Prepared is Your Assisted Living Community for an Emergency?

September 1 - 30, 2017 in the USA. September 2017 is National Preparedness Month. Sponsored by the Federal Emergency Management Agency within the Department of Homeland Security, National Preparedness Month encourages Americans to take steps to prepare for emergencies in their homes, businesses, schools, and communities. 

It is virtually impossible to predict the exact time when a disaster will occur. Those of us with basic technology skills can easily put an emergency kit together with a point and a click on an emergency kit website and our custom ordered kits are delivered to our doorstep within hours or a couple of days. When we send our children off to school we expect they will be cared for by a trained staff concerned for our young one’s safety, welfare and comfort.

However, how often do we stop to consider the same levels of preparedness for our aging loved ones in their retirement community? The next time you stop in for a visit consider asking some questions regarding emergency preparedness. Their answers may calm or concern you. Either way you’ll be able to make a plan of what role you will have in the event of an emergency and most of all what your expectations are of the community during a crisis.

Does your community have an emergency plan -- and know that it works? An assisted living home must have a disaster preparedness and emergency evacuation plan approved by the state’s licensing agency.

What are the community’s emergency evacuation plans? Does the community have arrangements with other facilities in the event the building becomes inhabitable after a fire, flood or other disaster?  When your loved one moves into a community, you'll want to know whether it has this type of arrangement, and with whom.

Do you have established protocols to maintain clear lines of communication? Find out in advance what the chain of communication is between staff and between families of residents, and know where to look for updates. Some senior living organizations have centralized offices that collect information from individual communities experiencing a disaster and post it online on the main company website, or distribute it through emails to residents' families.

Will the community will be adequately staffed, no matter what? There have been lockdowns of public transportation during weather events, terrorism threats or other crises. The staff’s ability to transport from their home to the community may be constrained by the emergency. It’s important to know if there’s a plan in place for adequate staffing during an emergency.

How does the staff address resident concerns when daily routines are disrupted?
Often when we walk by the rooms of assisted living residents, we see they are relaxing while watching their favorite TV shows. However, during a crisis seeing graphic images over and over on the TV can become overwhelming for older adults, especially for those with dementia. Inquire about what your loved one's senior living community will do to help pass the time. Will they play games, tell stories or offer other engaging activities?

Will there be enough emergency supplies? Find out how the facility stays supplied during an emergency and if staff prepare in advance. Will there be enough food and water? Are food and water supplies kept fresh? Are there extra medications for residents who will need them? Are there emergency generators and are they in working order?

As mentioned earlier in this article you can order your emergency kits from many online vendors or you can build your own by going to http://www.redcross.org/get-help/how-to-prepare-for-emergencies.  Knowing what a senior living community's emergency procedures are and how to communicate during an emergency eases your worry and lets you focus on what you need to do at home. At the very least, make sure the facility has the information it will need to contact you, plus alternate ways to reach you if cell phones and telephone lines are down.