What will public transportation for older adults look like when temperatures are more extreme and natural disasters more frequent? Though a study of current transportation in areas with extreme temperatures, and during emergencies, is likely to provide insights on impending problems and the policies needed to resolve them, this article examines current transportation practices during emergencies and disasters. For information on examples of these practices in cities with extreme climates, visit www.ctaa.org/seniormobility.
We have learned from 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina that communities need to have a coordinated plan of action for rescuing and evacuating older persons who live independently. We want to avoid what happened after 9/11 when “within 24 hours animal advocates were rescuing pets, yet abandoned older and disabled persons waited for up to seven days to be rescued by an ad hoc medical team,” according to Nora O’Brien in the International Longevity Center’s 2003 issue brief, “Emergency Preparedness for Older People”.
While the 2007 evacuation of 1.2 million people in cars from New Orleans during a 48-hour period “was one of the most successful in U.S. history,” the evacuation of the carless—“those without access to cars or those without the physical or economic means to evacuate…was one of the most unsuccessful evacuations,” wrote John L. Renne et al. in an article in the Journal of the Transportation Research Board, “Challenge of Evacuating the Carless in Five Major U.S. Cities.”
The lesson from these experiences is the need for advance collaboration between health and senior services, transportation providers and local, state and regional government. Programs like “meals-on-wheels, caretaker services or social networks such as churches” can play an important role in identifying special needs persons, according to Renne and colleagues.
In recent years, many cities have paid new attention, preparing for successful evacuation of older adults and all others with special needs. Just three years after Katrina, New Orleans, in response to Hurricane Gustav, conducted a generally successful evacuation of the carless.
In August 2008, before Hurricane Irene, communities applied their new knowledge, and having already identified nursing homes and senior housing complexes as locations needing special attention, they were able to relocate nursing home residents before the storm. Some senior centers called their program participants, using registries prepared earlier. At least a few communities sent out alerts about shelters for evacuees’ pets. (During Katrina, rescue workers discovered that many older adults with pets refused to leave if they couldn’t take their pets with them.)
Emergency planners acknowledge that their greatest challenges, when planning for successful evacuations, are identifying those who need help and reaching out to them. Outreach has two parts: an ongoing flow of public information that encourages people to be continually prepared; and emergency outreach with information about an actual evacuation. Outreach, both long-term and immediate, and identification of vulnerable populations require targeted efforts.
Since Katrina, our cities are much more aware of the special needs of carless persons during an emergency evacuation; they are more knowledgeable about what must be done to meet these needs. This is a good beginning, but elders, persons with disabilities, persons with chronic diseases and other vulnerable residents are still at risk.
Jane Hardin, J.D., is coordinator, Senior Transportation Programs, for the Community Transportation Association of America in Washington, D.C. She is also a member of ASA’s Network on Environments, Services and Technologies for Maximizing Independence (NEST).
Editor’s Note: This article appears in the November/December, 2011, issue of Aging Today, ASA’s bi-monthly newspaper covering issues in aging research, practice and policy nationwide. ASA members receive Aging Today as a member benefit; non-members may purchase subscriptions at our online store.
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