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Flooding, wildfire emergency plans need to better consider seniors, disabled people: B.C. expert

Protecting elderly and disabled individuals during flood evacuations, expert preparedness tips
Photo of prescription medication (Pixabay image).

As British Columbians remain on high alert for flooding risks, one health advocate is urging the province and community members to remember to check on seniors and disabled people and ensure emergency plans are considerate of their needs.

A combination of disability, low mobility and poverty can leave people in dangerous situations, especially during emergencies like wildfires and floods, University of B.C. nursing professor Jennifer Baumbusch told Black Press Media.

“Many have very fixed incomes, have very low incomes and that they’re living in poverty,” she said. “That impacts their housing and the type of housing they have access to. Many are living in inadequate housing.”

A total of 96,000 B.C. seniors lived in poverty in 2014, according to Statistics Canada’s low-income measure.

A solid evacuation plan and equitable resources are key to ensuring vulnerable people are protected, she said. This includes cities and organizations making sure transportation is available to those without vehicles and access to generators in case of long-term power outages, as well as ensuring evacuation centres have sanctioned space for people with different types of needs.

“Often times evacuation centres are not suitable for people with cognitive impairment or sensory issues.”

Further preparedness includes considering where the evacuation is set and that any accessible hotel or motel rooms in these areas are reserved for people with mobility impairments first.

For residents, Baumbusch said that packing a to-go bag of essential items is also crucial needed for your household and extra if you are supporting someone else and ensuring evacuation centres have sanctioned space for people with different types of needs.

In some emergencies, people are also told to stay in place – leaving them in their homes for long periods of time. In those instances, people with chronic healthcare needs should have a medication stockpile of “a week or more,” which can be done by speaking with a doctor.

“People who use oxygen or feeding tubes, those kinds of things they need to have access to power to use those medical equipment which are life-sustaining,” she said. “For people who have outpatient medical care like dialysis or chemo what is the plan for them if they are unable to get to the medical building where that’s taking place.”

Other basics include putting aside clean water, food in the pantry, having excess clothing, non-perishables and first-aid supplies.

B.C. isn’t new to devastating flooding events – from the 2017 floods in the Okanagan and Kootenays to the November floods in parts of the Interior and Fraser Valley – and lessons should be learned in how disabled and senior people can be better helped in these events.

“We really need to see a step up in terms of all levels of government to better communicate what resources are available,” she said. “Particularly if you don’t have access to transportation or other tools.”

Local community members shouldn’t be afraid to reach out to their neighbours and ask if they might like help.

“I would hope that people who share this society, want to ensure that everyone gets the support they need.”

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