Fires Expose Issues With Disaster Preparedness for Elderly, Disabled
While California has made improvements to its disaster preparedness, two recent wildfires have exposed problems with the state's system for alerting and evacuating elderly and disabled residents, the Los Angeles Times reports (Romney, Los Angeles Times, 9/28).
More than 23,000 Californians have been displaced by the wildfires burning south of Sacramento and north of San Francisco. As of mid-September, about 138,660 acres were consumed by the two fires (California Healthline, 9/21).
According to the Times, about 30% of the 4.8 million California residents who identify as disabled are 65 or older.
Further, census data show that 20% of residents in Calaveras County, where one of the fires began, are seniors. Meanwhile, 18% of Lake County residents -- another area affected by one of the fires -- are seniors.
Issues With Disaster Response Plans
Special attention is needed to address communication, evacuation and sheltering among disabled and elderly Californians and residents with "access and functional needs" during wildfires and other disasters, the Times reports.
In 2013, Assembly member Ken Cooley (D-Rancho Cordova) pushed to require that the elderly and disabled be integrated into all parts of the state's updated emergency plan. However, the updated plan -- which was due to be released in two months -- has been delayed.
Meanwhile, the Office of Access and Functional Needs at the Governor's Office of Emergency Services has urged local governments to better educate and assist vulnerable populations.
During the recent fires, some groups worked to alert the care managers of such residents and helped locate needed wheelchairs.
Still, Teresa Favuzzi -- executive director of the California Foundation for Independent Living Centers -- said many people in the area were unprepared for the fires, but the situations are opportunities to learn. She said, "We're not there yet," adding, "We should not let folks perish like this without responding in some way to improve the chances of people like them in the future" (Los Angeles Times, 9/28).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.