Greenwood County Emergency Management Coordinator George McKinney and the Upper Savannah Aging & Disability Resource Center (ADRC) want seniors and the disabled to be ready for a disaster or localized event before it happens.
McKinney visited the Piedmont Agency on Aging in Greenwood recently to educate seniors, who were gathering for socialization and a congregate meal.
“We don’t want to plan for this happening once it’s already happened,” McKinney told the seniors about a disaster or event. “You won’t be able to respond quickly. You will be overwhelmed.”
Disasters or events can come in many forms, ranging from a chemical spill that could result in the evacuation of several homes, flash flooding, a tornado, an earthquake, or a severe thunderstorm or ice storm that could cause long-lasting power outages. Typically, ice storms, though unusual in South Carolina, have caused the biggest emergencies here over the years.
Kathy Dickerson of the ADRC, also known as the Upper Savannah Area Agency on Aging that serves the counties of Abbeville, Edgefield, Greenwood, Laurens, McCormick and Saluda counties, set up the disaster preparedness training.
“Because we work with seniors and individuals with disabilities, we want to make sure they are educated, know the steps that they need to take to prepare for a disaster, and what to do if a disaster occurs,” said Dickerson, who has also scheduled Abbeville County Emergency Management Coordinator David Porter to speak at the Abbeville Senior Center Aug. 29.
Seniors and persons with disabilities are more vulnerable in cases of emergency and are also among the most likely not to evacuate, McKinney said. Some rely on oxygen or dialysis for which electricity is crucial. Medications are another issue as well as overall health.
“My big concern with them is making sure they are safe,” McKinney said after the training. “From a long-term capability of sustaining themselves in this type of environment (such as a shelter) is limited compared to someone younger.”
“Medication is a big issue,” Dickerson said. “Our agency hopes to be able to provide the emergency management coordinator with assistance for our current consumers. If our consumers sign a disaster release form, we will furnish the EMD with certain information about residence, if the consumer has any emergency needs such as oxygen, dialysis, etc.
“If one of our consumers becomes sheltered and does not have medication information, our agency could supply a list of medications, pharmacy source, health coverage information, and various stated needs by the individual,” Dickerson continued. “All this depends on the consumer giving us a release consent to share. No information is shared like Social Security numbers etc., only medical needs.”
The Area Agency on Aging is not a First Responder,” Dickerson said, and “we cannot in any way guarantee a first responder will go out to the home to check on the individual if information is shared with the EMD in a disaster event. It is just another way of reaching the senior and disabled community if needed.”
McKinney told the seniors that his job is to coordinate multiple agencies and stakeholders to prepare for, mitigate, respond to, and recover from disasters and events whether natural like a tornado or flash flood, to a hazardous materials situation.
He listed government agencies, civic organizations such as the Red Cross, United Way and the Salvation Army, private businesses, faith-based organizations and larger stores such as Lowe’s and Wal-Mart as partners.
“They have a vested interest in supporting us for the simple reason is that they want the community up and running again,” he said of chain stores.
The preparedness phase includes disaster preparedness training sessions, the response phase occurs when health care providers, fire departments, law enforcement officials and public works employees save lives and property, and the recovery phase involves restoring power, clearing roads, getting stores back open, etc.
McKinney, who has also served as the director of the South Carolina Emergency Management Division, said the recovery phase can be long in extreme disasters, with the 1989 Hurricane Hugo’s last recovery event ending in 2001.
McKinney told the seniors that in order to prepare for disasters and events, they need a first-aid kit, several days of their medications, prescriptions, money, identification, clothing, social security numbers, phone contacts, insurance information, and proof of residency such as a utility bill in case of property loss.
To have to get all of that together after an emergency would be too much, he stressed.
Having a place to go, whether it be a shelter, or someone’s home is important.
“How am I going to evacuate?” McKinney asked rhetorically. “Is there a place I want to go? Do I have friends, relatives that I can visit? You might have to sustain yourself to some degree in a shelter. We can also recommend staying in a motel.”
McKinney stressed to seniors to “get to know your neighbors,” who can be especially helpful when first responders are overwhelmed. He also recommended contacting out-of-town friends or relatives in case of an evacuation to let people know they are safe.
“It is important to have that piece of mind of knowing that they (your family members) are safe even if they might not be in the best position,” McKinney said. “It’s very important to put together a communications plan with people outside the area.”
McKinney recommended calling 211, a one-stop resource for finding assistance in your local community. The United Way 211 site keeps a database of a wide variety of service providers including support groups, community clinics, counselors, shelters, food pantries, programs for seniors and many more agencies in South Carolina.
Dickerson also stated that SC ACCESS (http://scaccess.communityos.org/cms/ ) is the SC Aging Network resource for Aging and Disability Information. For Abbeville, Edgefield, Greenwood, Laurens, McCormick and Saluda counties the Aging & Disability Information Specialist is SuSu Wallace and she can be reached at 864-941-8069.