Washtenaw Co Survey Reveals Senior Vulnerabilities in Extreme Weather Preparedness


The Washtenaw County Health Department has unveiled the results of its Extreme Weather Preparedness Survey, shedding light on the readiness of local seniors in the face of extreme weather events. The survey findings aim to identify knowledge gaps and barriers to community preparedness during such emergencies.

As climate change continues to impact the region, the Washtenaw County Health Department recognized the growing importance of preparedness for extreme weather events. Amanda Harris, a CDC public health associate with the department, explained, "After the widespread power outages from storms in summer 2021, we implemented this survey to identify and learn about members of our community who may be disproportionally impacted by extreme weather events."

The survey initially focused on residents of densely populated senior apartment complexes and communities that had been affected by power outages in Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township during the summer of 2021. Later, it was expanded to encompass the broader population of Washtenaw County, with a specific emphasis on older adults.

In total, 255 respondents completed the survey between June and October 2022. The majority (60%) of respondents polled were over the age of 65; 76% of respondents were women.

The survey revealed several key findings, with Kimberly Collom, Washtenaw County Health Department emergency preparedness manager, noting, “Many seniors surveyed have health conditions, rely on adaptive equipment, or have medications that require special accommodations – all of these needs must be considered as we prepare for extreme weather events in Washtenaw.”

The survey also highlighted the unique needs of seniors, particularly those with health conditions or who rely on life-sustaining medical equipment. For instance, 28% of respondents use adaptive equipment or technology, 18% have medications requiring special temperature considerations, and 63% have one or more health conditions.

Furthermore, the survey identified vulnerabilities in terms of essential resources, as 15% of respondents do not have a three-day supply of food or water, and 27% do not consistently have enough money to cover essentials such as food, housing, utilities, and medicine.

Additionally, 47% of respondents reported having pets, with 23% stating they would stay with their pets in the event of an evacuation due to an extreme weather event or power outage.

The survey probed respondents on their sources of emergency information, their emergency supplies, their support networks, and their perceived vulnerability to the loss of basic resources during emergencies.

Some notable survey findings include:

  • 69% were aware that the number of extreme weather events or power outages in their area has increased in the past 10 years.
  • 97% expressed confidence in recognizing the symptoms of serious heat-related illness.
  • Over 70% correctly determined the order of seriousness of different types of weather alerts: Warning, Watch, Advisory.
  • 33% reported not knowing several local emergency news resources, such as 89.1FM, Everbridge, Nixle, 211, and CodeRed.
  • 72% were unaware that WEMU 89.1FM serves as the designated Emergency Alert Station for the local area.
  • 33% reported not knowing how to sign up for local alerts via phone or email.

In response to the survey findings, the Washtenaw County Health Department is utilizing funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to enhance its emergency preparedness efforts. This includes the hiring of two health educators and the expansion of community preparedness initiatives, such as educational trainings and the provision of emergency kit supplies. Additionally, the funding will support volunteer management and coordination activities to better prepare for and respond to future weather-related events and health emergencies.

A full summary is available here: https://bit.ly/ewpssum23.

Photo credit: Tony Webster, Flickr. Some rights reserved.

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