Today, U.S. Senator Mel Martinez (R-FL) held a hearing in the Senate's Special Committee on Aging to examine ways to increase the safety and awareness of seniors and those living with special needs when disasters or public health emergencies arise.
"Threats vary from state to state and region to region. Whether it is a flood, blizzard, earthquake, or fire, emergency responders at every level ought to be prepared to assist our most vulnerable citizens," said Martinez. "Older adults are often the hardest hit when Mother Nature is at her worst - no one should be endangered by virtue of their age, living situation, or physical capabilities."
Currently, a major national concern is what to do for seniors in the event of pandemic. Although seniors are not at a greater risk of contracting H1N1 influenza (Swine Flu), communities must prepare for the upcoming flu season when seniors are among the most vulnerable for flu generally.
"Our health, human services, and emergency agencies have the responsibility to help inform the general public about the value of prevention and being prepared," Martinez said. "Each year new threats emerge as old threats largely remain. We must not forget the special needs of our seniors whether the threat is natural, manmade, or public health emergencies."
Advance preparation such as having a communications plan and an emergency kit with an extra pair of glasses, or a hearing aid battery are the kinds of steps that might mean the difference between life and death. Martinez noted Florida has the highest proportion of elderly of any state and a high incidence of disasters and emergencies. Emergency responders in the state have taken significant steps to address the unique needs of seniors. Ensuring that caregivers are trained in emergency preparedness procedures and can coordinate a response in the event of an emergency helps to avoid mistakes during emergencies.