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Danielle Swallow from Delaware Sea Grant presents tools for municipalities and homeowners to assess flood risks and prepare for potential emergency situations during a public workshop in Sussex County. These workshops are part of IPAs partnership with Delaware Sea Grant to engage Delaware residents and community leaders on best practices for emergency preparedness and aging in place.
By IPA Staff |Photo credits: Delaware Sea Grant | Screenshot credits: Nicole Minni
Are Delaware's older adults equipped to remain in their current homes or communities as they age? Are social service providers able to address the evolving and longer-term needs of this increasing population? Do Delaware local governments have the tools and resources to identify built environment features that promote health and independent living among aging community members? Are local jurisdictions adequately prepared to address weather events and other emergencies that might disproportionately impact individuals 65 and older?
These are all questions being addressed by the Biden School of Public Policy & Administration's Institute for Public Administration (IPA), in collaboration with the University of Delaware's Sustainable Coastal Community Initiative and the Delaware Sea Grant Program.
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The ability to age in place regardless of age, income, and ability is recognized nationally as an important opportunity for citizens, local governments, and service providers to work collaboratively (CDC, National Council on Aging in Place, 2014). From a public administration and gerontological perspective, aging in place can be seen as the intersection of various policy and administration issues, many of which directly impact the lives of local community members, including access to housing, transportation, parks and recreation, and community services (AARP, 2014). While these issues alone provide important considerations for local policymakers and community services staff, they are further complicated when coupled with potential weather-related hazards and emergency situations.
IPA staff members Julia O'Hanlon and Nicole Minni are partnering with Danielle Swallow from the Delaware Sea Grant program to look more closely at these aging in place and emergency planning challenges. They use applied research and community outreach activities to draw attention to the specific risks and vulnerabilities of Delaware's retiring communities.
Julia OHanlon, IPA Policy Scientist, asks attendees about their aging in place concerns and perspectives during a public workshop in Sussex County. These workshops are part of IPAs partnership with Delaware Sea Grant to engage Delaware residents and community leaders on best practices for emergency preparedness and aging in place.
Connecting national aging in place and coastal hazard research with Delaware's current demographic trends and environmental factors affords IPA and Delaware Sea Grant the ability to help local community officials and service providers assess their communities' age friendliness. And, while strategies to promote aging in place can be applied to communities statewide, these efforts are considered particularly important in Sussex County, where the number of individuals 65 and older is expected to comprise 23 percent of the county's total population by 2030 (Delaware Population Consortium, 2019).
In the past two years, IPA and Delaware Sea Grant has co-hosted two public workshops that emphasized the role of emergency preparedness in age friendly communities. Held at the Roxana Fire Hall and the Lewes Public Library, in Sussex County, these workshops attracted 118 attendees in total. In 2020, they hosted a virtual course through Osher Lifelong Learning Institute with 84 registered guests. During these events, older adults learned about individual preparedness strategies and met with local emergency responders and service organizations. Several coastal towns in Sussex have significant populations of older adults living in or near the floodplain. This puts them at greater exposure to flooding from storms and sea level rise, as well as wind, ice, and other storm-related hazards. Older adults are generally more sensitive and slower to recover from these hazards because they are more likely to have economic, health, and mobility constraints. Emergency planning that specifically considers their needs and vulnerabilities will more effectively prepare communities to maintain resilience and support aging in place.
Another form of training was provided to local community officials on June 18, 2020, through IPA's Local Government Training series. IPA and Delaware Sea Grant reviewed concepts of aging in place, including the AARP's 8 domains of livability, and how emergency preparedness connects to these elements. Class participants were then instructed on a new set of tools that will improve their capacity to plan for the needs of older adults in their towns.
The first planning tool, Aging-Friendly Communities GIS Story Map, helps tell the story of communities located in the Bridgeville and Lewes areas of Sussex County, Delaware, and their efforts in creating aging-friendly communities. "Aging-friendly" communities are communities that provide affordable, accessible housing, multiple modes of transportation, access to community services, and engagement opportunities for all residents, regardless of age or ability. The AARP's 8 domains are showcased within the story map, along with data to use for planning purposes. Efforts among the Bridgeville and Lewes communities are transferable to other Delaware communities and the story map illuminates best practices to help people age in place and live an active, wholesome life.
Another planning tool called "The Aging in Place and Emergency Preparedness Mapping Series for Delaware" is an interactive planning tool and resource for municipal officials and community members interested in assessing their community's specific vulnerabilities. The series includes four interactive maps: Aging Population, Social Vulnerability, Community Resources, and Flood Risk. Within each map, various data points are available that can be retrieved with opportunities to focus in on specific jurisdictions (by zip code) and share results. The data provided on the maps can help municipalities assess community resources and flooding risks, in addition to where higher concentrations of adults ages 65 and older and other vulnerable populations live. These maps help support social vulnerability assessments, emergency preparedness efforts, and aging in place as a whole. For more information on Aging in Place visit IPA's Complete Communities Toolbox.
Julia O'Hanlon discussed the value of social connections for older Delawareans during her recent interview with Susan Getman, Executive Director, Mid-County Senior Center, for the May 19 episode of First State Insights, IPA's new podcast. The episode included examples of how senior centers are responding to COVID-19, which IPA has also consolidated on this Wakelet page.
Together, these planning tools, workshops, and podcast provide a comprehensive outreach toolkit to inform communities and individuals about the importance of policies and plans that promote age friendly and resilient communities. IPA and Delaware Sea Grant hope to expand their outreach toolkit with additional information resources and planning tools given the interest and demonstrated need that exists in Delaware.