With Hurricane Dorian devastating the Bahamas, emergency planning and being prepared for a severe weather event was on everyone’s mind at a “Ready or Not: Emergency Preparedness Workshop” held at a packed Roxana Fire Hall on Thursday, Sept. 5.
The workshop was geared towards adults over the age of 55, their families and caretakers to help older adults prepare for emergencies by addressing their unique needs and concerns.
The event was hosted by the towns of South Bethany, Fenwick Island, and Selbyville, together with Delaware Sea Grant (DESG) and the Institute for Public Administration (IPA) at the University of Delaware. It was led by Danielle Swallow, coastal hazard specialist for DESG, and Julia O’Hanlon, a policy scientist with IPA.
Swallow said that the top three hazards impacting Delaware communities are coastal flooding, nor’easters and hurricanes. The same natural resources that draw people to coastal communities, such as the opportunity to live by beaches and bays, are the same resources that make those communities especially vulnerable.
Swallow explained that Delaware is facing double trouble with intensifying storms and a rate of sea level rise that is twice the global average.
“Sea level rise basically increases the average height of our high tides and our low tides. If you live near a marsh area, think about that marsh as now storing more water than it previously did. So when rain comes in, when a storm surge comes in, that wetland area and marsh area is slower to drain out,” said Swallow.
While beachfront properties have dunes to protect them, the inland properties face more vulnerability as they are closer to the bays, tributaries and marsh areas where no such protective systems are available.
Swallow added that Delawareans are increasing their exposure to impacts from these storms because they’re building in some of the more highly vulnerable areas of coastal Sussex. In addition to putting more houses in the path of hazards, such development is taking away land that can absorb water.
Add to that an aging Sussex County population, which will have 30 percent of the county population over the age of 65 by the year 2030, and there is a dire need for emergency preparedness in the event of large storms.
“Our risks and vulnerabilities are increasing, but the good news is that we can take steps to help mitigate some of that,” said Swallow. “You’re here today because you’ve worked hard in your life to retire and to enjoy the lifestyle that this area affords you, and it’s important to protect that life that you’ve built. Taking the steps now to prepare can help you do that.”
Participants received training on evacuation routes and shelters, emergency supply kits, and managing health and mobility issues during the workshop and were given the opportunity to fill out an emergency health communications card. They could also engage with emergency responders, healthcare providers, agencies, and businesses who exhibited information on the services available to older adults before, during, or after emergency events.