What would you do in the event of an environmental emergency?

CARP hosts a Roundtable to discuss ways to meet the needs of high risk vulnerable seniors during an environmental event such as a heat wave.

Climate change and global warming present increasingly significant challenges to Canadian communities, necessitating planning to respond to unexpected weather events. Blizzards, earthquakes, floods, forest fires, droughts, heat waves, ice storms and tornadoes can suddenly put citizens at risk, threatening access to food, water and shelter as well as jeopardizing personal health and safety.

Vulnerable populations, including seniors, are at special risk in such circumstances, and planning must incorporate their special needs. Active seniors represent a valuable volunteer resource during such situations and should be part of both the planning and response process.

The percentage of older persons in developing countries is projected to rise rapidly in the first half of the 21st century. Four million Canadians are now 65 years of age or older and the proportion of seniors is projected to increase sharply in the decades ahead.

The 2002 Madrid International Plan of Action (the Plan) called for changes in attitudes, policies and practices at all levels in all sectors so that the enormous potential of ageing in the twenty-first century may be fulfilled. The plan made reference to emergency situations, recognizing the need to support vulnerable seniors as well as to utilize the experience and leadership potential of seniors in emergency response. The plan can assist policy-makers in Canada and elsewhere to focus on key priorities associated with ageing.

Government and non-government organizations are already active in preparing Canada for environmental emergencies. The Public Health Agency of Canada, Office of Climate Change (Health Canada), provincial/ territorial emergency planning bodies, the Canadian Red Cross and CARP have taken a leadership role in emergency preparedness.

Following its participation in the February 2007 Winnipeg International Workshop on Seniors and Emergency Preparedness, CARP hosted a National Roundtable on Seniors as Partners in Environmental Emergencies in Toronto in June 2007.

The Roundtable, which involved some fifty representatives of a wide range of organizations, explored how to mobilize active seniors as volunteers, and to meet the needs of high risk vulnerable seniors during an environmental event such as a heat wave.

Emergency Preparedness with a Seniors’ Focus: A Collaborative Approach

Before the Emergency (Planning) Over the course of the Roundtable, small group discussions and plenary sessions explored risk factors for vulnerable seniors during environmental emergencies, ways to address those risk factors, and strategies to mobilize active seniors as volunteers.

Many factors, either singly or in combination, can place seniors at high risk both during and after an environmental emergency. Planning for emergency preparedness needs to take those risk factors into account, in terms of early identification and timely response. Depending on the season, some needs may vary. For example, access to potable food and water are year-round needs, but access to heat in the winter and ice in the summer are seasonal needs. During a power outage, not only urban seniors but rural seniors whose water supply is dependent on a well will need access to potable water.