Ready for an Emergency?

Are our older people prepared for an emergency? 

A survey of older people using Age Concern Wellington’s Accredited Visitor service. 

Long before we’d heard about Covid-19, Age Concern Wellington ran an emergency preparedness survey: we asked many seniors how well prepared they are for an emergency. In light of the coronavirus pandemic, the survey results are more interesting now than ever. A kind volunteer, Judith Davey, compiled and summarised the results.

In consultation with WREMO (Wellington Region Emergency Management Office) and local councils, Wellington Age Concern developed a questionnaire for users of the local Accredited Visitor service. (AVS) – around 100 users. AVS visitors were asked to complete this with their clients.  The aim was to find out how prepared isolated and vulnerable older people are for an emergencysuch as a major earthquake. 

The majority of survey respondents have basic emergency supplies. Some of the best ways to inform older people in the case of an emergency appears to be through print (such as newspapers and mail-outs) and the radio. Websites were not a popular way to reach seniors.

More complete survey results follow:

Excluding people in rest homes or retirement villages – assuming that relevant emergency care would be available for them, 23 responses were included in the analysis. This coverage may not be extensive, but it does indicate areas where action could be taken to improve the preparedness of vulnerable older people in the event of emergencies. These are in bold below. 

Preparedness – emergency supplies/equipment 

The majority of survey respondents had basic emergency supplies of food, water, medication, equipment such as torches, candles, matches and batteries, and a first aid kit. The main deficit was lack of an alternative sanitation option, such as a portable toiletin case the wastewater system was compromised. Some had buckets and/or plastic bags. More information on how people could manage this aspect of preparedness would be useful. 

Dependence and outside help 

The vast majority of respondents had someone nearby who would check on them in an emergency. Almost all said they had someone to stay with if they had to evacuateOnly a very few had anyone who relied on them The majority of respondents did not have a pet, but, where they did, they stated that they had food and essential supplies for them. 

It was clear that the majority of people who replied to the survey had problems which would make evacuation difficult. Most of these related to mobility – having to use walkers or wheelchairs – and thus likely to be able to move only slowly. Another reason was blindness or poor sight. Evacuation is clearly an area where help is vital in an emergency and first responders need to know the nature of help needed and the location of the persons involved. 

Keeping informed and in contact 

Respondents were asked to rate their awareness and preparedness for a major emergency. Only one admitted that they were neither aware nor prepared. The rest were split between the “aware and prepared” category and “aware but not prepared” with slightly more saying the latter.  

All the respondents had access to a telephone landline and most also had access to mobile phones, although some did not use them or keep them charged. The underuse of mobile phones was also illustrated by the fact that very few respondents received emergency alerts and none had downloaded the Red Cross Hazards app. . This group of older people clearly require more information and guidance about the use of mobile phones during emergencies.  

A variety of ways were offered whereby older people could obtain information on how to prepare for an emergency. The most popular was a booklet which they could pick up from the local council; followed by newspapers, especially local papers; mailing, library displays and via the radio. Given that many are housebound or have mobility problemsaccess via newspapers or mail-outs might be the most acceptable. Websites were not popular.  

Following on was a question about keeping up to date once an emergency has occurred. Radio and TV were clearly the most popular means of communication, followed by texts. There was little mention of websites and none of social media. Messages aimed at older people rather than younger generations should take these results into account. 

Strengths and vulnerabilities 

Finally, respondents were asked how they might be able to help their communities in an emergency, or if they had other ongoing concerns. Many did not add anything. Only one person suggested that they could provide accommodation and share food. Another reported that they were installing a rainwater tank in case of emergency. Several were concerned that their personal alarms depended on a power supply which might be cut off in an emergency. Many responses reiterated their vulnerability – their lack of mobility, dependence on aids and need for assistance.


Thank you Judith Davey for compiling the survey results in March 2020 for Age Concern Wellington, and writing this blog!

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