If the past two years have taught South Carolinians anything, it’s that disasters are never out of the question, especially during hurricane season. County officials across the state have placed emphasis throughout 2017’s hurricane season on preparing the public for weather-related emergencies, putting their experience responding to the historic flood of 2015 and Hurricane Matthew in 2016 to good use.
However, certain communities can face greater obstacles than others when these events do occur, and thus need to plan strategically for those challenges. That’s why Richland County officials have made a point of hosting flood readiness events specifically for area seniors as a part of Richland County’s Returning Home Flood Recovery Program, such as the event held at the Garners Ferry Adult Activity Center last month.
On September 18, Richland County officials gathered with local seniors at the Garners Ferry Adult Activity Center to share flood safety procedures and preparation tips for seniors. Instructors emphasized that the county had a responsibility to prepare vulnerable residents for emergency situations.
“Hazard events typically tend to impact the elderly the most, so it’s very important to be able to outreach to those people, to let them know their hazards and their risks so they can overcome those challenges when they come,” said Ben Marosites, an Emergency Planner and Meteorologist for Richland County Emergency Services Department (ESD). His presentation focused on how to navigate floods safely once they occur.
Marosites’ assertion that the elderly are more vulnerable during severe weather is supported by data provided from state-wide recovery efforts. The South Carolina Disaster Recovery office, which has orchestrated a large-scale effort to reconstruct the homes of the state’s neediest flood and hurricane victims in 22 counties (not including Richland) confirms that 71 percent of grant recipients for the October 2015 Severe Storm Recovery Program were age 65 years or older.
The presentations at the September Flood Ready Seniors event were geared at pinpointing specific ways older individuals can minimize their risk factors in preparation for an event, hopefully reducing the chance that they become another of the many seniors that rely on recovery aid.
Capt. Winta Adams, who serves as public information officer for Richland County EMS in addition to her role as paramedic, covered the importance of having emergency communication methods in place ahead of time.
“I think one of the main concerns, too, for our elderly population is communication,” Adams said. “We know that there’s a lot of the seniors that don’t use cell phones, they might not have cable, and so they might not be able to get the information that they need in a timely manner. So we wanted to encourage that as well; to make sure they’re prepared communication-wise if another flood disaster happens.”
Another instructor was fellow ESD Emergency Planner Sharon Long. Long demonstrated how to prepare an emergency supply kit during her presentation, gesturing to a long table lined with non-perishable foods, hand-crank flashlights and other useful supplies.
In addition to her work for the county, Long serves as pastor for two local congregations, Mill Creek and McCleod United Methodist Churches. According to Long, her public work is largely motivated by her pastoral calling.
“Being a pastor, I care for my flock,” Long said, “and my churches are mostly older folks, too. It’s important to have them prepared for life and death, but it’s also important for our communities to be prepared. And both of my churches see this as an extension of my ministry through the church, because they’re all willing to pitch in when we need something throughout the county, so it’s just an extension of my pastoral ministry.”
The Richland County seniors who showed up to participate in the event were older residents who, just like some of Long’s congregation, wanted to ready themselves in case another “Thousand-Year” flood event should occur. One participant, Juanita Gregory, said that although she wasn’t personally affected by the 2015 flood, it did serve as a wake-up call, and motivated her to prepare for possible future events.
“We were blessed where I live, but it was very, very frightening to me to just look out my window and see this rain coming down,” Gregory said. “It was really, really scary; I didn’t know at what point I would have to move. But I just wanted to get more information on how careful you should be when there’s flooding, or even tornadoes, a flood or anything like that—and in a place where you’re really, really looking at people and watching them give you this information; then it kind of sticks with you more.”
Capt. Winta Adams had some advice for seniors who, unlike Gregory, were unable to attend.
“They need to have a plan outlined from the start, and not wait until the disaster happens. They need to make sure that plan is ready, and they include anybody in on it that need to be a part of that plan. You know, just make sure they are thoroughly prepared and ready for a disaster,” she said.
More events like this one will be held in the future, Richland County PIO Natasha Lemon confirmed. The coordinators of the event also emphasized that although hurricane season began back in June, it’s not over until November 30, so it’s important to remain cautious, even while optimistic.