As Hurricane Florence, later deemed a tropical depression, passed through the east coast in mid-September 2018, states issued evacuations and warnings, saying that a storm “has never been more dangerous.” More than 1,000 rescues were required and there were 32 deaths due to the flooding and destruction.
When it comes to emergencies, assisted living facilities can never be too prepared. As a component of emergency preparedness, administrators need to consider severe weather safety and work it into their preparation plans. In this guide, we dive into assisted living emergency preparedness and reveal the types of severe weather that communities need to plan for.
Why Assisted Living Emergency Preparedness Matters
As a senior living administrator, you are responsible for the well-being of both your employees and residents. This includes being prepared for any unforeseen severe weather. By preparing ahead of time, you can ensure your staff will know what to do and your residents will be taken care of in the event of the unexpected.
Common Types of Severe Weather
Hurricanes / Tropical Storms
The Pacific and Atlantic hurricane seasons begin each year on May 15 and June 1, respectively, and last until November 30. The months in-between provide plenty of time for hurricanes and tropical storms like Florence to wreak havoc.
Hurricanes formulate over warm ocean waters and gravitate toward land, bringing high winds, heavy rains, and flooding with them. They can travel anywhere along the coast and around the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
Senior Living Prep Steps for Hurricanes
- If a hurricane is expected, stay in-the-know of emergency information and alerts.
- Have an evacuation plan in place and evacuate the area when authorities say to do so.
- If evacuation is not required, keep all staff and residents indoors in a safe, elevated location.
Warm, humid conditions often create thunderstorms. They can be dangerous, especially when combined with lightning, strong winds, and hail. Flash flooding can also be caused by the heavy rainfall that severe thunderstorms produce. For this type of severe weather, it’s important to know the difference between a watch and a warning:
- Severe Thunderstorm Watch — This is issued when severe thunderstorms may be in the area. When a watch goes into effect, it’s recommended that individuals stay informed as the storm develops, in case it turns into a warning.
- Severe Thunderstorm Warning — This is issued when a severe thunderstorm is observed and reported by individuals or a weather radar. It’s recommended that individuals take protective action when a warning occurs.
Senior Living Prep Steps for Severe Thunderstorms
- Postpone outdoor activities if thunderstorms are in the forecast.
- Ensure all employees and residents are sheltered if a warning is issued.
- Have employees and residents refrain from using plumbing.
Floods occur when there’s heavy rainfall or thawing snow for a consistent period of time. Flash floods are also seen when there’s torrential rainfall in a short amount of time. Similar to severe thunderstorms, local storm teams can issue a flood or flash flood watch or warning.
- Flood or Flash Flood Watch — There is a chance that your area could become flooded. This indicates that individuals should be on the lookout for any overflowing rivers, streams, and storm drains.
- Flood or Flash Flood Warning — Flooding is already occurring in your area. Individuals should take shelter indoors.
Senior Living Prep Steps for Flooding
- Conduct research to find out if any rivers or streams nearby are prone to flooding.
- Check food, water, and medical supplies to ensure there’s enough stock in case of emergencies.
- Make sure your facility’s utilities (water heaters, electric panels, furnaces) are raised up off the floor to protect them from damage.
A tornado is often described as a narrow, violently rotating column of air. It occurs underneath thunderstorms and can extend to the ground. The rotating air becomes visible once the tornado has created condensation and has picked up enough dust and debris. While they can occur at any time during the year, most tornadoes tend to occur from May to July.
- Tornado Watch — A watch is issued when the weather in certain areas has the potential to form a tornado. These are usually conditions in which extremely-violent thunderstorms are occurring or are expected to occur.
- Tornado Warning — A warning is issued when there has been a tornado spotted in an area. Individuals should seek shelter immediately.
Senior Living Prep Steps for Tornadoes
- Maintain outdoor areas by cutting down old, dying trees and removing any damaged limbs from newer trees. This will help minimize the number of branches that could be whisked away in strong winds, potentially hurting someone or damaging property.
- Make sure all windows and doors are closed and secure.
- If a warning has gone into effect, have staff and residents retreat to a safe space on the lowest floor with no / minimal windows. If this is not possible, have them go into a hallway at the center of the building.
From freezing rain to heavy snowstorms, severe winter weather can not only be a nuisance, it can pose a threat to the individuals within your facility. While ice increases the chances of individuals slipping and falling, extreme winter weather can produce anywhere from multiple inches to feet of snow, making it difficult for staff to arrive for work and leave your facility. Snowstorms also make it harder for emergency transportation to hospitals when needed.
Unlike thunderstorm, flood, and tornado watches and warnings, winter weather has four phrases to let people know what to expect from the weather. These terms are:
- Winter Storm Watch — This is issued when there may be severe weather conditions in your area within the next 12 to 36 hours.
- Winter Storm Warning — A warning goes into effect when your area is expected to receive:
- 4”+ of snow or sleet within the next 12 hours.
- 6”+ of snow or sleet within the next 24 hours.
- 1/4” of accumulated ice at any point in the next 12 to 24 hours.
- Winter Storm Advisory — An advisory is issued when upcoming severe winter weather may create inconvenient or hazardous conditions.
- Blizzard Warning — This warning indicates that the combination of snowfall and strong winds will create a blinding snow with very limited visibility. Snow drifts and extremely low wind chills may also be present.
Senior Living Prep Steps for Winter Weather
- If weather conditions prevent staff from coming in to work or going home, have sleeping accommodations for them.
- Have enough ice melt on hand to keep all walkways free of ice.
- Ensure there are enough supplies (food, water, generators) available in the event that the winter weather causes a power outage.
Assisted Living Severe Weather Safety Tips
If you’re looking into implementing a safety plan for severe weather, we have you covered. Use our tips to ensure your senior care community is equipped to handle any issue!
Create a Plan
One of the main components of emergency preparedness is planning ahead. Create a strategy for any scenario and develop a step-by-step guide on how they should be handled. Your plan may even lead you to reach out to the local community to partner with other facilities and businesses. As they say, there’s strength in numbers!
Stock Up on Supplies
Make sure your facility has at least three day’s worth of food, water, and medications on hand to meet the needs of your staff and residents in the event of a crisis. Be sure that the food and water inventory is rotated as needed.
Train Your Staff
It’s imperative that your staff stays calm in chaotic situations. If severe weather occurs, you’ll want your staff to work together and handle issues seamlessly. In order to do that, staff must be aware of severe weather plans and trained on how to handle them.
Practice Plan Execution
Like fire drills, severe weather safety can be achieved with practice. Have your staff go through the motions of your severe weather safety plan so they are familiar with the steps.
Revise the Plan (If Necessary)
After practicing the plan, employees may have recommendations on how it could be improved. Take their thoughts into consideration and revise the plan as necessary. New building construction and employee turnover may also prompt revisions.
Distribute the Plan
With every revision, all individuals within your facility should be notified of the changes. Whether you create flyers or hold a mandatory meeting for staff to practice the new protocols, all employees should know what to do when severe weather strikes.