Too many Mainers cannot keep themselves safe in an emergency. The elderly, the poor, the disabled and the ill always experience the highest rates of injury and death in disasters. And yet, our local emergency responders do not know who these residents are and are not prepared to help those with special needs either evacuate or shelter safely at home.

Nationally, 90% of older Americans live independently in their communities and not in nursing homes or other supervised housing. Many have cognitive or physical limitations, complex medical needs, few financial resources and little contact with family or friends. They may lack personal transportation, computers or cell phones. Emergency planners ignore the limited abilities of many at-risk residents when they emphasize the importance of personal preparedness.

People desperate to keep their own families safe in a crisis cannot be expected to also meet the urgent needs of neighbors. Who then should be responsible for ensuring the safety in emergencies of socially isolated residents, of single mothers with young children, of new Mainers not fluent in English, of adults with developmental challenges, of seniors with dementia, of those totally unaware of a life-threatening event? Is it emergency management? Public health? How can concerned community members best help these organizations meet the unique emergency needs of Maine’s most vulnerable residents?

Martha Morrison

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