By Randa Griffin
More than 60 senior citizens gathered at the Wellington Community Center on Tuesday, May 30 to attend the Senior Symposium on Emergency Management and Hurricane Preparedness. The discussion took place two days in advance of this year’s hurricane season, which runs June 1 through Nov. 30.
The symposium was led by Michael Merrell, emergency management special projects coordinator with the Palm Beach County Division of Emergency Management. His presentation laid out a clear guide for residents with three easy steps for staying prepared: make a plan, build a kit and stay informed.
Planning is important for hurricane season, and residents should know where to go if they must evacuate, and have a plan for getting to a shelter before an emergency occurs. Merrell gave information on how to find shelters, evacuation routes and flood zones, which can be found at www.pbcgov.com/knowurzone.
Staying up-to-date with what is happening before, during and after a storm is easier than ever, and the quickest way to get the latest information is through local news stations, social media and alert systems already in place.
Palm Beach County has an alert system, AlertPBC, where users can opt-in for alerts on immediate and threatening situations. The Village of Wellington has its own alert system, called CodeRED. If residents sign up for the alerts, they’ll receive notifications through phone, e-mail and social media any time there’s an emergency situation.
The goal of these risk management programs is to minimize the impact of disasters throughout the community and help residents prepare before a disaster hits. The best way to do this is to make resources available to the public, Merrell explained.
“Knowing where to get information and who to ask for help is a big problem for older members of the community,” he said.
A stocked hurricane kit is also vital for staying safe. Home Depot brought supplies to the symposium that laid out suggestions for necessary items in the case of a natural disaster. The kit included essentials such as batteries, canned food, medications and a radio.
Hurricane awareness and preparation are important for all Florida residents, but pose special challenges for members of the senior population.
Seniors who require assistance or medical care that requires electricity can stay in local shelters that will help accommodate their specific needs. Special needs shelters are spread throughout the county, but require pre-registration and preparation.
Once registered at a shelter, Merrell advised that seniors bring enough supplies for at least 72 hours, and emphasized the importance of communicating with family and friends to make sure they’re prepared as well.
“We’re all in this together. The hurricane doesn’t hit your house and not mine, it’s a community effort,” Wellington Community Services Specialist Meridith Tuckwood said.
With such a large senior population, Tuckwood said it is important to make sure that everyone feels prepared and knows they’re not alone.
“Preparedness is the key,” agreed Wellington Vice Mayor John McGovern, noting that although it has been more than a decade since a major hurricane has hit South Florida, being prepared has helped the community through storms, both large and small.
ABOVE: Symposium attendees checking out the Home Depot hurricane prep table.