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Big gaps in emergency preparedness for seniors

Emergency Preparedness Week takes place May 6 to 12.
Barbara Morgan, emergency program coordinator with the City of Pitt Meadows, says that the most important items in any emergency kit should be drinking water, a radio and flashlight. (Colleen Flanagan/THE NEWS)

Many organizations that provide services for seniors don’t have adequate emergency plans for an earthquake or other catastrophic event in the region.

Barbara Morgan, emergency program coordinator with the City of Pitt Meadows, who has been working in this field for more than 30 years, has come to this conclusion after embarking on a project looking at what it means for seniors in the event of an emergency.

She says there is a big gap when it comes to emergency preparedness for the elderly.

With a grant from the federal government’s New Horizon’s seniors program, Morgan conducted two focus groups, one in Maple Ridge and one in Pitt Meadows and asked about 100 seniors what equipment, what prescriptions and what services they currently use.

Then Morgan took this information to a number of agencies and organizations in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows and asked them if they would be able to keep these services going during an emergency.

Morgan said, a lot of organizations were hard-pressed to come up with an answer.

“A lot of them did not have an emergency plan. Nor has decision making made it down to their level,” said Morgan.

Morgan looked into plans for people who require oxygen or use an electric wheelchairs.

”If we don’t have power, then what,” she asked, adding that it’s not just the senior population either, that should be worried, it’s the vulnerable population as a whole.

“We know in this area that 20 per cent are seniors which breaks down to about 20,000 (residents),” explained Morgan, about the combined total in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows.

However, said Morgan, if a person, no matter what age, takes medicine regularly, they are considered a vulnerable resident. When you start thinking along those lines, she said, the number rises to about 50 per cent of the population.

Morgan’s goal was to put together a guide to help seniors in advance of an emergency. It took her about one year to complete and was released in January 2017. In it seniors are run through the steps of what an emergency plan should look like.

There are three basic steps which are know the risks, make a plan and get a kit.

“You’ve got a couple of different living situations for seniors,” explained Morgan.

“You’ve got them living independently in a home, you’ve got them living in a condo with a strata with their independence still, then you’ve got assisted living and then you’ve got intensive care living. So there are different’ realms of preparedness of which there are few people, few seniors, few buildings, few assisted living places of which have taken he opportunity to get prepared,” said Morgan.

For her research she went to a pharmacist and asked if they could dispense in an emergency. The reply was three days worth and even seven days worth if requested. But when asked if they could dispense medication without power, the answer was no, nor without internet service. That goes the same for the hospital. The hospital can only give you a prescription. They cannot dispense medications unless a patient is staying there.

Morgan recommends talking with your doctor.

“Ask them for one week extra so you can put a weeks worth in your (emergency) kit,” she said.

“What I do is rotate mine,” she continued, adding that every time she renews her prescription she takes the old medicine out of her kit and it with the new to make sure it stays fresh.

Assisted living facilities have to have an emergency plan, but Morgan says, for some it is only evacuation with the expectation that families will pick up their loved ones.

“Once an earthquake happens, you are not able to use a bridge until it’s been structurally inspected. So in essence we’ve become an island. So then how are their relatives going to come and pick them up? If they live in the area great. But if they don’t what then,” she questioned.

Morgans advice is to look into the emergency procedure of the facility and what their plans are for accommodation and food. Some plans shine, she says, but some do not.

All seniors should have an emergency kit, even if they are in an assisted care facility. They should also come up with an exit strategy, like how are they going to get down from a third level when they can’t use an elevator.

Another way seniors can help themselves is by coming up with a buddy system.

“They need to have a personal support network if they are independently living, whether you are in a condo or in your own home, start getting to know your neighbours,” said Morgan who also recommends taking a look at what resources they have in their neighbourhood.

“It doesn’t matter if you are in a condo. Do you have people with first aid, is there electricians in your neighbourhood, are there carpenters, are there plumbers, nurses, doctors, those are the people who can help you, that have a skill to help you,” she said.

If there is an earthquake situation Morgan tells seniors to get on their bums.

“If you are in a wheelchair and it starts shaking, just get on the floor,” she said in order to protect yourself under a table. And if some are worried they won’t be able to get back up again, that’s where the buddy system comes into play.

“Start making a support network. If you are not so mobile, then who around you is. Start talking to those neighbours,” said Morgan.

“Somebody is going to check on you,” she said.

Morgan also warns there are risks to the community other than an earthquake, such as an interface wildfire, referring to the transition zone between the forest and urban development.

During the spring and summer last year Morgan was deployed to central B.C. to help residents recover from flooding and wildfires. She can’t emphasize enough how long it takes to rebuild from a disaster.

“These kinds of major events, major disasters, they take years to recover from,” she said.

“It’s not just you rebuilding, the whole town is rebuilding. How do you get supplies and how do you get a contractor and how do you not be prey to the scandalous ones that come into town and use it as an opportunity,” said Morgan.

And for seniors who are not as flexible in their routines, this life-altering change can be hard.

When Morgan tells seniors that we are expected to have an earthquake in this region in the next 50 years she is usually met with, well, I’m good.

“No, because it might be tomorrow,” said Morgan.

“We’re fooling ourselves thinking we are going to be immune. It’s going to happen.”

Emergency Preparedness Week takes place May 6 to 12.

It is an annual, national event coordinated by Public Safety Canada to encourage Canadians to take steps to better prepare themselves and their families during an emergency.

For more information call 1-800-830-3118 or email

In B.C. contact the Emergency Management B.C. at 250-952-4913 or go to

Morgan will be hosting emergency preparedness sessions throughout the week and is also offering emergency kits for purchase.

“The City of Pitt Meadows is dedicated to emergency preparedness and in this effort have used their bulk buying ability to secure a supplier to provide high quality kits at a reduced price. Any resident of Pitt Meadows can purchase family kits directly from the city,” said Morgan.

A Neighbourhood Preparedness Program will be launched in September.

Session dates:

Emergency Preparedness from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on May 7 at the Pitt Meadows Seniors Centre, 19065 119b Street.

Emergency Preparedness and Fall Prevention from 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. on May 8 and Maple Ridge Fire Hall, 22708 Brown Avenue. To RSVP call Marla at 604-476-3343 or email

Emergency Preparedness and Fall Prevention from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on May 8 at Pitt Meadows Fire Hall, 19240 122a Street. To RSVP call 604-465-5454 or email

Emergency Preparedness and Safety Fair from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on May 12 at Pitt Meadows Heritage Hall, 12460 Harris Road.

Items that should be included in a standard emergency kit. (Colleen Flanagan/THE NEWS)

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Colleen Flanagan

About the Author: Colleen Flanagan

Colleen Flanagan is an award-winning multimedia journalist with more than 15 years experience in the industry.
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