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Julia O’Hanlon (left) and Nicole Minni (right) of UD’s Institute for Public Administration discuss aging in place at the Regional Conference of the American Planning Association.
Julia O’Hanlon (left) and Nicole Minni (right) of UD’s Institute for Public Administration discuss aging in place at the Regional Conference of the American Planning Association.

Helping Sussex County Communities

Photo by Sarah Pragg

UD educates residents on emergency preparedness, aging in place

When people consider retiring in southern Delaware, often they think about the proximity to the beach and being able to soak up the summer sun with their toes in the sand. What they might not consider, however, are things like the closeness of medical facilities or even family members who might be able to assist in an emergency.

With help from professionals from the University of Delaware, residents of Sussex County are getting an education on just that: disaster preparedness and tools for aging in place.

Earlier this fall, the University’s Institute for Public Administration (IPA) and the Delaware Sea Grant College Program held an Emergency Planning for Older Adults or People with Disabilities workshop for residents of Lewes, Delaware. Officials discussed aging in place and communicating risks at the Regional Conference of the American Planning Association, which was held in Rehoboth.

Emergency Planning

Danielle Swallow, coastal hazards specialist for the Delaware Sea Grant, said that with more than 30 percent of the Sussex County population projected to be over the age of 65 by the year 2030, and with that number increasing dramatically along the coast, it is imperative to have citizens prepared in the case of an emergency.  

Lewes has an even greater percentage of aging adults, many of whom live away from close relatives, and so Swallow said it made sense to have a workshop there that focused on preparing aging adults and those with disabilities for storms and other emergencies. Plus, the City of Lewes has an active hazard mitigation committee and the mayor was interested in  more public outreach.

“The idea was to connect them to information that is specifically tailored to their unique situation and help them grow their support network and come up with contingencies for any health and mobility needs in an emergency,” said Swallow.

Workshop participants heard from the emergency managers for Sussex County and the City of Lewes, as well as the director of the Greater Lewes Community Village, a non-profit that helps older adults maintain their ability to live independently.  

UD students from IPA were on hand to help the older adults use laptops to sign up for Smart 9-1-1, a service that helps first responders protect individuals by providing them with more personal information such as medications an individual takes and emergency contact numbers.

They also helped the Lewes residents sign up for CodeRED, an emergency notification system to alert property owners and residents of information they need in the event of a local emergency or disruption in service.

Lewes Mayor Ted Becker said that it was great to have Swallow discuss sea level rise, storm surge, the importance of understanding risks for residents living in or near a floodplain and the importance of having an emergency plan in place, as well as having UD students and members of IPA on hand to help the residents sign up for the emergency alert programs.

Becker added that having University members inform the community brought a level of expertise and credibility to the topic.

“Many people have come here and they are not totally familiar with how vulnerable they can be,” said Becker. “This gave them a baseline understanding that as great as it is to live here and as wonderful and as desirable as it is to be close to the ocean, there are risks and there are things that they can do to be better prepared to deal with it.”

Becker noted that having Joe Thomas, the director of Sussex County’s Emergency Operations Center, on hand also added a level of importance to the workshop.

The workshop was co-sponsored by the City of Lewes and the Greater Lewes Foundation. In addition, support was provided by Sussex County, Beebe Hospital, and the Delaware Emergency Management Agency.

Aging in Place

In addition to the Emergency Planning for Older Adults or People with Disabilities Workshop in Lewes, Swallow and Julia O’Hanlon and Nicole Minni of IPA presented at the Regional Conference of the American Planning Association.

Swallow gave a presentation on risk communication, highlighting the strategies she used during the Lewes workshop to communicate risks with a vulnerable population. O’Hanlon and Minni gave a presentation on an aging in place study they are working on, which is supported by the Sustainable Coastal Communities Initiative (SCCI), a joint project of IPA, Delaware Sea Grant and Cooperative Extension, in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

O’Hanlon, a policy scientist at IPA, said that she started working on a study of Sussex County’s growing senior population, 65 years and older, a few years ago with a doctoral student.

“We put together what I was calling an environmental scan,” said O’Hanlon. “It focused on different quality of life indicators that the county is facing because of the area’s increasing 65 and older population.”  

Over the past year, she has been looking specifically at the greater Lewes area using an AARP aging-friendly model, which has eight domains of livability: outdoor spaces and buildings, transportation, housing, social participation, respect and social inclusion, civic participation and employment, communication and information and community and health services.

For the APA presentation, O’Hanlon and Minni, who specializes in GIS mapping and spatial analysis for IPA, showcased those eight domains and why they are important to an aging-friendly community as well as proximity to healthcare facilities, bike routes and bus routes.

O’Hanlon said that it’s important for people who are retiring and moving to Sussex County to keep these things in mind, since their mobility and health could change as they get older.

“I don’t know if people are thinking about the importance of what they might need in the future,” said O’Hanlon. “It’s something that the local community should be thinking about when they’re doing their land use and comprehensive plans — that’s the connectivity among housing options, transportation and mobility services, and healthcare providers.”

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