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Professionals from the University of Delaware and Delaware Sea Grant (DESG) have come up with the Delaware Equitable Planning for Local Adaptation Needs (DE-PLANS) website, a hub to aid the Delaware Emergency Management Agency (DEMA), other state agencies, local governments and service organizations with incorporating key pieces of information to assist and guide emergency planning and aging in place efforts throughout the state.

Emergency planning for older adults

Photo by Evan Krape

UD and Delaware Sea Grant create DE-PLANS website aimed at helping older Delawareans with emergency planning resources

The percentage increase in Delaware’s older adult population continues to be relatively high compared to other states. According to the U.S. Administration on Community Living’s 2020 Profile of Older Americans, between 2009 and 2019, the First State experienced a 49% increase in its 65 and older population. In addition, older adults in Delaware are still flocking to the First State and are one of the state’s fastest growing demographics.

Yet this population is largely underserved in terms of planning for their needs into the future. To help inform planning, outreach and services for this population, professionals from the University of Delaware and Delaware Sea Grant (DESG) have come up with the Delaware Equitable Planning for Local Adaptation Needs (DE-PLANS) website

DE-PLANS is a hub to aid the Delaware Emergency Management Agency (DEMA), other state agencies, local governments and service organizations with incorporating key pieces of information to assist and guide emergency planning and aging in place efforts throughout the state. 

The site combines Delaware-specific information from the U.S. Census, American Community Survey, PolicyMap and others with geographic information system (GIS) tools and resources to support opportunities for state and local capacity building and help shape the state’s policy landscape. The development of the site was funded by DEMA.

The three leads on the project were Nicole Minni, associate policy scientist and a GIS and graphics specialist with the Institute for Public Administration (IPA) and the Joseph R. Biden, Jr. School of Public Policy and Administration; Julia O’Hanlon, a policy scientist for the Biden School; and Danielle Swallow, a coastal hazards specialist for DESG.

Swallow said that many older adults in Delaware are aging in place or retiring in areas near the coast, whether it be the Delaware beaches or Delaware River. This creates a problem as it increases their exposure to flooding, which is the number one hazard in the state. 

In addition, some of those locations do not have adequate evacuation options or social and healthcare services required by an older population. 

“As people get older, they’re going to need more services, in terms of health care and social supports,” Swallow said. “We started looking around at the different communities where these folks are moving, and in some cases there’s not a lot of proximity to those services. Plus, older adults are moving to higher risk areas at a time in their life where they’re potentially more vulnerable to severe weather and flooding and needing more services and sometimes, not always, those services aren’t right there.” 

The DE-PLANS site allows users the opportunity to explore a Delaware demographics and emergency planning map which shows a map of Delaware with the estimated percent of people 65 and older in locations throughout the state. It also shows areas of the state that have experienced coastal inundation during storms as well as the evacuation routes that are available to different communities. 

In addition, users can click on a series of layers to see where the closest senior centers, assisted living facilities, police stations, hospitals, pharmacies and shelters, among others, are located. 

The site has case studies such as “Delaware’s Aging Population and Flood Risks” and the “Delaware Food System Map,” which curate information to help inform planning and the services available to various populations throughout the state. 

Minni said the benefit of having a hub site is that it brings together a geographic approach to problem solving and allows the integration and organization of information all in one spot. 

“We were able to integrate websites, videos, photos, publications and mapping all within one location,” Minni said. “The information on the site can be shared easily, and there is a translate feature on the site that will translate the site into different languages.” 

All these aspects will help with their goal to help policy makers better understand their communities. 

“We’re trying to provide a way for people to understand their communities, understand the demography within them and hopefully be able to take that information and utilize it to help this vulnerable population in an emergency,” Minni said. “That’s really what it comes down to: taking this data, understanding where the vulnerable populations are, and then utilizing that data to help integrate solutions on how to help these people in an emergency.” 

The idea for DE-PLANS came out of a series of workshops that the three hosted for older adults on emergency preparedness in 2018-2019, which were funded by Delaware Sea Grant’s Sustainable Coastal Communities Initiative and allowed the three to better understand the needs of older adults in Delaware. 

O’Hanlon said that she, Minni and Swallow work well together when it comes to issues surrounding emergency preparedness for older adults because they each bring their own expertise to the topic. O’Hanlon focuses on how residents can best age-in-place healthily, Swallow offers the coastal hazards specialist perspective and expertise, and Minni brings all of it to life on the site through her GIS expertise and applications. 

Using publicly available data, they were able to curate that information and put it into the tool with the aim of helping state agencies, local governments and decision makers understand a little bit more about their community. 

“We wanted them to know what it looks like demographically and otherwise, as well as provide some geographic and environmental risks or hazards that, together, may be something they need to be thinking about in terms of comprehensive planning and hazard mitigation planning,” O’Hanlon said. 

Because the site can be used to help communities understand their demographics, it could also aid them in the grant writing process. 

The three were able to present the tool to different towns and municipalities as well as to members of the UD Grant Assistance Program (GAP). 

“We see a lot of potential for the tool to not only inform planning decisions at the state and county, local level but also, we think that the information in the tool can help different towns and agencies apply for grants,” Swallow said. “By knowing where their vulnerable populations are and being able to express some of the particular needs of that community, it can be really helpful in these different grant applications.” 

Overall, O’Hanlon said the creation of the tool is a great example of the interdisciplinary work at UD and the outreach UD provides within the state and for local partners. 

“Collaborating with these different groups throughout the state is really what our centers are all about,” O’Hanlon said. “Both IPA, the Delaware Sea Grant program and the University as a whole look to bridge these different areas in a very interdisciplinary nature. I think it’s a really good project for UD to be involved with, working at the community level.”

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