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Article

Changing Disaster Vulnerability and Capability in Aging Populations  

Jennifer Whytlaw and Nicole S. Hutton

The aging population, also referred to as elderly or seniors, represents a demographic of growing significance for disaster management. The population pyramid, an important indicator of population growth, stability, and decline, has shifted from the typical pyramid shape into more of a dome shape when viewing trends globally. While these demographic shifts in age structure are unique to individual countries, adjustments in disaster management are needed to reduce the risk of aging populations increasingly affected by hazards. Risk is especially evident when considering where aging populations live, as proximity to environmental hazards such as flooding, tropical storm surge, fires, and extreme weather resulting in heat and cold increase their risk. Aging populations may live alone or together in retirement communities and senior living facilities where the respective isolation or high density of older adults present specific risks. There is a concern in areas with high economic productivity, also considered post-industrial areas, where the population consists more of those who are aging and less of those who are younger to support the labor needs of the market and more specifically to support and engage aging populations. This disparity becomes even more prominent in specific sectors such as healthcare, including senior living assistance. In developing economies, the young are increasingly leaving traditionally intergenerational households to seek greater economic opportunities in cities, leaving many seniors on their own. Thus, risk reduction strategies must be conscious of the needs and contributions of seniors as well as the capacity of the workforce to implement them. The integration of aging populations within disaster management through accommodation and consultation varies across the globe. Provision of services for and personal agency among senior populations can mitigate vulnerabilities associated with age, as well as compounding factors such as medical fragility, societal interaction, and income. Experience, mobility, and socioeconomic capabilities affect decision making and outcomes of aging populations in hazardous settings. Therefore, the means of involvement in disaster planning should be adapted to accommodate the sociocultural, economic, and environmental realities of aging populations.

Article

Integrating Access and Functional Needs in Community Planning for Natural Hazards  

Nnenia Campbell

Populations that are rendered socially invisible by their relegation to realms that are excluded—either physically or experientially—from the rest of society tend to similarly be left out of community disaster planning, often with dire consequences. Older adults, persons with disabilities, linguistic minorities, and other socially marginalized groups face amplified risks that translate into disproportionately negative outcomes when disasters strike. Moreover, these disparities are often reproduced in the aftermath of disasters, further reinforcing preexisting inequities. Even well-intentioned approaches to disaster service delivery have historically homogenized and segregated distinct populations under the generic moniker of “special needs,” thereby undermining their own effectiveness at serving those in need. The access and functional needs perspective has been promoted within the emergency management field as a practical and inclusive means of accommodating a range of functional capacities in disaster planning. This framework calls for operationalizing needs into specific mechanisms of functional support that can be applied at each stage of the disaster lifecycle. Additionally, experts have emphasized the need to engage advocacy groups, organizations that routinely serve socially marginalized populations, and persons with activity limitations themselves to identify support needs. Incorporating these diverse entities into the planning process can help to build stronger, more resilient communities.