JIS News

The elderly and the disabled are two of the most vulnerable in any society and often will need special attention, especially during a natural disaster whether it be a hurricane, flood, or an earthquake.
Currently there are approximately 290,000 senior citizens living in the island, and Executive Director of the National Council for Senior Citizens (NCSC), Mrs Beverly Hall Taylor, informs JIS News, that the Council has the necessary requirements in place to ensure the safety and security of the nation’s senior citizens.
She explains that the agency has a coordinator assigned to each of the 14 parishes, all of whom are members of their local disaster preparedness committee. The Council, through the coordinators, organizes and conducts sensitization workshops and small group talks with the seniors in the parishes, using resources from the office of the Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM).
“What we do is sensitize them on what is expected of them, when it comes to natural disasters. Because senior citizens, some of them, are the most vulnerable ones in the society, and if you have a disaster, they are the ones who will need more attention,” Mrs Hall Taylor says.
“So when we have our groups, we will have persons from the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM), or the parish disaster committee, who will tell them about the different disasters and get them sensitized,” she adds.
Senior citizens, she notes, will also be informed of their nearest shelters and the basic necessities that they should carry, if they have to visit one during a natural disaster.
In terms of care for the elderly, Mrs Hall Taylor advises that during a natural disaster, such as a hurricane, senior citizens should not be left alone.
“Seniors are advised not to be alone if there is a disaster threat. They are advised to have a neighbour or relative stay with them, if they are not planning to evacuate. They are to ensure that they have adequate supplies of canned food and special diet food, clothing, medication, and that their prescriptions are put in a safe place,” the Executive Director says.
Mrs Hall Taylor states that visits are made by members of the NCSC, to as many of the vulnerable seniors as is possible before a disaster, so as to ascertain their level of preparedness and needs.
She further informs that shelter registries are checked to see how many seniors are in the facilities, and a needs assessment done in order to provide additional relief as is necessary.
“Disaster committee personnel are dispatched to areas that are accessible to do assessments of persons’ physical structures, that is the dwelling and their amenities. Care packages are also distributed according to needs,” Mrs Hall Taylor says. Care packages, usually include rubbing alcohol, pain tablets, and adult pampers.
“We will go where we know the shelters are, and we will look to see how many seniors are there and what their needs are. We look at those who are not mobile, (to see) if they want… a cane. Most times they want pampers, so we have to make sure because we have to take care of the sanitary side of the shelter,” the Executive Director adds.
Meanwhile, Coordinator of the Combined Disabilities Association of Jamaica, Gloria Goffe, notes that before a disaster, the disabled person must be kept updated on what is happening.
“So the society has a responsibility to ensure that whatever media are used to communicate pending disaster, the person with a disability has access to that information. In the home, disabled persons need to be included in all the family plans,” Miss Goffe says.
“Sometimes families will plan to move to somewhere else or plan to batten up, but the disabled person is not told about it. And depending on the type of disability, that person can actually participate in the securing of the home and making the arrangements, whether to leave that home or move elsewhere. So, basically, the disabled person should be included,” she adds.
She, however, states that there are persons with certain types disabilities that might not be able to make decisions, for example somebody who is severely mentally retarded or intellectually impaired.
“There are a whole lot of different things that you need to do, such as simplifying the language when explaining to them what is happening, and what it means when and if you are caught in that kind of disaster. So that, when you move them elsewhere, they are not totally unaware of why they are where they are,” Miss Goffe explains.
The Coordinator also says that during a disaster, the disabled person should have his or her assisting device close by.
“For example, somebody with a white cane or somebody who uses a wheel chair, regardless of what you back away or move away, that person must have their mobility aide nearby. If you have a deaf person in the home, you should either know sign language or be able to use your own improvised way of communicating with them, so you will be able to tell them what is happening on the radio. For a blind person they can hear the television, but if there are graphics, you have to explain that to them as well,” Miss Goffe notes.
If the disabled person is being moved to a shelter, Miss Goffe advises that the caregiver must ensure where possible, that the shelter has physical accessibility for a person in a wheel chair and that the shelter manager is aware that a disabled person is in the house, so that special provisions can be made to accommodate them.
“For example, seating them close to areas that are safer, or ensuring that they are close to the bathroom area, that they don’t have to join any long lines for the food or water they are issuing, and that announcements that are made, again, are communicated in different ways,” Miss Goffe explains.
The Coordinator of the Disabilities Association of Jamaica, also informs that disabled persons need to be aware of precautions that they need to take.
“So, for example, you wouldn’t advise a blind person to venture out of their home in a hurricane or in a flood, because they might not know the direction the flood water is going, or how flooded the road is until they step into it and the physically disabled person will not be able to move quickly enough to avoid boulders or anything that is coming at them,” Miss Goffe notes.
Disasters come in different ways, and in the case of an earthquake, there are different measures that the disabled can employ in order to stay safe.
“For example if the person is on the bed and cannot move, they need to ensure that they cover their heads. If they are in a wheel chair, they need to ensure that they get to the door jam and lock the wheel chair,” Miss Goffe explains.
She notes that persons in communities need to ensure that they are aware of where the disabled persons are in their communities, so that they can be targeted specifically.
A disabled person can be characterised as an individual who has some kind of physical, mental, or sensory problem, that may limit them from performing an act in the way that is normally accepted by the society. The last census done in 2001, indicated that there are some 163,200 with disabilities living in Jamaica.