Tompkins County Office for the Aging Holds Aging Services Network Presentation by Climate Resiliency and Aging Author Danielle Arigoni
Nearly three quarters of the people who died in the recent Lahaina, Hawaii wildfire were over the age of 60 – following a tragic trend of older adults “bearing the brunt” during disasters. The grim statistic and a series of practical and policy solutions to address the disproportionate harm faced by older adults during disasters came as part of a community presentation on aging and climate change by Danielle Arigoni, Author of Climate Resilience for an Aging Nation. Arigoni was the featured speaker in the October, 2023 Aging Services Network, hosted by the Tompkins County Office for the Aging.
Arigoni’s presentation challenged the audience of Tompkins County officials, local advocates for older adults and climate resilience, and members of the public to consider local policy and program efforts to address climate and community resiliency for older adults. We must “pause for a moment to ask the question, is this an acceptable trend” said Arigoni, adding that the trends of disproportionate harm to older adults during disasters can be reversed with the right actions.
Start by “acknowledging that climate change impacts older adults differently, and not just during disasters… Even on days that don’t register as a Presidentially declared disaster,” argued Arigoni. She cited extreme weather events and utility bill prices as climate change impacts faced by older adults. Arigoni also encouraged local officials to “recognize that preparedness isn’t enough,” while individuals can take personal responsibility, those who died during a disaster didn’t necessarily fail to plan but may have “relied on services already stretched so thin” that there wasn’t capacity when they were to be relied upon.
Deputy Director of the Tompkins County Department of Emergency Response Jessica Verfuss attended the event, “Emergency management work has always tried to support community members with heightened needs, this presentation was an excellent reminder of why those efforts are important. The presentation was also a call for our community to continue to invest in and support the services that do get stretched thin during a disaster.” Verfuss added a takeaway from the conversation, “in the question and answer section we heard a lot about the importance of information sharing before, during, and after a disaster. That’s a role that the County plays and we can continue to focus on informing older adults and caregivers around disaster incidents, that starts with getting people signed up for SIREN alerts and includes us working with all of our community partners on this issue.”
Focusing on solutions that build community resilience for people of all ages is a practical approach that can deliver results in the face of climate change. Arigoni centered her call to action around “solving for all abilities and thinking holistically, using older adults as the locus of planning that will serve all populations.”
“Our goal is to help make every community in Tompkins County safer and more livable for older adults. We do this by providing direct service and support to seniors and caregivers, while we plan and work with community partners on important community-wide issues,” said Lisa Monroe, Director of the Tompkins County Office for the Aging. “I love the idea of centering the experience of older adults while planning around resilience and disaster response, what we’ve learned is that when we design solutions for older adults, they often work for everyone in the community because they are more accessible and responsive to needs.”
Arigoni’s presentation made several calls to action for the public and local officials. The following resources include more information on the focus areas discussed:
NYS Master Plan for Aging: Survey for all community members open until December 31, 2023