Students improve emergency preparedness for seniors

November 16, 2016
Master of Arts in Disaster and Emergency Management students during their assignment with the Town of View Royal

Planning for a natural disaster is a fact of life on Vancouver Island. According to local emergency management personnel, many local residents, including seniors, are unaware of how to successfully prepare themselves for an emergency.

Master of Arts in Disaster and Emergency Management students are working with two local municipalities to change that level of awareness, partnering with the Town of View Royal and the District of Metchosin to improve senior citizens’ emergency preparedness.

Students in the program’s advanced professional practice course created a realistic emergency situation and assessed and analyzed the potential impact to the senior population. Emergency management personnel in both communities were open to suggestions on ways how to improve services and how to ensure services are age-friendly and convey respect, compassion and caring.

Student Elyse Demers says the people who are perceived as stereotypically in need are incredibly resourceful and resilient.

“Every individual in the community we have met has some kind of impact on our project,” says Demers. “The community as a whole has an enormous amount of influence on us and on the policies that may be established in their region.”

After speaking with more than 65 senior residents from six different neighbourhoods in workshop sessions, students were able to identify 10 areas where View Royal could better prepare and engage with senior populations and where to focus emergency program resources and efforts.

“This project has helped pave the way for future engagement between our emergency program and residents of our municipality,” says View Royal Fire Captain and Emergency Management Officer Troy Mollin. “Participants have a renewed sense of interest and personal responsibility around their own personal and neighbourhood preparedness. I am already starting to book future workshops with a few of the neighbourhoods that participated.”

Mollin adds the project has been an enlightening experience for him as well. “I learned as the students learned and I gained a network of professionals across Canada working in the field of emergency management.”

Student Andrew Peden says the assignment allowed him and his classmates to see first-hand how much citizens can contribute to the emergency management process.

“During our courses we have continually spoken about the need to incorporate all stakeholders in decision-making,” says Peden. “It made citizens realize how much they can contribute as well, which proved to be satisfying in knowing you had made a difference and began to impact positive change. The interaction with the older population has broken down barriers in the community and created a renewed interest in their safety.”

Associate faculty member Laurie Pearce says the Disaster and Emergency Management program students have spent more than a year learning from the course materials, their colleagues and professors and this assignment is an opportunity to take all they have learned and apply it in a real community.

“Within a short time frame students were able to reach out to older persons in View Royal and Metchosin, assess their degree of preparedness and understanding of potential hazards and come up with doable, practical strategies to increase the communities' disaster resilience to wildfires and earthquakes,” says Pearce. “It is a win-win for the communities and the students.”

Peden says his key learning from the course is that the learning is professionally transferrable.

“The experience can assist in conducting similar studies within our own communities,” says Peden.

Photo: Master of Arts in Disaster and Emergency Management students during their assignment with the Town of View Royal