Shelter from the Storm: How Assisted Living Communities Protect Residents in a Hurricane

Hurricane Irma, which made landfall in Florida in September 2017, was one of the most intense tropical storms to hit the region. A Seniors Housing & Care Journal article explored how assisted living communities had prepared for this type of situation and how they made the decision to evacuate or shelter in place.

Interviews and focus groups were conducted with a representative from each of 70 assisted living communities in Florida. The communities ranged in size from fewer than 10 beds to more than 100 (average 64 beds) and most were for-profit.

About 40% of the communities reported having evacuated for Hurricane Irma. While most of these had followed guidance on mandatory evacuation orders, eight communities had not been ordered to evacuate but chose to, based on the extreme situation. Similarly, of the communities that sheltered in place, most were not located in zones under mandatory evacuation orders. However, a small number under mandatory evacuation chose to shelter in place based on prior disaster planning with local emergency authorities. These tended to be larger communities with secure buildings and resources to be self-sufficient for an extended amount of time.

Regardless of the final decision to evacuate or shelter in place, resident safety was reported as the primary concern, with administrators needing to weigh the risks of moving a large number of residents with memory impairments to a new environment. While safety and security of the community’s buildings, such as hurricane-impact windows, were important considerations, the key attribute appeared to be availability of generators. The ability to maintain power meant the communities could continue to regulate temperature.

The researchers noted that one area for improvement may be in communication with local authorities. News media were significant sources of information regarding the hurricane, but it may be more effective to work more closely with local authorities to obtain right information and to prepare their surroundings in advance of the hurricane. This would help to prevent unnecessary evacuations that could place residents at risk. Overall, however, the researchers found that communities had effective leaders who executed detailed emergency plans to protect residents.


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Peterson L, June J, Dobbs D, Dosa D, and Hyer K. Evacuating or sheltering in place during a disaster: The role of leadership in assisted living. Seniors Housing & Care Journal (2020), 28(1), 25-35.

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