What state and county services need to know about your seniors needs in a national emergency?
Given the record number of floods, fires, hurricanes, and other natural disasters occurring across the United States, I’ve been giving some thought to how I can ensure mom and I are prepared. I put the pieces of this complex puzzle together with the help of Kelly Boyd, Access & Functional Needs Planner for the NJ Office of Emergency Management, Melissa Acree, Executive Director of NJ 2-1-1 Partnership and the Lawrence Township Police Department.
The first thing to understand is that being prepared for an emergency is your responsibility.
This means having an emergency plan in place that you’ve practiced on a “Blue Sky” (good weather) day. Resources abound on the internet for creating emergency plans and I will share some of them with you. But what is important to mom and me, are the answers to the following questions:
How will I know if there is an emergency where mom lives, given that I don’t live nearby?
Nixel – Alert Message – National Program
Years ago, I signed up for Nixel in both my hometown and moms. Nixel is a company that contracts with public safety agencies to send customized alerts via text message and/or email. When you register for the service, you can register for more than one zip code. The only people authorized to send messages are law enforcement agencies, government agencies and schools. In addition to traffic advisory messages, the alert message gives me real time information in case of an emergency. The opt-in process is simple. Text your zip code to 888777 to receive local alerts or sign up at using this link: Nixle
2-1-1 – National Program
2-1-1 is a national dialing code that can be used to find help with basic needs. In New Jersey, this service is available 24/7/365. When you dial 2-1-1 you can expect to speak with a person who knows about existing health and human service resources in your area. Once you have explained your needs, the specialist will provide you with information about local programs and services that may be able to help. NJ 2-1-1 is a trusted partner in the state’s emergency response and recovery plan. Among other things, it assists during times of disaster helping the public stay informed of evacuation routes, safety tips, shelter locations, food distribution sites, utility information and clean-up and recovery resources as they become available. Services are free, confidential and multilingual.
Know it Before you Need it. You can connect with NJ 2-1-1 long before an emergency strikes by texting ReadyNJ to 898-211. When you do, you will receive periodic disaster preparedness tips; get assistance (if needed) in registering your special needs with local first responders; and, if an actual emergency occurs you will receive relevant alerts and essential resource recovery information for your area.
2-1-1 FYI: This is a terrific information and referral service for help in finding resources for food, housing, utilities, healthcare, transportation and more. When you contact them, you are connecting with professionals who are working with a database of thousands of local resources designed to help with life’s most basic needs. There are 248 2-1-1s throughout the country including Canada and Puerto Rico.
511 – National Program by State
This program comes out of the U.S. Department of Transportation Safety Federal Highway Administration. Dial this number and you can learn about traffic conditions for highways, cities, bridges, tunnels, or points of interest in NJ. You also have the option of being transferred to 511 in New York and Pennsylvania. This service can be accessed on the web at 511NJ.org. When you call 511, you get a Voice Response Unit (VRU) and are required to answer a series of questions. Most seniors do not do well responding to a VRU; you are better served making the call for them.
State Emergency Preparedness Offices / County Office of Emergency Management / Facebook / Twitter / NOAA Weather Radio / Traditional Media
All these sources will keep you up to date on evacuation, traffic and the latest weather information during an emergency. BEFORE an emergency occurs, look them up and bookmark sites in your web browser and on your phone.
Disability, Access, and Functional Needs Coordinator
Here in NJ, each county has a Disability, Access, and Functional Needs Coordinator that can help if your loved one is disabled. The DAFN coordinator works for the county office of emergency management. Contact them NOW to see if they will come to the house to do an assessment. With or without a physical visit, they can help you plan the best options for your loved one in case of an emergency. Use this link to look up your county: AFN liaison
How will emergency officials know what mom needs?
There is no easy answer to this question. It is not possible for emergency management to keep a detailed database of everyone in the state who is disabled or elderly and has mobility issues. But there are some systems that can help.
Register Ready NJ – You don’t have to live in NJ all year round to register.
This free confidential database is used for planning purposes in an emergency. When setting up a shelter it is important to plan for enough outlets for electric wheelchairs, enough assistive devices like canes and walkers, portable oxygen, bariatric cots, and even hearing aid batteries. Register
Ready is for planning purposes only. They cannot guarantee that your loved one will have everything they need. This is why creating your own plan is so important. To register use this link: Register Ready NJ
Medic Alert Systems
If your senior has one of these systems, make sure you tell them everything you can about your loved one. Do they use a wheelchair, portable oxygen, need help getting out of the house? When your medic alert system calls 911 for you, this information is available to the rescue workers.
Your Support Network – your best avenue for help
Your support network both local and at a distance should have a list of all the special needs of your elder. Everything from “mom is a diabetic and needs insulin” to “mom uses a walker and cane.” With this your local support network knows what to expect if your loved one needs them. Your long-distance support network can share the information with local authorities or social media if that is the only way to reach out for help.
Emergency preparedness is too important to cover in one article. In next week’s blog, I write about what it takes to shelter in place vs. evacuate, what documents you should have on hand, how technology can help, and how to prepare if you have a pet.
In the state of NJ, social media and other advanced communications technologies are used by the EMS and by emergency managers, including:
Be sure to sign up for Twitter Alerts at the NJOEM account set up page so you can receive a direct notification to your phone whenever NJOEM issues an alert.
- ReadyNJ Alerts & Updates Blog: readynj.wordpress.com
- NJ State Police on Facebook: www.facebook.com/NewJerseyStatePolice
- NJ State Police on Twitter: www.twitter.com/NJSP
Here are more important sites:
- Emergency Management Agencies: https://www.fema.gov/emergency-management-agencies
- Ready Gov site: https://www.ready.gov/
- NJ Ready Gov site: http://www.ready.nj.gov/
Disclaimer: The material in this blog is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace, nor does it replace, consulting with a physician, lawyer, accountant, financial planner or other qualified professional.