Letters

By Cohen, Elias S. | Aging Today, September/October 2006 | Go to article overview

Letters


Cohen, Elias S., Aging Today


No Elder Left Behind

Regarding your most recent "In Focus" section ("No Elder Left Behind: Ending Ageism in Disaster Planning," July-August 2006), the miserable and incompetent job of disaster response in meeting the needs of elders-and virtually everybody else-in the wake of Hurricane Katrina prompts me to remind policy analysts, ,disaster response planners, human service administrators and gerontologists that the issue and our knowledge about what to do is neither new nor mysterious. Back in 1961, Hiram Friedsam wrote what was probably the first article on the topic, which he followed a year later with his chapter on this subject in the book Man and Society in Disaster (New York City: Basic Books).

I recall that when Hurricane Agnes struck the Wyoming Valley in Northeast Pennsylvania on June 23, 1972, it dislocated 75,000 residents and severely damaged 26,000 homes, as well as disrupted transportation, power transmission, sewage systems and economic activity of all sorts. The federal response was swift, massive and effective. Similarly, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania moved to relieve the relevant county governments of responsibility for massive human service needs by dispatching state administrators with authority and responsibility to assist in the wide array of human services usually administered locally, such as child welfare, community-based long-term care services, information and referral. President Nixon appointed a "disaster czar" with sweeping powers over a range of services.

Furthermore, the Administration on Aging (AoA) underwrote the longitudinal study on the impact of a natural disaster on inhabitants of a disaster area, which focused on older people. I was privileged to be the principal investigator. We followed a panel of 250 elders who had lost their homes (a measure of severe impact) for almost three years. Summaries of our findings were reported in The Gemntologist in 1975 (Poulshock and Cohen) and 1977 (Cohen and Poulshock). A full report was filed with AoA that, among other things, suggested roles for area agencies on aging in predisaster planning, and in the three postdisaster phases: the impact phase (10 days), repair and rehabilitation (three months), and readjustment (beyond 100 days). …

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