The Climate is Changing on How Seniors Housing Responds to Emergencies

It’s risky business if a formal emergency preparedness plan is not in place.

By Bob Burg, Moves for Seniors

Mother Nature has certainly provided its share of challenges for seniors housing owners and operators over the past few years, given the number of wildfires and hurricanes we’ve experienced across the nation.

Those visually spectacular events are what catch the national news interest. But there are other dilemmas such as frozen water pipe breaks, electrical fires and stream flooding that can be just as damaging and disruptive to our industry, causing significant business interruption and upheavals for residents and families.

These potential emergency issues keep many CEOs and COOs up at night.How do you address these issues to ensure your organization has a good chance of maintaining safety and mitigating injuries during these times of crisis?

It Takes A Village

Most communities are tied into their local municipal emergency services plan for their geographic area. This is an important first step to assure you maximize your company’s ability to coordinate and communicate successfully with the greater community around you.

What is often overlooked is teaming up with your internal logistics provider (if you have one) and those who service the resident moving needs of your community. There are providers who can help you build this infrastructure, should you be lacking that today. 

The value of having this capability in place in times of crisis cannot be overstated. The ability to orchestrate a network to service you in times of often abrupt unusual need is difficult for lean management teams at a local level. Leaving it to chance is a strategy not recommended by emergency preparedness experts.

How Would You Respond?

California Wildfires

The abrupt and tragic wildfires that hit California’s Napa Valley region a few weeks ago caused a number of evacuations of seniors housing communities within a matter of hours after hitting the region. Staging areas needed to be setup and communities that were out of harm’s way invited their sister communities’ residents to set up temporary shelter. For our customers in the region, because of our statewide coverage of their properties, we were able to bring hundreds of cots from Southern California up to the Valley within a few short hours. 

Hurricane Florence – North Carolina

With the impending storm approaching, a client needed to evacuate 140 residents from one if its coastal properties to several locations in Charlotte. It required a three-hour turnaround to pick up and set up 120 cots at one location and 20 at another. Mission accomplished.

Several days later, when Wilmington, N.C., became virtually shut down and unreachable from outside the flood zone, we received a call from a senior community with two stranded residents that needed to be moved to a safer location. Because of the infrastructure available, we had capability within the restricted area and were able to move both residents.

When Florence decided to turn southwest and it looked like coastal Georgia might get hit, we received a call to pick up 70 cots and bedding from a client location in Columbia, S.C., and set them up at a location near Macon, Ga., in anticipation of an evacuation from one of their coastal properties. The 3.5-hour trip to go between locations added some additional tension, but we were able to orchestrate the project in time and all ended well.  

An Opportunity to Lead  

Seniors housing is often a significant employer in the communities we serve. In the case of the larger portfolio operators across diverse geographic regions, these management teams can uniquely lead the way in meeting the challenge of Mother Nature and her impact on the safety of those who live in our communities.

Now is the time to take stock of the risks that Mother Nature or other damaging dilemmas pose at your locations. Determine how best to plan to meet the challenges of responding when called upon to do so. 

We have seen some extraordinary efforts by operating teams in 2017 and 2018 that have successfully kept their residents safe, and some operators who have been caught flatfooted. Don’t be in that latter camp. Your residents and their families are counting on you.


Bob Burg is executive vice president of Moves for Seniors. The company offers occupancy enhancement, senior moving and downsizing, and logistics for seniors housing operators across the United States.